Updated  20 May 2017

The current (August 2017) Australian RV rules and regulations are outlined here by Collyn Rivers of Caravan & Motorhome Books.

Australian RV rules and regulations – terms defined (motor vehicles)

There are many terms with specific definitions: the main ones for motor vehicles are –

Tare Weight: the weight of a vehicle that’s ready for use. It includes all standard equipment together with any options, but otherwise unladen. The weight of driver and passengers is not included. Furthermore, it includes the weight of all fluid containers plus contents, plus 10 litres of fuel. Conversely, it excludes fuel in excess of 10 litres.

Gross Vehicle Mass (GVM): this is a rating that must not be exceeded. It is the permitted maximum loaded mass. This is defined as the Tare Weight plus the load. It is that originally specified by the vehicle manufacturer. If modified, it is that mass shown on an attached modification plate.

You must include a personal effects allowance. This is 60 kg for each of the first two sleeping berths, and 20 kg per berth thereafter. This ‘allowance’ applies to everything carried, eg. bedding, food, cooking utensils and luggage. Manufacturers are obliged only to provide that amount. Most owners find it too low. Unless, however, you specify more when ordering, dealers generally insist it’s ‘not their problem’. When self-building allow for far more.

Load: This is specifically, anything and everything carried. It includes driver and passenger, pets, goods, fuel, water, personal effects etc.

Gross Combination Mass (GCM): this again is a rating. It’s the vehicle’s total laden mass, plus anything it may tow. Here too, it’s that originally specified by the vehicle manufacturer. If modified, it is that mass shown on an attached modification plate.

Additionally, the vehicle must not exceed manufacturers ratings. It is sometimes possible for this to be changed. It is done by having it assessed and re-certified by an Approved Vehicle Examiner.

Australian RV rules and regulations – general

Before starting work discuss that proposed with an Approved Vehicle Examiner. The Examiner is thus more likely to be on-side when you later seek approval and certification. See end of article for specific contact details. For specific details of its licencing and registration requirements, contact your relevant state or territory transport authority. 

With some heavier vehicles you may need to consider re-rating to a higher or lower Gross Vehicle Mass. This is often so with ex-coaches. When  converted, the payload often less than for its previous use.

Care is required to keep the weight of under 4.5 tonne Gross Vehicle Mass conversions within prescribed limits. The weight of the interior, for example, water in fresh, grey and blackwater tanks, air conditioners and large battery banks, is often underestimated.

The following terms apply for all motor vehicles (that for trailers is shown later in this article).

Australian RV rules and regulations – light vehicles (under 4.5 tonne (GVM)

The National Code of Practice for Light Vehicle Construction and Modification details requirements for modifying truck and trailers under 4.5 tonne. There are minor differences from state to state. See the relevant state’s version of Vehicle Standards Bulletin 06 (VSB 06). Also the Victorian Government’s Conversion of Vehicles to Motor Homes. Also of value is the Vehicle Standards Bulletin 14 National Code of Practice for Light Vehicle Construction and ModificationDimensional limits are in VSI No. 5.  

Australian RV rules and regulations – large motor homes/coach conversions

The National Code of Practice for Heavy Vehicle Construction and Modification is the basic document for vehicles exceeding a GVM of 4.5 tonne. The dimension and weight requirements are prescribed in the Heavy Vehicle (Mass, Dimension and Loading) National Regulation 2013. See https://www.nhvr.gov.au/files/201402-0113-general-dimension-requirements.pdf.

All Heavy Vehicles in Australia must be right hand drive. Left-hand drive vehicles made prior to 1989, however, can be imported. The associated Heavy Vehicle (National) Law requirement is as above.

Main dimensional limits are: length for rigid trucks is 12.5 metres, for coaches it’s 14.5 metres. Width must not exceed 2.5 metres. Anti-skid devices, central tyre inflation systems, lights, mirrors, reflectors, signalling devices or tyre pressure gauges etc are disregarded. The exclusions are explicit: e.g. they do not extend to awnings etc.

Maximum allowable height is 4.3 metres. Rear overhang must not exceed the lesser of 60% of the wheelbase or 3.7 metres. (Many US RVs exceed this.) The maximum combination length (if towing a trailer) is 19 metres. These are overall measurements, they specifically include bicycle racks, bull bars, tool boxes and spare wheels etc.

The weight limits for heavy vehicles under Australian RV rules and regulations are complex. The details are set out in www.legislation.qld.gov.au/LEGISLTN/CURRENT/H/HeavyVehMDLNR.pdf. (The same requirements apply in all states.)

Care is required to keep the weight of coach and truck conversions within prescribed limits. The weight of the interior fit-out, water in fresh, grey and blackwater tanks, and large lead-acid battery banks, is commonly underestimated.

Australian RV rules and regulations – terms defined: caravans, fifth wheel caravans & trailers

Tare Mass: is the measured (not estimated) weight as the product leaves the factory. It includes one 9 litre LP gas bottle, but not its gas content. It does not include any water. When modifying a caravan never assume the declared Tare Mass is correct. Therefore always weigh it before planning changes. Many subsequently prove heavier than claimed.

Aggregate Trailer Mass (ATM): this is an obligatory rating. The ATM is the maximum legally allowable laden weight when standing on a level surface. It includes the weight carried by the tow bar of the towing vehicle. The ATM includes personal effects. These is no obligatory allowance. There is only an industry recommendation. It is 250 kg for single axle caravans and 330-450 kg for two-axle caravans. Custom made caravans usually have more.


 Pic: courtesy of caravanbuyersguide.com.au

Gross Trailer Mass (GTM): the weight carried by the trailer’s axles when carrying its evenly distributed maximum permitted load. It is used primarily with commercial load-carrying trailers.

Australian RV rules and regulations – large conventional caravans

Centre-axled (so-called ‘pig’ trailers) must not exceed 12.5 metres overall. The maximum distance from tow hitch to centre-line of the axle/s must not exceed 8.5 metres. The rear overhang must not exceed the lesser of 3.7 metres, or the length of the load carrying area (or body) ahead of the rear overhang line.

Australian RV rules and regulations – fifth-wheel caravans

The distance from the towing pivot point to the rear of the trailer must not exceed 12.3 metres. That from the towing pivot point to the rear over-hang line) must not exceed 9.5 metres. The rear overhang must not exceed the lesser of 60% of the former dimension. Or 3.7 metres. The maximum forward projection must not exceed a 1.9-metre arc from the towing pivot. The pic below hopefully makes this clearer.

semi-trailer dimensions

Maximum dimensions for a large fifth wheel caravan

 Australian RV rules and regulations – compliance

Motor vehicles and trailers over 4.5 tonne rating have a Compliance Plate. This is issued by the Federal Vehicle Safety Standard (VSS). This plate provides complete proof-of-compliance with the applicable Australian Design Rules following VSS’s engineering inspection and approval. The main reference is Vehicle Standards Guide (VSG5). 

For caravans and trailers less than 4.5 tonnes, the compliance plate is (currently) self-certified by the manufacturer or importer. It confirms the vehicle complies with the Motor Vehicle Standards Act 1989. The plate must specifically show manufacturer’s or importer’s name, trailer model, vehicle identification number (17-digit), date of manufacture and Aggregate Trailer Mass. It must also include this statement. ‘This trailer was manufactured to comply with the Motor Vehicle Standards Act 1989’. A legally-required Tyre Placard must show: recommended tyre size, tyre load rating and tyre speed rating.

All information on the Plate, or otherwise supplied, must be true and correct for that specific vehicle. As with motor vehicles, RV buyers and owners should reasonably expect this information to be reliable. This is not always so. Most discrepancies relate to declared mass. This can be because many RV makers produce only standard products. Their declared Tare Mass is the ex factory weight. It is unlikely to include any extras (even if in the purchase contract). These are often supplied by dealers who do not update the Compliance Plate. Sometimes mass is so high the RV is all but legally unusable.

Be very cautious about this. Before finally paying, weigh the RV at a certified weigh-bridge (with full water and fuel tanks). Insist this be done in your presence. It is known for gas bottles, batteries, mattresses, drawers etc to be removed beforehand. Also measure tow ball-load.

 Australian RV rules and regulations – legal towing weight

In Australia, for tow vehicles under 4.5 tonne, the maximum laden trailer weight is the lesser of that allowed by the tow vehicle, tow hitch, or the maximum trailer mass. This overrides earlier legislation limiting towed weight to 1.5 times the tow vehicle’s unladen weight.

These are legislated limits. Many believe these limits are too high for current caravan weights and towing speeds. See: http://caravanandmotorhomebooks.com/caravan-and-tow-vehicle-dynamics/ 

Australian RV rules and regulations – constructional standards/requirements

Apart from on-road requirements, legal requirements relate to 230 volts, and LP gas. The former must meet AS/NZS 3000:2007 and AS/NZS 3001:2008 (both Amended 2012). Most states require that RVs have Electrical Certification. Energy Safety Victoria, however declares that RVs are not ‘electrical installations. So thereby (it states) they are exempt. It specifically requires RVs to meet AS/NZS requirements (re 230 volts). Installation is thus not required to be done by a licensed electrician. Nor, consequently, is Electrical Certification required.

For trailers and motor homes under 4.5 tonne there are few legal requirements for the RV 12/24 volt dc wiring. An exception is that relating to separation from 230 volt wiring. You can avoid that by using 230 volt cable for the 12/24 volt system. There are legal requirements, however, for the on-road lighting and braking.

For heavy vehicles, all 12/24 volt dc wiring must accord with the Heavy Vehicle (Vehicle Standards) National Regulation, Schedule 2, Part 2. Section 17. Solar must comply with AS/NZS 5033. Whilst not obligatory, authorities generally recommend that solar be done by a licensed electrician.

LP gas installations (Australia-wide) must meet the requirements of AS/NZS 5601.2:2013 in detail. In addition, some states/territories have marginally different requirements. The only way to ensure compliance is to obtain the certificate from a licensed gas fitter. For imports see: http://caravanandmotorhomebooks.com/imported-rvs/

There are no RV industry ‘standards’ for any aspect of caravan and motor home construction, surprisingly not even for 12 or 24 volt dc wiring. (See http://caravanandmotorhomebooks.com/making-caravan-fridges-work-as-claimed/ ) Construction varies from excellent to dreadful. A few companies nevertheless have established a good reputation. Caravan forums provide advice – but some posts are blatantly promotional.

Australian RV rules and regulations – obligatory on-road lighting etc

Vehicle lights and reflectors must meet legal requirements relating particularly to specific functions. Requirements relate, for example, to defined viewing angles (horizontally and vertically) and lighting intensities.

Those approved for RVs in Australia E-mark or a CRN. The E-mark is a capital ‘E’, with a circled sub-script number plus an embossed approval number. Those sold only in Australia must have a CRN (component registration number).

Australian RV rules and regulations – hints for home building

Weigh the bare vehicle prior to starting work. Then weigh and keep a running total of everything you include. It is only too easy to underestimate total weight.

If the RV has a toilet or shower, it must be in working order when you present it for registration. If it’s not, leave the space as ‘that’s where I am going to add a cupboard’. (That ‘cupboard’ does not need to be in place for rego purposes.)

Every aspect of building an RV is covered in the author’s Caravan & Motorhome Book. For solar and electrics see Caravan & Motorhome Electrics. For in-depth coverage of solar in RVs see Solar That Really Works!. Solar Success is for homes and properties.These books can and do save self-builders thousands of dollars.

Australian RV rules and regulations – driving licence requirements

A C class licence is required for vehicles under 4.5 tonne (including with seating for up to 12 adults). Such licence includes towing a caravan as long as the GCM is not exceeded. (This now includes in the ACT). An LR licence is needed for vehicles exceeding 4.5 tonne and less than 8 tonne.  An MR or HR licence is needed thereon. This requirement relates to potential carrying capacity. If the GVM is 5.5 tonne but has an on-road weight of only 4.4 tonne you still need an LR licence.

Australian RV rules and regulations – parking issues

In most parts of Australia it is illegal to park a vehicle of 4.5 tonne or more, in built-up areas for over one hour. This applies also to a tow vehicle and trailer over 7.5 metres. An exception, however, is where a sign or traffic control device allows otherwise. It is legal to do so for dropping off or picking up goods but for no longer than necessary. If longer is needed, ask the local council to grant an exemption.

Australian RV rules and regulations – references

Australian Design Rules (ADRs) – https://infrastructure.gov.au/roads/motor/design/

Heavy Vehicle National Law, Heavy Vehicle (Vehicle Standards) National Regulation, Heavy Vehicle (Mass, Dimension and Loading) National Regulation – www.nhvr.gov.au/hvmodifications

Vehicle Standards Bulletins(VSBs) – https://infrastructure.gov.au/roads/vehicle_regulation/bulletin/



For issues relating to imported RVs see http://caravanandmotorhomebooks.com/imported-rvs/

For issues relating to imported RV electrics (particularly compliance) see http://caravanandmotorhomebooks.com/imported-rvs/

See also the associated http://caravanandmotorhomebooks.com/caravan-and-motor-home-compliance/

Virtually every issue relating to RV is covered in Caravan & Motorhome Book. Full details of RV electrical requirements, installation are in Caravan & Motorhome Electrics. Solar books are: Solar That Really Works! (for RVs) and Solar Success for home & property systems. For information about the author – click on Bio.

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