How you load your caravan or trailer directly impacts how your vehicle will behave on the road, and getting the basics right is critical for safe driving. An unbalanced load can cause unpredictable movements of the caravan and opens up the potential for accidents.
Let’s start with the maximum weight you can legally tow. The weight of your loaded caravan/trailer MUST be within your car’s towing capability, which is further restricted by the type of driving license you possess.
The maximum you can tow legally is dependant on both the caravan and the towing vehicle. The caravan will have a Maximum Technically Permissible Laden Mass (MTPLM), which is the maximum mass allowable when the caravan is fully loaded.
Mass In Running Order (MIRO) is the weight of the caravan or trailer when it was built, which includes the fixtures and fittings. It does not include any modifications which dealers or previous owners may have made. MIRO needs to be taken into account when predicting the total weight of your vehicle plus trailer.
These two figures can be used to work out how much extra weight you can add to your caravan or trailer.
The below picture shows both the MIRO and the MTPLM of a specific caravan. To find out the figures for your caravan, refer to the manufacturer's handbook.
In this example, the difference between the MTPLM and the MIRO is 273kg, which means that an extra 273kg worth of mass can be added and still be towed safely.
Experts recommend towing no more than 85% of your car’s kerb weight. For example, if the kerbweight of your car is 1500kg, then you should not tow a mass greater than 1275kg.
The kerbweight of the car can be found in the manufacturer's handbook, and generally takes into account the weight of a driver and a 90% full fuel tank.
If your trailer is unbraked*, the maximum you can tow is 750kg, OR half the kerbside weight of the towing vehicle, whichever is lower. If, for example, the kerbweight of your car is 2000kg, you will still be restricted by the 750kg limit, despite half of 2000kg being 1000kg.
One final thing to take into account is your vehicle's towing capacity. To use an extreme example; if you own a recent Mini Cooper hatchback which weighs 1200kg, using the 85% calculation estimates you should tow a maximum of just over 1000kg. However, the manufacturer has rated the Mini’s towing capacity to be only 650kg, which means a trailer or caravan should only tow at a maximum of that mass.
It’s worth visiting a weighbridge if you are unsure about the total weight of your vehicle + trailer/caravan. Those in the UK can find their local weighbridge by visiting the government website - https://www.gov.uk/find-weighbridge
*Unbraked means the trailer does not have any type of braking system. The law states trailers and caravans which exceed a gross weight of 750kg must have brakes,
Loading your caravan
The above image illustrates the most effective and safe way to distribute items in a caravan. The heaviest items should be stored down low to maintain the caravans centre of gravity. Avoid storing heavy items at the rear of the caravan, as you could run the risk of making the vehicle ‘snake’ and losing control.
Next, medium weight items should be kept below the window level of the caravan. Pack them around the centre, on top and around the heavy items.
Up top, lightweight items like clothing and plastic cutlery can be stored in overhead lockers. Try to keep them as low down as possible. It’s advisable to only store unbreakable items in overhead storage compartments, in case there is an accident and they fall out.
When loading a twin-axle caravan, try to keep heavy items over the centre of the two axles as much as possible, then proceed to pack medium and light items as normal.
Key takeaways to take into account when towing/loading:
-Vehicles towing capacity, as rated by the manufacturer
-MIRO and MTPLM of caravan or trailer
-85% of vehicles kerbweight as a maximum mass to tow
-Always store heavy items low down, over the axles