Towing a trailer or caravan
Rules and advice for towing a caravan or trailer on NSW roads. Secure your load, check for licence restrictions and follow safety standards.
Rules for towing
- you must not tow more than 1 trailer at a time
- you must not have any person travelling in a trailer or caravan you’re towing
- you must secure and cover your load, making sure it does not overhang.
Learner and provisional P1 drivers have towing restrictions.
- Learner drivers and learner and provisional motorcycle riders are not allowed to tow.
- P1 car licence holders can tow small trailers with up to 250kg of unloaded weight.
See Licence conditions.
Be careful when towing a trailer or caravan. You need more knowledge and skill than for normal driving. You can get a fine and demerit points for towing illegally.
For more information on caravan safety see NSW Centre for Road Safety - Caravan safety.
Driving with a trailer
Driving with a trailer takes practice. Remember:
- Allow for the trailer’s tendency to ‘cut-in’ on corners and curves.
- Allow longer distances for braking, overtaking and joining a traffic stream.
- When reversing, it is advisable to have someone outside the vehicle giving directions.
- Avoid sudden lane changes and changes of direction.
- Look further ahead than normal so you can react to changes in traffic or road conditions.
- Use the accelerator, brakes and steering, smoothly and gently at all times.
- Use a lower gear when travelling downhill to increase vehicle control and reduce strain on brakes.
- Slow down well before entering corners and curves.
- Trailers tend to jerk the back of the vehicle around and can cause sway (snaking). If a trailer starts to sway, the vehicle’s brakes should not be applied, except as an absolute last resort. If the trailer’s brakes can be operated by themselves they should be applied gently. Otherwise a steady speed or slight acceleration should be held if possible until the sway stops.
- Take care not to hold up traffic unnecessarily.
- Plan more rest stops and shorter travelling days as towing is more stressful and tiring than normal driving.
- In the case of towing a single trailer, the driver driving a vehicle, with a gross vehile mass (GVM) over 4.5 tonnes or a vehicle and trailer combination with a gross combination mass (GCM) over 4.5 tonnes, must not exceed 100 km/h, regardless of the signed posted speed limit. Always drive to the limits set by the manufacturer, as well as road, traffic and weather conditions.
Before each trip
Before each towing trip, check that:
- the vehicle and trailer are roadworthy
- all tyres are properly inﬂated
- the trailer’s wheel-bearings, suspension and brakes work properly
- all lights work and safety chains are properly connected
- oil, water, brake ﬂuid, battery and other service checks have been done on the vehicle.
During each trip
At regular intervals during the trip, check that:
- couplings, all doors, hatches, covers and any load or equipment, are still properly secured
- tyres are still properly inﬂated and not rubbing on suspension or body work.
If travelling to another State, check with the relevant roads authority whether there are different rules.
Requirements for vehicles, parts and tools
There are rules and standards for towing vehicles, parts and tools, including towbars and safety chains.
The towing vehicle
Vehicles must be suited to the trailer. Vehicle manufacturers usually indicate in the owner’s manual the maximum weight and other features of trailers appropriate for the vehicle. These limits should not be exceeded.
In terms of registration and compliance:
- all vehicles must comply with all relevant standards for registration and be roadworthy at all times
- rear number plates and lights must not be obscured by the towbar when there is no trailer connected.
Towing vehicles must be properly equipped with:
- towbars and couplings of a suitable type and capacity
- electrical sockets for lighting
- brake connections if the trailer is ﬁtted with power or electric brakes.
- extra mirrors may be needed for the towing vehicle if towing a large trailer
- for vehicles with automatic transmission, an extra transmission oil cooler may be needed
- some vehicles need structural reinforcement and/or special suspension and transmission options and load-distributing devices to be able to tow heavier trailers.
A properly designed and ﬁtted towbar is essential for towing. The rated capacity of the towbar and coupling should not be exceeded.
The towbar should be clearly and permanently marked with its:
- maximum rated capacity
- make and model of the vehicle it is intended for, or the manufacturer’s part number
- manufacturer’s name or trade mark.
This is compulsory for vehicles built after 1 January 1992. The exception is where the towbar is a permanent part of the vehicle.
Towbars must not protrude dangerously when there is no trailer connected.
Load equalisers can be used when towing large caravans. Load equalisers:
- Help the vehicle retain normal suspension height and effective steering control
- Transfer some of the weight from the towbar to the front and rear suspension of the vehicle.
As load equalisers may overload the towbar and its components, check with the towbar manufacturer for advice before use.
Trailers must be a suitable size and type for their intended tasks. They must be built to meet the standards for registration. If a trailer is required to be registered it must be ﬁtted with a rear number plate.
Towing ratio requirement
The loaded mass of the trailer must not exceed the lesser of:
- rated capacity of the towbar and tow coupling
- maximum towing capacity of the vehicle
- maximum carrying capacity of the trailer
- maximum rated carrying capacity of the tyres.
If the vehicle manufacturer has not speciﬁed the maximum towing mass, the maximum towing mass is:
- one and a half times the unladen mass of the towing vehicle, provided that the trailer is ﬁtted with brakes which are connected and in working order, or
- the unladen mass of the towing vehicle if the trailer does not require brakes.
Vehicles with a manufacturer’s GCM more than 4.5 tonne may tow in accordance with the above requirements. The GCM is the gross combination mass of the car and loaded trailer.
The minimum braking system for a trailer depends on the type of trailer, its weight and the weight of the vehicle:
- 0 – 750 kg Aggregate Trailer Mass (ATM) – no brakes required (If brakes are fitted, they must comply).
- 751 – 2000 kg ATM - an efficient braking system on both wheels on at least one axle.
- 2001– 4500 kg ATM – an efficient braking system on all wheels.
Note: each trailer with a Gross Trailer Mass (GTM exceeding 2.0 tonnes must be equipped with an automatic breakaway system in case the trailer becomes detached from the vehicle.
Brakes must be operable from the driver’s seating position.
- must be strong enough to take the weight of a fully loaded trailer
- should be marked with the manufacturer’s name or trade mark, and rated capacity
- must be equipped with a positive locking mechanism. The locking mechanism must be able to be released regardless of the angle of the trailer to the towing vehicle.
- Safety chains must comply with Australian Standards.
- Trailers less than 2500 kg when loaded must be ﬁtted with at least one safety chain.
- Trailers over 2500 kg when loaded must be ﬁtted with two safety chains.
To prevent the front end of the drawbar from hitting the ground if the coupling is disconnected, safety chains must be:
- as short as practicable and connected to the towing vehicle
- crossed over if two chains are ﬁtted.
It is important that trailers are not overloaded and that loads are properly secured to or contained within the trailer:
- A load must not project more than 150mm beyond the trailer’s width or be more than 2.5m overall width, whichever is less.
- Loads that project more than 1.2m behind a trailer must have a red ﬂag attached to the end of the load. This ﬂag must be at least 300mm square and clearly visible. To avoid having an overhanging load, you should purchase a trailer that suitably contains the load.
- Between sunset and sunrise, or when there is insufficient daylight, a clear red light or at least two red reﬂectors must be ﬁxed to the end of any projecting load.
- The overall length of the vehicle and trailer combination including its load must not be more than 19m.
- To reduce sway, heavy loads should be concentrated towards the centre of the trailer.
- Loads should be kept as low and as close as possible to the axle or axles with about 60 per cent of the total weight forward of the centre of the axle or axles. As a general rule, about 5-10 per cent of the total mass of the trailer plus load should be supported by the vehicle through the coupling. The trailer drawbar should be level or slightly ‘nose down’.
- Loads must be covered to secure and contain all materials within the vehicle and trailer. Fines apply for uncovered loads.