Has your caravan ever broken away? What happened?

Submitted: Sunday, Apr 03, 2016 at 01:19
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Have anyone here had a caravan break away (tow hitch and chains)? Did the breakaway brakes stop the caravan? How soon? Where were you driving? Speed, terrain and traffic? Please tell your story.

We all know that trailers with a Gross Trailer Mass (GTM) exceeding 2 tonnes must have a breakaway system which powers the trailer brakes for at least 15 minutes should the trailer become detached from the tow vehicle, and that in New South Wales the battery must be monitored with a monitor in tow vehicle cab.

In reality the odds are low. This would mean the tow hitch fails, then the chains fail (or the whole towbar assembly falls off the vehicle) then the breakaway pin pulls and activates the caravan brakes. In New South Wales you must also know that your breakaway battery is up to the task. It does nothing to tell you that the caravan brakes are all in good working condition.


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Reply By: Notso - Sunday, Apr 03, 2016 at 08:13

Sunday, Apr 03, 2016 at 08:13
This happened to a friend of ours when the Chassis broke on their Cruiser Ute. They were towing their BushTracker and I guess luckily were near home and only travelling at about 30 Kmh. It stopped OK at that speed.
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Follow Up By: Motherhen - Sunday, Apr 03, 2016 at 08:44

Sunday, Apr 03, 2016 at 08:44
Ouch :O. Lucky too that they were near home and not somewhere really remote with a serious breakdown like that.

Thanks Notso - but would that have been a tow hitch on the ground situation not a complete breakaway?

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Follow Up By: Notso - Sunday, Apr 03, 2016 at 09:21

Sunday, Apr 03, 2016 at 09:21
No, both chassis rails broke, lost the whole lot, the breakaway was attached to the tow bar cross member so I don't think it worked either unless it ripped out once the towbar hit the ground.
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Reply By: TomH - Sunday, Apr 03, 2016 at 09:23

Sunday, Apr 03, 2016 at 09:23
Not me but know of a Prado cast towbar head fracturing and the van took off backwards down a slope of a paddock.
The piece that broke off had the chains attached to it as well.
Luckily it wasnt damaged.
Owner fitted an HR type towbar after that.

Toyota later modified the fitting to put the chains in a different place.
Van was too light for a breakaway.
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Reply By: eaglefree - Sunday, Apr 03, 2016 at 14:13

Sunday, Apr 03, 2016 at 14:13
Yep. We owned a ChevronRV Guppy similar to a Avan Weekendr. Nice little van 440kg tare.

The van came out with a single drawbar I think 50x50mm square tube. It broke just under the front of the van at 40kph.

The handbrake cable saved it from full detachment and 6 inch plastic tent pole tubes stopped it being damaged as these hit the ground and took the force.

Insurance covered it however...the van and toolbox was broken into at the yard of the repairer and things stolen like the annex. So another claim and excess was required. It's the owners insurance that covers it not the repairers. take note.

The repairer replaced the drawbar with 75x75 square tube and gussets to the floor frame.

This is the van
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Follow Up By: Motherhen - Sunday, Apr 03, 2016 at 15:10

Sunday, Apr 03, 2016 at 15:10
A gorgeous little outfit Eaglefree.
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Reply By: Allan B (Member, SunCoast) - Sunday, Apr 03, 2016 at 14:52

Sunday, Apr 03, 2016 at 14:52
-
Not a caravan but did have a borrowed loaded trailer go adrift many years ago.
The crummy ball hitch came undone and the even crummier chain broke.
I heard a strange noise, took my foot off the throttle and found the trailer passing me at an angle across the road. Fortunately no traffic coming the other way and the trailer eventually came to a stop amid a shower of sparks from the drawbar. Hooked it back up with a bit of electrical cable applied to the hitch lever and off we went.
Don't know what we would do without some earth wire in the boot.
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Follow Up By: eaglefree - Sunday, Apr 03, 2016 at 16:26

Sunday, Apr 03, 2016 at 16:26
Lucky.! About 1990 a trailer did the same thing near Nagambie in central Victoria. Smashed into an oncoming car. Cant recall how many death but there was at least one.

Typical of the police- they then had a blitz on trailers for a typical over reaction. I lived in Yea Vic and was a poor family guy them days. Tried to get work my mowing lawns and stuck a sign on the back of my trailer for mowing. Was pulled up, booked for not registering the trailer as required when running a business. My coupling, lights, etc all maintained.

Anyway.

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Follow Up By: Member - Scott M (NSW) - Monday, Apr 04, 2016 at 01:58

Monday, Apr 04, 2016 at 01:58
Allan, funny - similar thing happened to a mate of mine while travelling with his other half. Lead to the quote of the year from the missus as it passed them, to whit:

"jeez darling, there's another trailer that looks a lot like ours......"
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Follow Up By: Bob Y. - Qld - Monday, Apr 04, 2016 at 13:59

Monday, Apr 04, 2016 at 13:59
I'll stick my snippet in here with Allan's, and the others, MH, as it's a horse float yarn.

Have a long time mate who I rarely see these days, who is a great raconteur with plenty of yarns in his repertoire. On this occasion, he was towing a horse float with a Landrover(no worries about speeding, I'd suggest) and one horse on board with the name of "Mickey Mouse". After a few miles, something come adrift, the L'rover hit a bump, and the float, along with "Mickey Mouse" became free spirits.

Dick(the raconteur), reckoned he looked out to the side, to see the float, and MM, sailing past the LR. The funniest part was MM was leaning back as far as he could against the rear of the float, ears folded back and a look of sheer terror in his eyes. Fortunately, it all ended well, but seem to recall MM was always reluctant to load on the float thereafter.

Bob

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Can't remember most of it.

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Reply By: Ron N - Sunday, Apr 03, 2016 at 20:26

Sunday, Apr 03, 2016 at 20:26
This one didn't break away! - but I'll wager it wasn't much good, when he finally stopped!! LOL

High-speed Outback camper crash caught on truck dashcam

Cheers, Ron.
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Follow Up By: Paul E6 - Sunday, Apr 03, 2016 at 22:43

Sunday, Apr 03, 2016 at 22:43
Har! he tries to put some blame on the Truckie.
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Follow Up By: Ron N - Sunday, Apr 03, 2016 at 23:05

Sunday, Apr 03, 2016 at 23:05
Paul - It's easy enough to see what happened - the camper trailer bloke had to (unexpectedly for him) pull off onto the gravel shoulder, to give the truckie room - because he obviously initially thought the truckie was going to pull off onto the shoulder, for him!

Pulling off onto the shoulder with a big rig, is a recipe for potential disaster, because the shoulder can give way under the weight of a big rig - particularly after rain.
Not to mention the camper bloke would be showered with a huge amount of gravel stones, if the big rig did pull over for him.

I'm quite happy to slow down and pull over for big rigs! - but that camper trailer bloke has yet to learn the basics of road courtesy, for narrow rural roads!

It's also pretty obvious the camper trailer bloke has extremely poor driving skills - and probably trailer loading skills as well - for him to "lose it" so easily, just by pulling over onto the gravel shoulder.

This type of "loss of control" accident is all too common, and I have known and read of many that ended up with multiple fatalities.

I have a mate who was travelling in a Falcon, with his brother driving, about 30 yrs ago - and they collected a Mazda and a caravan full-on sideways, when the old bloke driving the Mazda "lost it" in exactly the same way as the camper trailer bloke did.
The couple in the Mazda were killed outright, my mate and his brother were very seriously injured.

That camper trailer bloke was just extremely lucky it wasn't his 4WD splattered over the front of the truck. He wouldn't have been able to argue with, and blame the truckie, then!

Cheers, Ron.
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Follow Up By: Member - Phil G (SA) - Tuesday, Apr 05, 2016 at 23:25

Tuesday, Apr 05, 2016 at 23:25
The mistake the Prado guy made was not to slow down (as Ron says he would do).
Driving too fast for the conditions - lost control when braking with one set of wheels on the gravel - hit the brakes and you get pulled into the middle.
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Follow Up By: nickb - Tuesday, Apr 12, 2016 at 14:14

Tuesday, Apr 12, 2016 at 14:14
The 4x4 driver was OK in the gravel until he panicked and swerved to miss the white road marker. I think I would rather take out the road marker than play chicken with the truck!!!
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Reply By: Paul E6 - Sunday, Apr 03, 2016 at 22:36

Sunday, Apr 03, 2016 at 22:36
I've not had a hitch fail, but our caravan lost a whole wheel near Cocklebiddy in 2014!
AnswerID: 598160

Follow Up By: Motherhen - Sunday, Apr 03, 2016 at 22:59

Sunday, Apr 03, 2016 at 22:59
Two or four wheeled caravan Paul? We once had a trailer tyre overtake us, from a four wheeled trailer.
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Follow Up By: Paul E6 - Monday, Apr 04, 2016 at 18:42

Monday, Apr 04, 2016 at 18:42
1985 single axle Coromal.
First we knew was seeing the wheel shoot off to the other side of the road in the mirror. The van seemed to ride lopsided, but there was little indication of anything wrong till we stopped and checked out the prob.
Wheel studs sheared off.
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Reply By: Ron N - Sunday, Apr 03, 2016 at 23:26

Sunday, Apr 03, 2016 at 23:26
The hitch stayed together all right on this one! Bit of a shame they didn't manage to keep it upright!

Caravan and car rollover captured on dash cam

This is a classic rollover caused by wind displacement from the big rig, coupled with a badly loaded 'van.

Notice how the van is being displaced to the right, as it first appears alongside the truck mudguard.
This is the solid air displacement from the front of the truck pushing the van out to the right.
However, once the van gets in front of the truck, the air displacement and side pressure suddenly stops - and the van swings back towards the centre line.

With a properly-balanced van, a car driver would have no trouble correcting the initial sway.
However, because the van is obviously too tail-heavy, the sway only accelerates - and the driver has inadequate van handling skills to counter the sway.

As we can see, the pendulum effect only gets worse - exacerbated by the car driver swinging the wheel at the wrong time - then applying the brakes heavily - and the end result is a foregone conclusion.

During 1975, when I lived on my mine on the Gt Eastern Hwy, about 60kms North of Norseman, I knew of 7 caravan rollovers in that 60km stretch of highway, in a 12 mth period!
They were all identical accidents to the one in the video above - all caused by inexperienced drivers, wind blast from trucks, and badly-loaded caravans.

The highway was an excellent road, even back then - but it was widened again by another couple of metres in the 1980's, to give more passing clearance.

Cheers, Ron.
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Follow Up By: Motherhen - Sunday, Apr 03, 2016 at 23:35

Sunday, Apr 03, 2016 at 23:35
Hi Ron, every time I see that and many similar videos, I am screaming "slow down". A bit of a wobble and the driver could have de-accelerated and pulled back. There has been lots of speculation as to the speed of that truck on forums. Fast enough that he should have stayed behind anyway. So many times we see dash cam videos of the caravan continuing at speed and of course the wiggle becomes an irreversible death wobble. We still occasionally see misinformation on the internet "If your caravan starts to wobble, speed up to drive out of it". Anyone listening will end up turning turtle.

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Follow Up By: Ron N - Monday, Apr 04, 2016 at 00:14

Monday, Apr 04, 2016 at 00:14
Motherhen - I don't think the truck is speeding - speed limiters are fitted to all trucks over 12 tonne under ADR 65/00 - and the speed limiters cut in between 105-115kmh depending on the model and type and how they are set.
Of course, speed limiters can be bypassed - but God help any truckie caught doing so - because both the police and transport inspectors carry out random checks regularly.
My truckie neighbour at my workshop says the authorities are really laying into them today, and he said he knows blokes getting tickets for doing 103kmh.

There have been cases of truckies caught speeding at more than 115kmh downhill in neutral ("angel gear") - but that's only in hilly country on the East and South Coasts.
I'd say the video quality and the video transfer to YouTube probably makes the truck look like it's travelling considerably faster than the speed limit.
I have found most of the big rigs are quite often sitting around 108-110kmh, though.

Regardless, even if the truck is travelling at the 100 kmh limit, it's pretty foolish of the caravan hauler to overtake at the speed he/she is doing.
He/she is definitely doing at least 110-115kmh - which is pretty risky with a lot of vans - and the van looks like about a 19 footer, which is long for a single axle van - thus assisting with instability.

If you watch closely, you'll see the Falcons brake lights go on at 29 secs in the replay - right as the sway is increasing - and the brake application only worsens the sway.

There's only one thing to do with a speed wobble - lose pace by backing off the accelerator - try not to touch the brakes - and counter the sway with gentle, but fast, steering corrections, that inhibit the sway, not worsen it.
Many people are too slow and too severe on the steering corrections, and exacerbate the initial sway, thus leading to disaster.

Cheers, Ron.
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Follow Up By: Motherhen - Monday, Apr 04, 2016 at 08:59

Monday, Apr 04, 2016 at 08:59
I agree with what you have said Ron. Yes, The truck was probably moving along at normal speed, so the caravan driver would have been speeding to pass him, certainly too fast for his rig.

When the caravan sways, there are experts who say using to brake controller to brake the caravan gently but not the car should correct an early stage wobble, but in reality, you are hanging on to the steering wheel tight trying hold it steady. To judge to moment turn into the wobble like turning to correct a skid on a slippery surface would not be something I can see anyone trying, or it being of any use.

Meanwhile I have yet to find a first hand story of what happened when the brakes engaged on a runaway caravan. Quite a few when there was no breakaway activated (small or vintage caravans without breakaway system) or the breakaway was attached to the part that came adrift, eg towbar from vehicle or a- frame from trailer.


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Follow Up By: landseka - Monday, Apr 04, 2016 at 21:00

Monday, Apr 04, 2016 at 21:00
I saw on a forum the other day someone got into a bit of a situation towing a van which luckily righted itself, what worried me was the poster blithley stated " I was in the process of yelling to my wife to hit the electric brake controller slider when it settled down"!

WTF!

Use the controller yourself and practice, practice til it is second nature to find the slide in a hurry.
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Follow Up By: Motherhen - Monday, Apr 04, 2016 at 21:04

Monday, Apr 04, 2016 at 21:04
Some drivers have trained their co-pilot to use the brake controller in case needed in a sway situation, knowing they will have both hands firmly on the wheel.
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Follow Up By: Member - Phil G (SA) - Tuesday, Apr 05, 2016 at 23:35

Tuesday, Apr 05, 2016 at 23:35
Agree with Motherhen - truck would have been doing 100kph on that stretch of road; Territory with unstable van was doing 120 I'd guess. The other factor was the cross wind - the dust disappears out to the right, so a cross wind from left to right exacerbates the buffeting effect on the van that started the sway. And of course it doesn't help to brake when the van is at 45 degrees. But how can you accelerate out of it when you're already going flat chat?
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Follow Up By: Motherhen - Tuesday, Apr 05, 2016 at 23:43

Tuesday, Apr 05, 2016 at 23:43
Hi Phil, how can anyone accelerate out of a trailer wobble at any speed beyond little more than stationery? Acceleration increases any speed related wobble and most are, even if there are other contributing factors such as load or wind.

Yes, braking at that point did not help, but he was already a goner. Slowing down and pulling in behind the truck after it regained the front position would have been a better alternative.


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Reply By: Ron N - Monday, Apr 04, 2016 at 23:01

Monday, Apr 04, 2016 at 23:01
This is a true story, related to me by a best mate who was travelling from Bunbury to Moree about 1983.
He was halfway across the Nullarbor when he noticed a scrape mark in the bitumen on the LHS, that seemed fairly fresh.
The scrape mark went for 10-15 kilometres - and was still there, when he finally sighted a caravan ahead in the distance. The caravan was only doing about 75kmh.

As my mate got closer, he saw the 'van had a definite tilt to the left. Even more concerning, there was a steady shower of sparks coming from the LH rear axle of the (tandem axle) van!

Upon approaching to within 100 metres, he could see that the LH rear wheel was gone, and the axle was dragging on the bitumen!
The caravan driver was still keeping up a steady pace, though!!

My mate overtook the van (which was being towed by a fairly new 60 series Landcruiser) and pulled up level with the drivers window.
He could see an old bloke at the wheel - a really old bloke! He reckoned he was in his early 80's.

My mate gesticulated and yelled and tried to get through to the old bloke that he should pull up!!
The old bloke took a minute or two to realise this madman alongside him was trying to get him to pull over - so he finally decided to do so!

My mate stopped ahead, got out and walked back and told the old bloke he was missing a wheel!
The old bloke was astounded! He said, "I thought it was pulling a bit heavy! - but I thought it was the headwind!!"

They went back to check the damage, and my mate said it was unbelievable what the old fella had done!

He'd towed the 'van for so long with the left rear wheel missing, that the hub had disintegrated and totally disappeared - the end of the axle had dragged for so long on the bitumen, it had lost about 200mm of length off the end! - and the axle had got so hot (to red heat), it had transferred the heat to the spring leaves, and the spring leaves had sagged with the heat, until they were bent downwards!!

My mate was completely stunned by the damage - and by the fact that the old fella hadn't noticed anything wrong - apart from a bit of extra throttle required!
You'd think he'd at least have seen the shower of sparks! It's a wonder he didn't set the country alight!

It just goes to show that there's an age where people are past their prime, and they really should give up long-distance driving, because they aren't up to the level of concentration required.
It turned out the old bloke was 85 - and my mate was of the opinion he was well past the ability to safely tow a van across the long paddock.

Cheers, Ron.
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Follow Up By: Motherhen - Monday, Apr 04, 2016 at 23:22

Monday, Apr 04, 2016 at 23:22
A lesson to us all Ron, and I do not see this as age related in any way, to stop and check if something seems amiss, or at least keep an eye on the caravan in the rear vision mirror. We both do this, and if anything seems not quite right we stop and check; to find nothing wrong at all which is the best result.

Yes, we have had gears changing more often than usual.

#1 was in a very strong and dusty headwind, and we were looking for somewhere we could get right off the road and get out of the awful driving conditions. As soon as we did, we discovered we had lost a spring hanger on the caravan and the spring had been dragging on an unsealed road - for 32 kilometres :O.

#2 On unfamiliar roads you do not know the terrain, and a few more gear changes than usual are not uncommon. In this case the breakaway pin had pulled while driving, and we were towing with brakes full on :O.
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Reply By: Motherhen - Tuesday, Apr 12, 2016 at 23:16

Tuesday, Apr 12, 2016 at 23:16
In summary: Has your caravan ever broken away? What happened?

With this question asked across four forums and one caravanning Facebook page, the reports (mostly first hand with some second hand) have been grouped to the best match scenario of that incident. Incidents involving heavy haulage units have not been included as hitching is different to a caravan or standard trailer.

Unhitched or broken hitch but remained on the chains: 9
These were not breakaways as the trailer remained connected via the chains.

Complete disconnection from tow vehicle:

Towbar broke away, broke, or a frame came away: 6
In these incidents the breakaway attachment point also came away or there was no breakaway.

No chains or breakaway (eg older trailer or incident prior to breakaways being common): 2

Hitch and chains broke, no breakaway: 2

Trailer broke away completely and breakaway activated: 0

We have yet to hear of a caravan breaking free and being pulled up by its breakaway. There were a few reports of breakaways being activated accidentally while driving.

Conclusions

None of the incidents where the breakaway did not activate were caused by any failure of the breakaway battery, only by the breakaway not activating because it was connected to the parts that broke away. This does reinforce the idea that the breakaway cable should be attached to the tow vehicle on the body not the towbar.
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Follow Up By: Ron N - Friday, Apr 15, 2016 at 23:16

Friday, Apr 15, 2016 at 23:16
Motherhen, one of the things that should be done as part of regular maintenance is checking the tightness of towbar mounting bolts.

If the towbar has been fitted commercially, it's usually fitted by the lowliest member of the workshop staff, or the person with the minimal level of fitting skills.

I have often found towbar bolts badly fitted, or loose, even a short period after fitting of the towbar.
This is usually as a result of carelessness, lack of skill, or lack of attention to detail by the towbar fitter.

Even when towbars are fitted properly and bolts torqued correctly - the hammering that towbars get, from the constant up-and-down heaving of the trailer/camper/caravan drawbar - can often make properly-torqued bolts come loose.

This is because many towbar fastening bolts are fitted through oversize or elongated holes in the chassis, that allow movement once the towbar has been put to serious work.

It also pays to check that all bolts are high tensile - 8.8 Grade in metric as a minimum (equivalent to Grade 5 in imperial sizes), or 10.9 Grade in metric, which is the equivalent of Grade 8 in imperial measures.

Common mild steel bolts do not have adequate strength for towbar retention, because they will stretch very easily - and they also have poor shear strength, which is needed to resist guillotining.

Cheers, Ron.
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