Updated April 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.
If you throw a billiard cue light-end first the least disturbance will cause it spin around to become heavy-end first. Unless caravans are nose heavy they may do the same thing.
Caravan nose weight, however, levers up the front of the tow vehicle, reducing the grip of its steered wheels. Further, above 14% (of their laden weight), caravans strongly oppose being towed in any but a straight line. Or, if they begin to turn, they attempt to keep doing so. This,(to put it mildly) is not desirable whilst cornering. It is even less so when needing to swerve to avoid a head-on collision.
Caravan nose weight
Early caravans were typically 4-5 metres long, weighed 1000-1200 kg, had centre kitchens (and were thus centre-heavy). They were rarely towed above 80 km/h. A caravan nose weight of 7%-10% kept them reasonably stable.
From the 1980s, however, particularly in Australia and USA, 4WDs (typically weighing 2-2.5 tonne) enabled longer and heavier caravans. Many well exceeded their tow vehicle’s weight. Most are towed at 110 km/h.
A caravan’s weight, however, is less of an issue than its length, and how weight is distributed along such length – (the closer to the axle/s the better). The A-frame should carry no load, nor should anything heavy be at the rear. Personal loading should be similar.
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.
In recent years, the need to cut air pollution entails reducing tow vehicle weight. That, in turn, reduces allowable hitch weight. UK and EU caravan makers accordingly developed lighter caravans. Most weigh about 40% less per metre than local product and have minimal end weight – and nose weight around 5%. Research however indicates that, for such caravans, 6-7% is preferable.
In Australia, despite lighter towing vehicles, most new caravans remain 6-7 metres long, weigh 2 to 2.4 tonne unladen and are end-heavy. To enable them to be towed by vehicles of typically less weight than the caravan’s, unladen nose weights are now around 5%.
Legally, it is only possible to suggest buyers use caravan and tow vehicle makers’ recommended tow ball weight. But as such weight is far below optimum in test after test, Caravan and Motorhome Books does not endorse such recommendations.
See also the Caravan Council of Australia’s advice – i.e. to have a tow vehicle that, when laden, is about 30% heavier than the laden caravan. http://media.wix.com/ugd/74afe1_64d4b6451dbe4750aa7f32adc777b390.pdf.
Also see Andrew Woodmansey’s excellent Caravan Buyers Guide http://caravanbuyersguide.com.au/
This issue is also covered in depth in my Caravan & Motorhome Book.
For conventional Australian-designed caravans that have a tow vehicle that allows it, consider using 8%-12% caravan nose weight. For EU-style caravans (and tow vehicles that allow this), consider using 6%-8% nose weight.
Off road caravan nose weight
Caravan and Motorhome Books strongly advises to buy a heavy off-road caravan only if seriously intending to drive long distances off-road. Many such caravans weigh in excess of 3.5 tonne and have a very high centre of gravity. Ideally keep interior length to 5-6 metres.
It is not feasible to suggest their nose weight – except to use as much as the tow vehicle allows. A WDH is usually required – adjusted to correct only 50% or so of the imposed caravan nose weight. Using 100% correction reduces tow vehicle 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 bathroom scales) see: http://hildstrom.com/projects/tonguescale/
(Note: It is technically correct to refer to nose mass (rather than weight) but, for the purposes of this article, the two may be seen as interchangeable.)
For an overall view see also:
Collyn Rivers’ in-depth books cover every aspect of camper trailer, caravan and motor home selection, design, building and use. They include the Camper Trailer Book, Caravan & Motorhome Electrics, Solar That Really Works, and (for homes and properties, Solar Success. Amongst virtually every aspect of caravan and motor home usage, caravan stability is covered in depth in the all new Caravan and Motorhome Book. For information about the author please click on Bio.
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