Updated 7th May 2017
Optimising caravan nose weight is vital for safe towing. Caravan & Motorhome Books’s Collyn Rivers shows why, and how to know what it really should be.
A billiard cue thrown light-end first rapidly changes ends. It becomes heavy-end first. Likewise, unless caravans are nose heavy, they’ll try to do the same.
Caravan nose weight levers up the front of the tow vehicle. This reduces weight on its steered wheels. Further, nose weight above 14% or so (of laden weight) oppose caravans moving in any but a straight line. But, if somehow caused to sway (yaw) they accordingly attempt to keep doing so. This, (to put it mildly) is not desirable. It is even less so if needing to swerve to avoid a collision.
Caravan nose weight
Early caravans were typically 4-5 metres long. They weighed 1000-1200 kg and had centre kitchens (and thus centre-heavy). Few were towed above 80 km/h. Keeping them reasonably stable required a nose weight of 7%-10%
From the 1980s, however, and particularly in Australia, 4WDs of 2-2.5 tonne led to longer and heavier caravans. Many such caravans well exceed their tow vehicle’s weight. Furthermore, many are towed at well over 100 km/h.
A caravan’s weight, however, is less of an issue than its length. And particularly where weight is distributed along that length. The closer it is to the axle/s the better. Ideally, the A-frame should carry no load. Furthermore (and most important) nothing heavy should be at its rear. In addition, personal loading should be likewise.
If your caravan is like that, nose weight of 7% should suffice.
The effect of weight depends on where it is located. Pic: original source unknown.
The ongoing quest for reducing emissions specifically entails reducing tow vehicle weight. That, as a result, reduces allowable hitch weight. UK and EU caravan makers accordingly produce lighter caravans. Most weigh about 40% less per metre than local product. They have minimal end weight. This results in nose weight around 5%. Research, however, indicates that, for such caravans, 6-7% is preferable.
In Australia, despite now lighter towing vehicles, most new caravans remain 6-7 metres long. They typically weigh 2 to 2.4 tonne unladen and end-heavy. To enable them to be towed by vehicles typically much lighter, unladen nose weights are, however, now around 5%.
See the Caravan Council of Australia’s advice re this (It’s to have a tow vehicle about 30% heavier than the caravan.) http://media.wix.com/ugd/74afe1_64d4b6451dbe4750aa7f32adc777b390.pdf.
See also Andrew Woodmansey’s excellent Caravan Buyers Guide http://caravanbuyersguide.com.au/
In addition, this issue is also covered in depth in my Caravan & Motorhome Book.
Caravan nose weight – what makers suggest
Some caravan makers have ceased recommending nose weight. Many reveal unladen tow ball weight only. Notwithstanding that such weight may be well below optimum, it is only possible (legally), to advise buyers to follow maker recommendations. Caravan and Motorhome Books, however do not necessarily endorse such recommendations.
Where no maker recommendation states otherwise, where the tow vehicle that allows it, consider using 10% nose weight. For EU-style caravans (and their tow vehicles) consider using 6%-8%.
Off road caravan nose weight
Caravan and Motorhome Books advises buying heavy off-road caravan only if driving long such distances. Some such caravans weigh over 3.5 tonne. Their centre of gravity is high. If buying, I recommend one no longer than 5 metres.
It is not feasible to suggest an off-road caravan’s nose weight – except it should as much as the tow vehicle, caravan and tow hitch maker allows.
Weight Distribution Hitches (WDHs)
Unless towed by a vehicle that’s heavier, a WDH is usually required. Adjusting this to correct only 50% or so of nose weight assists towing stability. See http://caravanandmotorhomebooks.com/weight-distribution-hitch-setting-up/
‘You want your money back!?’ – I told you it could be towed by your pick-up truck. I never said you should!‘ Pic: agcoauto
How to measure caravan nose weight
Bathroom scales typically weigh up to 185 kg. To weigh more than that (using such scales) see: http://hildstrom.com/projects/tonguescale/
(Note: It is technically correct to refer to nose mass (rather than weight). For the purposes of this article, however, the two may be seen as identical.
For an overall view see also:
Collyn Rivers’ in-depth books cover every aspect of camper trailer, caravan and motor home buying, design, building and use. They include the Caravan and Motorhome Book, the Camper Trailer Book and Caravan & Motorhome Electrics, Solar is covered in Solar That Really Works, for cabins and RVs. Solar Success is for homes and properties.
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