Caravan Sway

Submitted: Thursday, Jan 20, 2005 at 09:59
ThreadID: 19605 Views:10841 Replies:10 FollowUps:15
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Hello All
After 19 years of trouble free caravanning with my Aerolite I sold it and bought a new Roma Sov'reign - and I bought heaps of trouble! My latest problem is with towing the blessed thing.
Point one, despite the towbar fitted to my Berlina (fitted with extra heavy duty rear springs and shockers) being OK for the caravan load (<1.5 tonnes loaded), ball weight limit seems to be 90 kg for that bar. My 'van ball weight is 130kg part loaded and perhaps 10kg more fully loaded. Also, I was recommended by the dealer to fit a Camec two bar tow kit, which I did. Now I find that this stuff is capable of "distribution of 80kg from rear end of car to front wheels and wheels of trailer". YES, I obviously need a new towbar, but can you experienced people let me have your opinions as to whether the apparent under specifications of the bar and tow aid accounts for a marked tendency of the van to sway at around 90 kph?
( I have checked tyres and run at 45 psi on 'van and 38psi in back car tyres; re-distributed weight in van and boot several ways without much effect; fiddled with the number of links on the tow aid).
My first reaction is to jump straight for the best towing setup with a Hayman Reese bar and 550 weight distribution hitch.
Your sage advice will be most welcome.
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Reply By: Top Cat - Thursday, Jan 20, 2005 at 10:24

Thursday, Jan 20, 2005 at 10:24
Swaying of towed vehicles is almost always due to a poorly balanced vehicle.

Sounds to me like there is far to much weight towards the rear of the caravan.

Try moving weight towards the front.

If u are unable to move weight towards the front then you will need to have the position of the axle reset so that it is further back.

On boat trailers there are generally a selection of different holes available on the chsis to select from in order to move the axle back or forward and while i dont own a caravan, it wouldnt surprise me to find that they have them as well.

In my boat which is a 17 footer.........the movement of 40litres of fuel from the rear up to the front.....cabin.......of the boat, makes a massive difference when towing.

AnswerID: 94054

Follow Up By: Member - Captain (WA) - Thursday, Jan 20, 2005 at 10:44

Thursday, Jan 20, 2005 at 10:44
Hi Top cat,

Vans cannot have relocatable wheels as the wheel well on the van body has to fit. Unfortunately the van engineer has to get it right in the design stage as once built its not feasable to move the wheels. Some vans are just more inherently stable due to their (better) design. But moving weight to help balance is the right way to go.


FollowupID: 353030

Follow Up By: Top Cat - Thursday, Jan 20, 2005 at 11:10

Thursday, Jan 20, 2005 at 11:10
aha.........thanks mate..........all makes sense.

That being the case, the original poster might like to try placing some drums of water up the front of the van to offset the weight at the back...........that is of course if its not just the way he has packed the van himself.

FollowupID: 353043

Reply By: greghud - Thursday, Jan 20, 2005 at 10:29

Thursday, Jan 20, 2005 at 10:29
sounds like weight distribution the bar should fix the prob but 1 thing to check is that the wheels are aligned. the distence between the front tyres to the tow hitch shuld be exactly the same. can cause sway also this will scrub out the inside or outside of the tyres. just things to check. greg
AnswerID: 94055

Follow Up By: ozromer - Thursday, Jan 20, 2005 at 19:41

Thursday, Jan 20, 2005 at 19:41
Thanks Greg
I shall do just that. Certainly it's an issue I had not thought of.
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Reply By: Member - Captain (WA) - Thursday, Jan 20, 2005 at 10:40

Thursday, Jan 20, 2005 at 10:40
Hi ozromer

You sound like you have done all the right things so far like uprated springs, shocks, WDH, tyre pressure and ~10% ball weight. While a Hayman Reese tow bar may have a higher load rating, I don't think it will have any impact on your sway problem, more of a long term relaibility/strength issue. As for the 550 WDH, I am not sure how much more weight that will transfer, but I thought ~90kg was the most any WDH will do. But more important to transfer the right amount of weight rather than the most amount.

Are you sure that the current ball weight is about ~130kg (~10% of van weight). Too light a ball weight can also cause sway issues, just like too much ball weight. Does your vehicle look level once its all set up? Also, how far back are the wheels on the van, are they approximately central to the van or further towards the back? The further back they are the more stable towing characteristics you get (think of a semi-trailer, its rear wheels are at the end of the trailer) but you have to watch the ball weight. If you have "central" wheels and too little ball weight, this can induce sway.

Is this sway problem just on your vehicle or is it with any vehicle towed by the van. Working this out will help in seeing if its a van or vehicle issue. I am assuming the van hasn't a major wheel alignment issue or grabbing brakes or some other type of mechanical problem.

Have you towed a van of this weight before with the Berlina (not that its a particularly heavy van at all), not too sure just how well the Berlina tows?


AnswerID: 94058

Follow Up By: ozromer - Thursday, Jan 20, 2005 at 21:47

Thursday, Jan 20, 2005 at 21:47
G'day Captain

You pose very penetrating questions.
First up though I must point out the confusion that seems to surround "ball weight" and the "weight transference" gained using towing aids. An expert belonging to Arrow Caravans (Brisbane) has told me that my current bar is illegal because, although it is rated high enough to pull my 'van, its maximum ball weight allowance is 90kg. He also told me that the two bar Camec tow aid is only rated for 80 kg ball weight. On the other hand, the Camec specifications for their tow aids say they "transfer up to xxkilogrammes from the rear of the car to the front wheels of the car and the wheels of the caravan", no mention of ball weight. If one is shifting loads around like this, there must surely be some relationship between ball weight and load transference, but I can't find any reference to it.
I am certainly not trying to tranfer the "most" amount, I am trying to get legal (and safe). In this context, I am advised that the 2100kg bar from HR has a ball weight limit over 200 kg.
You could be right about too light a ball weight induced by the tow aid since the 'van does at times seem just a tad down at the back. If I get the WDH, it seems I can readily correct this and have a slight dip at the towbar to get the airflow to bear down on the 'van tyres.
Vehicle looks beaut once set up, no sags or horrible tail up, despite slight bias of 'van to rear.
Caravan wheels well back of centre, but I have not tried a tow with other vehicle. Also I have only towed an Aerolite (@1100kg ATM) before with the Berlina.
I do appreciate your trouble in addressing the pertinent issues.
My current thinking is to get the bees knees in towing systems and tackle any other issue with confidence in the link between 'van and car.

The best

FollowupID: 353158

Follow Up By: Member - Ross P (NSW) - Friday, Jan 21, 2005 at 09:55

Friday, Jan 21, 2005 at 09:55
Hi Des,

Could be wrong but I think ball weight and towing capacity is determined by the vehicle specification. Tow bars are made and rated accordingly. Some manufactures have different towing capacity bars but cannot exceed the max stated in the manual.

Eg my NP Pajero can tow a max of 2500 kg with brakes with a max ball weight of 250 Kg and the manual "recommends" the use of a WDH. I have HD King spings on the back with OE ones left on the front. Bilsteins shocks all round.

I tow a 16 ft Corimal Seka 505 Pioneer XC with a correctly rated HR type tow bar and genuine HR WDH. The fully laiden van weighs in at about 1800 kg and the ball weight at 220kg

I can't tell you how much weight gets transfered to the front of the vehicle but I set the hitch up so that the front of the car comes back down to within 15 mm or so of its unhitched height.

I end up with a very level and stable rig which tows at speed with absolutely no sway even when being passed by B-Dobles nad road trains.
FollowupID: 353220

Follow Up By: ozromer - Friday, Jan 21, 2005 at 22:37

Friday, Jan 21, 2005 at 22:37
My friend you have hit exactly on the dilemma I (and probably many others) face. The vehicle manufacturer in my case specifies a towing bar of particular capacity up to a maximum number of kgs (but no ball wt is mentioned). My towbar meets this spec, but the towing rig expert I consulted says that I am illegal because the ball weight my bar will accept is lower than the actual ball weight expressed by my new caravan. The installer of the towbar (fitted so that I could tow a much lighter 'van than my present one) agrees that the ball wt limit is well down on what I need.
In this very Exploroz site (Caravan and RV/Choosing and Setting up a Tow Vehicle/Towing Regulations) you will find reference to ball weight but no actual definition of the "Regulation". Despite an attempt at uniform rules across Oz, I think there are confusing terminologies and a lack of clarity as to what is legally needed and what might be recommended.
Frankly, to protect both my safety and insurance cover I am inclined to over engineer my towing system and have a wide margin for error, but I would love to know just how wide that margin is.
I really do appreciate your input and advice. Your practical experience is invaluable as is that of so many who have responded to my cry for help.

FollowupID: 353335

Follow Up By: Member - Ross P (NSW) - Monday, Jan 24, 2005 at 09:03

Monday, Jan 24, 2005 at 09:03
Hi Des,

What year model Berlina? I am suprised that max ball weight is not clearly specified.
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Follow Up By: ozromer - Monday, Jan 24, 2005 at 12:58

Monday, Jan 24, 2005 at 12:58
You are absolutely right! I had consulted tthe owner's manual and assumed that the table of "essential" and "recommended" hardware for towing was the complete story. Had I turned another page, I would have found more advice including that ball wt should be @ 10% of loaded mass.
Thanks for prodding me to be more thorough.
I am still puzzled though that the firm that fitted my original towbar could advise that although the bar could handle the overall 'van wt, it was not rated to receive the ball wt involved, hence I was illegal.
I have therefore gone for the doctor and fitted HR tow bar rated at 2100 kg and the HR wieght distribution hitch. Have yet to try it out.
FollowupID: 353554

Follow Up By: Member - Ross P (NSW) - Monday, Jan 24, 2005 at 14:29

Monday, Jan 24, 2005 at 14:29
The current laws, especially for insurance purposes, use the vehicle manufacturer's specification to determine legal limits. Irrespective of the tow bar maker's claims if you want to be insurance and roadworthy leagal you cannot exceed the stated figures. It doesn't matter how strong your tow bar is.
It's fine to go "top-draw" on the equipment but, heaven forbid if you are in an accident and have exceeded the manufacturer's limits you could be liable both road rules wise and insurance wise.
Now to throw in another dimension some car makers play with specifications. The maximum weight you can have as vehicle payload and trailer mass needs to be considered.
Can't say for the Berlina but the Pajero manual clearly defines how much weight you can carry in the car before you are cosidered "illegal".
Fortunately the Paj's maximum towing weight still stays at 2500kg with a full vehicle payload. Not so for some cars. You may need to check.

I'm suprised that the Berlina manual states 10% of trailer mass without puting an actual figure on it. Typically you get a max number and the accepted norm for stable towing ist to have the ball loaded to 10 to 15% of the trailer's total weight.
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Follow Up By: Member - Ross P (NSW) - Monday, Jan 24, 2005 at 15:05

Monday, Jan 24, 2005 at 15:05

As an example of this dilema some earlier model Pajeros had a tow ball rating of 70 kg. Clearly, the vehicle was/is capable of more weght if fitted with the right tow bar.
I was on the sidelines of a legal challenge to Mitsubishi Motors when an aquaintance was acting for a disgruntled Pajero owner who wanted to buy a new Caravan.
The upshot was that Mitsubishi agrred to change the stated max ball weight and all was well.
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Follow Up By: ozromer - Monday, Jan 24, 2005 at 20:50

Monday, Jan 24, 2005 at 20:50
Thanks again. I do not want to make this a bigger saga than necessary, but it is obviously a thorny question.
My Berlina (2000 VT11) manual RECOMMENDS that the ball wt should be 10% (no plus or minus) of packed trailer wt. It then states axle load limits. There follows an almost Pythonesque example of how to balance your car/trailer combo if you happen to have five 68 kg people and the maximum allowable luggage in the car. "Shift nearly all of the luggage to the trailer and she'll be apples". But the ball wt maximum is given as the luggage wt plus 10% of the trailer mass. So, what you have in the boot plus 10% of trailer's loaded mass should not exceed the max allowable luggage weight.
Sorry, it is probably not possible to convey the absurdity of the text in this manual without reproducing it verbatim.
It surely is valid though to wonder, if there really are 40,000 grey nomads out there, how many are a) fully aware of the towing regs issue and b) how many are unwittingly outside of the requirements.

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Reply By: vanaway - Thursday, Jan 20, 2005 at 10:40

Thursday, Jan 20, 2005 at 10:40
I think youre right your towing gear is sus.
In a van the only way to adjust ball weight is to re-locate your load - and correct loading is essential in a single axle van. The correct ball weight is between 10 &15 % of the van weight.

You should also check that the car has sufficient weight distribution for control and braking. The WDH does this by forcing the front wheels down. measure the height of the front wheel arch off the ground without the van on. Then connect the van and measure again. There should be very little change if you are correctly set up.

The Hayman Reece web site has a great many hints to correctly setting up your van. Also suggest a search or you ask on the caravnners forum. You could get an answer from owners of the same rig/combination - but would certainly get responses from people a lot more knowledgeable on the subject than me..

The WDH makes a huge difference to the handling of the van. We have towed with and without - NEVER without again.

AnswerID: 94059

Reply By: Member - Bob K (QLD) - Thursday, Jan 20, 2005 at 14:38

Thursday, Jan 20, 2005 at 14:38
From my experience the best thing to do is contact Hayman Reese and ask for a recommended dealer in your area. Take your vehicle and van to the dealer and I would be very surprised if you come away unhappy.
There are so many things to consider I think it is best to start at the beginning and work through it with them.

AnswerID: 94099

Follow Up By: ozromer - Thursday, Jan 20, 2005 at 21:51

Thursday, Jan 20, 2005 at 21:51
Thanks , I am in the process of doing as you suggest.

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Reply By: Mr Z - Thursday, Jan 20, 2005 at 17:29

Thursday, Jan 20, 2005 at 17:29
a little bit off topic.....
just wondering how you ound your aerolite? any problems over the years?
i have the option to buy one, but it will be close to 10k
AnswerID: 94122

Follow Up By: ozromer - Thursday, Jan 20, 2005 at 22:11

Thursday, Jan 20, 2005 at 22:11
Mr Z

Had my Aerolite for 19 years. On the track, it did not let me down once and that included a bit of rough stuff such as the journey into Carnarvon Gorge (a shocker in 1993), the road into Gunpowder (W of mt Isa) and the usual quota of gravel you get anywhere in Oz. Long trips included around Oz, Brisbane to Adelaide to Darwin and back via the Barkly Hwy, Brisbane to Cairns a few times including inland routes. No dramas.

This tale may not be typical. There are all sorts of yarns about this caravan being so fragile that it almost sent Viscount broke all by itself. Many is the time my sanity has been questioned by other caravanners in having such an ill-starred RV.

I think the structure of the Aerolite was a bit light on. I had to have re-sealing done a couple of times besause of leaks and an astute caravan repairer put a couple of strengthening plates on the chassis at alleged weak points.

I sold my Aerolite for about half of the price you seem to be facing. It was in good nick, but at 19 years old, I reckon it owed me nothing. Don't know when they stopped making the marque, but it was a long while ago.

Best of luck with the decision making.
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Reply By: Member - Russell B (SA) - Thursday, Jan 20, 2005 at 18:23

Thursday, Jan 20, 2005 at 18:23
The age old questions.

Keep the ball weight not less than 10-15% of trailer gross. so at 1500kg it should be a minimum of 150kg. I use one of those Maytow hydraulic weigh measuring gadgets to check the load/ball weight.

I use a Heavy duty Weight Distibution Unit (Canadian Ezy Lift) capable upto 550 pound (or 275kg) ball weight, there is also an additional anti sway bar device as well to add to this if there is still a problem.

Me I have no problems with sway even when I have slipped of the road, rock steady at all times.

AnswerID: 94133

Reply By: tonysmc - Thursday, Jan 20, 2005 at 18:52

Thursday, Jan 20, 2005 at 18:52
I happen to have a hayman Reese 550 weight distribution hitch if you are interested in buying it. Depending on where you are, you could try it out first if you like. Just post a reply if you are interested. I'm in melbourne at the moment. I cannot tell you if it works well or not as I have never used it.
AnswerID: 94137

Follow Up By: ozromer - Thursday, Jan 20, 2005 at 22:15

Thursday, Jan 20, 2005 at 22:15
Thanks for the offer. I am in Brisbane and I am close to getting a deal on the WDH but your knd thought is appreciated.
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Reply By: ozromer - Thursday, Jan 20, 2005 at 22:24

Thursday, Jan 20, 2005 at 22:24
Laze 'n Gem
You are amazing! Thanks so much for all the well argued input - and so quickly delivered.
I am taking on board all you have told me. I can see no one arguing against getting top line towing gear first up then going after any residual problems. So that's what I shall do.

Many thanks

AnswerID: 94172

Reply By: Kazza055 - Friday, Jan 21, 2005 at 00:20

Friday, Jan 21, 2005 at 00:20
Something that has not been mentioned but I believe I have experienced myself is to make certain your water tanks are full or near to.

My first trip away, I put minimal water in the tank thinking of trying to reduce the weight. Result was that at 100K I was starting to get a sway up. Next trip I put 35lb in front, 40lb in rear (EL Falcon) and 50lb in van (16' single axle) and found I could cruise at 110K without a problem.

Agree with others that it is all to do with weight distribution within the van plus WDH but having about 70kG below the van and right near the axle must lower the centre of gravity and help stabilise the rig.

Bob Cheers
AnswerID: 94189

Follow Up By: Noosa Bushtrackers - Friday, Jan 21, 2005 at 13:47

Friday, Jan 21, 2005 at 13:47
I agree Bob. You should know what your ball weight is with the water tanks FULL and also when EMPTY. It may mean that you should move the water tank forward of back to get the best weight balance.

With our Bushtracker we have 5 by 82lt water tanks. I always use water from rear tank first and then move forward as I have found it is better to have too much ball weight than not enough.
Doing it tuff, Towing a Bushtracker.

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