Towing Incident

Submitted: Wednesday, May 04, 2005 at 09:11
ThreadID: 22636 Views:4263 Replies:20 FollowUps:8
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Holiday plans had a major setback yesterday when my car and caravan jack-knifed on a freeway. After a 180 degree turnaround, the caravan ended up on its roof (write-off) and the car on the driver's side. I climbed out the passenger door with a scratch on my elbow. Very lucky. Waiting on insurance companies now.

I'd like to hear what others think about the incident. Here's what happened:

I was alone in the car doing 90 - 95 kph on the inside lane of a three lane freeway, not rushing and with no-one close in front. A truck went by in the centre lane and created the partial vacuum that sucks you in towards it. Several had done this before and I was watching for them and compensating as they passed.

This one was different. My car and caravan started weaving and it quickly developed into major stuff, criss-crossing at least two of the three freeway lanes. I applied my electric caravan brakes, but it didn't stop it. I ended up fairly neatly in the emergency lane, facing the way I had come. Luckily, everything missed me and all the other vehicles on the crowded freeway missed each other.


1. Was I just unlucky and was this an isolated, one off incident?
2. What is the likelihood of it happening again?
3. What else could I have done to avoid it in the first place?
4. What else could I have done to minimise the effect once it had started?
5. Is there a "damper" device I could have fitted to reduce weaving?

The car is a Land Rover Discovery, TDi, 1995; caravan a Regent X-Treme pop-top (off roader); Hayman Reese weight distribution hitch; car and caravan running level; car has heavy duty King Springs front and back (progressive on rear) - airbags at 10psi in rear.

All advice welcome.

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Reply By: Des Lexic - Wednesday, May 04, 2005 at 09:22

Wednesday, May 04, 2005 at 09:22
Derek, many years ago, I had the pleasure (not) of my van attempting the same passing manouvre. I fitted a set of anti sway bars and would never tow a van without them again. It took all the sway out of the system and the van tracked like it was on rails.
A couple of things you could look out for; are the electric brakes set to come on before the vehicle brakes; have you the correct weight on the tow hitch that the vehicle is designed for.
As for the likelihood of it happening again, who can say but if you do nothing, I guess it is more likely to happen again.
AnswerID: 109577

Reply By: Member - Luxoluk - Wednesday, May 04, 2005 at 09:23

Wednesday, May 04, 2005 at 09:23
Sorry and surprised to hear of your mishap. Obviously something was wrong but I assume your tow vehicle is heavy and the van is relatively lighter. Weight at the extremes of the van, ie far forward or at the rear could give some explanation or possibly more weight in the rear of the tow vehicle would have helped?? Often it can be better to drive out of these situations rather than reduce power or brake. The trucks passing you tend to highlight a deficiency in the tow set up or car/van combination. You must be pretty relieved in getting out of this....despite the bl##dy damage!!
AnswerID: 109578

Reply By: Footloose - Wednesday, May 04, 2005 at 09:24

Wednesday, May 04, 2005 at 09:24
Derek, you were relatively lucky, at least you're alive. I can't offer any advice as I refuse to tow anything larger than a 6X4 trailer.
Many years ago my father had a similar experience. He was also very lucky at that time. Ever since, I've shuddered when seeing bits of vans along the roadside.
Now I know that thousands of vans arrive safely at their destinations every night. And I can appreciate the joys of taking your home with you. But it's not for me.
Bad luck and I hope others can offer constructive comments.
AnswerID: 109579

Reply By: fozzy - Wednesday, May 04, 2005 at 09:27

Wednesday, May 04, 2005 at 09:27
great to hear your uninjured
possibly could have accelerated to bring both into line(easier said than done) but at end of day you are ok just miss out on holiday and can put down as one of those things
im sure insurance shouldnt give you any problems-at least hope so
go buy tatts ticket and hope all goes well
AnswerID: 109580

Follow Up By: bundyman - Wednesday, May 04, 2005 at 09:47

Wednesday, May 04, 2005 at 09:47
Got to agree with you Fozzy, best thing to do if you can't independantly apply the trailer brakes (to pull it in straight) is to accelerate until the trailer settles then ease off and slow down without using the brakes much. It goes against what your body is saying (a bit like accelerating when loosing traction going down a mud hill) and the old sphincter muscle will be puckering harder than a Politician at a kindagarden. This is what all semi and road train drivers are taught.

Good to see your OK and walked away nearly without a scratch. I live in Cobar (NSW) and there is another car / caravan rollover in the holding yard every couple of months, I'd say from much the same thing you've described. Unfortunately a rollover out here means you will definately end up in a table drain or even worse into a tree.

Hope you insurance company pays up and you enjoy the next holiday.


FollowupID: 366181

Reply By: Disco200Tdi - Wednesday, May 04, 2005 at 09:47

Wednesday, May 04, 2005 at 09:47
Sorry for what happened Derek but you did it all wrong.

You HAD to accelerate to regain straight line stability. Braking was the worst thing to do and made the situation worse.

This principle is similar to 4wding on steep slippery hills. Use the brakes and the car will want to swap ends.

Hope the insurance does it job.


John D
AnswerID: 109581

Reply By: Big Kidz (Andrew & Jen) - Wednesday, May 04, 2005 at 10:22

Wednesday, May 04, 2005 at 10:22
I remember coming home from Pambula with a caravan. It would get the sways up terribly and we stopped to check things. Someone stopped and told us that it was because we had packed it all wrong. They said we had too much weight at the ends and that it developed a pendulum type motion. We moved a lot of things out of the ends - partcularly the back as it is not attached to anything- annexe and bags and bike etc onto the floor over the axles at towed heaps better.

AnswerID: 109586

Reply By: Member - iMusty (VIC) - Wednesday, May 04, 2005 at 10:32

Wednesday, May 04, 2005 at 10:32
Is this the Ring Rd incident?

If so, you must be close to me.

Plenty of room left in the Coaster if you still want to get away up the Hills this weekend for a few days.

email me if you like.

AnswerID: 109587

Reply By: Wombat - Wednesday, May 04, 2005 at 11:43

Wednesday, May 04, 2005 at 11:43
Sorry to hear about your mishap Derek. Great to hear that the only damage was to machinery! When you say "I applied my electric caravan brakes, but it didn't stop it", do you mean you applied the van breaks indepenently of the towing vehicle?
AnswerID: 109596

Follow Up By: GOB & denny vic member - Wednesday, May 04, 2005 at 19:06

Wednesday, May 04, 2005 at 19:06
wombat i was going to ask the same question as normally appling the van brakes without the car brakes would pull it out of the problem but applying all brakes would finish the job the truck started unfortunately

FollowupID: 366259

Follow Up By: wannabee - Thursday, May 05, 2005 at 20:45

Thursday, May 05, 2005 at 20:45
eeek -what's this -bloody always blame the truckie ,that'b right .yes you got it ,i'm one .
obviously you have jumped the gun with not all the facts -your not with the news are you????

you might just find that the poor old truckie driving down the road ,minding his own buisness went passed this bloke with no intention of doing anything ,but infact the bloke towing his caravan more than likely (by what he has said)has overloaded it with all the creature comforts of home with little or no knowledge of how to load or pack the dam thing ,has hooked this probably 20 to 30 foot thing in on his 4wd thinking it'll be ok. no special licence needed of course.
maybe he should have got some instruction (best from a truckie)on how to load it/tow it/what might happen to it out on the highway.
i see so many vans with 20 to 30 vehicles stuck in behind them ,all trying to get passed all because they are doing the right thing by going slow 80kmh(best speed to keep them under control) but dont have the brains to pull over every now and then to let them by.
go and buy some anti sway bars ,you'll think it's not there then.
learn how to load it and balance the whole show .
slow down ------ on holidays ,but always in a hurry.........

give the truckie a break -pull over and let em by.......
FollowupID: 366475

Follow Up By: DerekH - Saturday, May 07, 2005 at 15:09

Saturday, May 07, 2005 at 15:09
Not on holiday; 16' van; not loaded - when it is, we don't take all our creature comforts and they are loaded around the axle and low down; one item to rear of axle may have reduced the ball weight in this case; I wasn't seeking to blame the truckie, he was just doing his job; if I see a queue behind me, I pull over - hate to be in a queue when I don't have the van.
FollowupID: 366743

Reply By: garrycol - Wednesday, May 04, 2005 at 16:10

Wednesday, May 04, 2005 at 16:10

I know the feeling - similar happened to me in a Suzuki Sierra and more lately nearly lost a load with Discovery. Try posting on the following site which a popular Landrover site and the people there might be able to advise something that is specific to Discovery's.

AnswerID: 109632

Reply By: Member - Jeff M (WA) - Wednesday, May 04, 2005 at 16:43

Wednesday, May 04, 2005 at 16:43
I've got to agree about the acceleration as the correct cause of action. I don't tow vans, too much hassel IMHO, but there are a lot of people who do and love it!
I have done my fair share of towing though and some quite heavy loads with smaller vehicles at times. I've had some viscous sways a couple of times, once towing some limstone blocks. It felt ok (heavy but ok) and I was towing with a brand new subaru forrester. No problems, 60k's an hour through the burbs but as soon as I touched the brakes she went all over the road!! I HAD to throttle up to get back onto my side of the road and get the beast under control, then coast gently to a stop, turn around and head back to take some of the load off. Scared the crap out of me. Can't imagine what you would have been going through, bet your still white knuckled!!
AnswerID: 109643

Reply By: Steve - Wednesday, May 04, 2005 at 17:32

Wednesday, May 04, 2005 at 17:32
two things to do are: a) keep an eye on approaching semis coming up from behind, slow down as they approach and then accelerate as they draw level with you b) apply brake controller by hand. Touch wood, I've never had to apply my brake controller by hand and wonder if I would even do that spontaneously, but I do keep a keen eye thru my wing mirror for approaching high vehicles overtaking me. I usually ease off the gas and then hit the gas as the truck reaches me. I'll be even more vigilant from now. It's these trucks coming up from behind that are the danger, more so than the ones bombing past in the opposite direction.
AnswerID: 109650

Follow Up By: V8troopie - Wednesday, May 04, 2005 at 17:52

Wednesday, May 04, 2005 at 17:52
And another thing, once the swaying started the upper body movement of the driver gets in sync with the sway and involuntarily makes it worse through small movements of the steering wheel.
I have just returned from towing a 2500kg boat back home after a holiday. Somehow it was loaded a bit different than before and would start to sway a little when approaching 90km/h. Touching the electric trailer brakes straightened the rig but I also found that, if I braced my upper body, left elbow on the arm rest and right elbow against the door, the sway would be much less and much easier controlled by the electric brake application.
The other 'cure' of accelerating is out of the question with that load and at that speed with the troopy.

FollowupID: 366240

Reply By: Member - DOZER- Wednesday, May 04, 2005 at 17:52

Wednesday, May 04, 2005 at 17:52
Hi Derek
If you havnt already, buy a lottery ticket....from what youve said, you should be in hospital.
I would say that the most probable answer is the van had too little ball weight...or too much weight over the back of the axle.
This is extremely dangerous, as the weight dist bars arnt effective anymore, and the rear tyres of the prime mover have less weight on them...the rear suspension is not sitting level (under its own weight) etc etc etc on bumps
Hope all goes well with insurance ;-)
b4 you bag me out, walk a mile in my shoes, then your a mile away and have my shoes :)

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AnswerID: 109655

Reply By: Member - Camper (SA) - Wednesday, May 04, 2005 at 21:12

Wednesday, May 04, 2005 at 21:12
As I was driving up to the right rear corner of a F100 dual axle trailer combination years ago in a dual lane situation it suddenly got the serious wobbles with the driver almost losing control as you describe.
The trailer was loaded to the rear with gravel and for me it drilled in the notion of making sure I always load trailers to provide weight on the drawbar.
When starting out on a new trip I always try out the stability of the set up by trying to induce some sway. If it didn't come under control as soon as I stopped swinging the wheel I'd rejig the load.
It's worked so far.
I assume that low tyre pressures on either the vehicle or the van wouldn't help much once any sway was started.
Congrats on your escape from personal injury.
AnswerID: 109697

Reply By: dingbat - Wednesday, May 04, 2005 at 22:29

Wednesday, May 04, 2005 at 22:29
What a nightmare, but I feel that dozer's reply is probably the closest, its all to do with drawbar weights and braking/accelerating at appropriate times plus the unkn own impact of wind and suction from offending heavy vehicle. Have towed vans/boats for 35 years and had a few scary moments, often when loading was marginal.
Glad your OK
AnswerID: 109717

Reply By: ianmc - Wednesday, May 04, 2005 at 22:42

Wednesday, May 04, 2005 at 22:42
If the van went on its side first then the car was taken over by the twisting motion of the van on the hitch the roll over of the car may have been avoided if the hitch had a 360 degree swivel. Not sure if any do & certainly a sway or level ride device linking the van & car would surely tend to turn the car over & prevent such a device from working.
The high centre of gravity of the Disco would not help in maintaining control but that is not totally avoidable in a 4wd.
Derek, your post has intriduced a note of caution into my head as I have just bought a 15' pop top, and it may well save others from such a fate too. Well done.
AnswerID: 109718

Reply By: Mick - Wednesday, May 04, 2005 at 23:46

Wednesday, May 04, 2005 at 23:46
Glad to hear you're OK Derek but sorry about the accident. Number one rule if a sway develops is DON'T TOUCH THE BRAKES!!!!! Contrary to one person above accelerating is never out of the question. Think of it this way, if you apply more power to the tow vehicle it will straighten the combination. If the speed limit is 100 or even 110kph then that is the best speed to travel at because the problem was at least partially caused by the difference in speed between the truck and you. I mean if you had been travelling at or near the same speed as the truck, the effect would have been much less. Keep in mind too that many truck drivers are not big on brains. Just a day ago a B double ended up on its side while coming off the Bolte Bridge. There are signs giving plenty of warning and even if there weren't it is obvious that there is a bend to negotiate but he went into to it so fast that the whole thing tipped over!!!! There are numerous truck accidents on freeways because so many just don't know how to handle big rigs. They may know how to get a licence but that's about all.
AnswerID: 109736

Reply By: Stolzy - Thursday, May 05, 2005 at 01:49

Thursday, May 05, 2005 at 01:49
Hi Derek,
When you say you applied the electric brakes, did you apply them through the controller or with your foot? If you applied the brakes with the controller, then you have done the right thing. This acts in the same way as accellerating (you are creating a pulling force between the car and van). As for sitting on the speed limit, you should just travel as fast as you feel comfortable with.
AnswerID: 109745

Reply By: Topend - Thursday, May 05, 2005 at 03:05

Thursday, May 05, 2005 at 03:05
Hi Derek,

I have not towed caravans but I have towed a lot of boats. My current boat wieghs in at 2100kg and is 3 metres high. I can tow it at any speed up to 120km/h (I usually sit on 100km/h) and it is rock steady. I often travel corrigated roads and depending on conditions will still travel at 100km/h. Some times this involves braking hard when approaching creeks etc. I have never had any stability problems. Road trains coming the other way have no effect. I have about 7% of the boats wieght on the tow ball and am always careful with this. My vehicle is a LC100 TD which ways in at 2760kg plus load.

My point is that any towing rig should be stable if there is sufficient wieght on the ball and the vehicle is up to it. If there was a hint of instability I would stop and find out why.

Glad to here you are ok and hope the insurance is sorted in reasonable time.

AnswerID: 109746

Reply By: TomZ - Thursday, May 05, 2005 at 13:26

Thursday, May 05, 2005 at 13:26
Glad to hear you escaped without injury but your experience has caused me a fair bit of concern. I've just purchased a Regent Xtreme and will be picking it up in a few weeks. What vintage was your caravan? I assume you had a Hyland hitch on the caravan that swivels like a universal joint (sort of) as I think they are a standard inclusion. This should mean if the van tipped it doesn't necessarily follow that your vehicle would be flipped as consequence. I will read the responses to your unfortunate experience with more that a passing interest.

Good luck with your insurance
AnswerID: 109819

Follow Up By: Mark- Thursday, May 05, 2005 at 21:24

Thursday, May 05, 2005 at 21:24
I wouldnt be at all worried because you have the same make of van. An incident like this is far more likely to be due to factors you can easily control (as mentioned in the previous replies) than any inherent problems with this make of van. I also suspect that the tow vehicle rolling over is due to being 'pulled' over by the swaying , rather than 'twisted' over by the overturning van if that makes sense. What I mean is, its unlikely a flexible coupling would have prevented the Disco rolling.
FollowupID: 366487

Follow Up By: DerekH - Friday, May 06, 2005 at 11:13

Friday, May 06, 2005 at 11:13
Like Mark, I don't think the make of van had anything to do with the accident. We have been away in it before and, under full operational load, it tows very well, including down the same stretch of freeway under similar traffic conditions.

On this occasion, the van (which was just over a month old) was nearly empty as I had taken it out for some modifications by Regent and to have annexe walls fitted. It may well have been those walls which were the root cause because after picking them up I threw them in the back of the van forgetting that a couple of other relatively heavy items had been left under the bed already. The boot at the front was empty of its usual contents.

By the way, since the accident Graham Williams and his staff at Regent have been doing everything possible to get us back on the road as soon as possible. They are trying to find us a replacement and, having driven other caravans and trailers, I have no issue going back on the road with a Regent X-Treme behind me.

As for the car turning on its side, there are a couple of reasons this could have happened. As someone pointed out in an earlier reply, the weight distribution hitch could have stopped the Hyland (?) hitch working to its full capability. Second, I was sideways on at speed for a while as the vehicles turned 180 degrees through the horizontal. The high centre of gravity of the Disco would not have withstood this for long.

FollowupID: 366573

Follow Up By: Member - Ross P (NSW) - Friday, May 06, 2005 at 12:54

Friday, May 06, 2005 at 12:54
Hi DereK,

Sounds like you are getting things under control. Good to hear.

I tow a Coromal Seka 505 Pioneer XC and so far (fingers crossed now) have not had any problems at all. My van is a poptop with additional height in the walls and has the off-road pack which includes additional ground clearance etc.

From your response here and other people's comments I'd be thinking ball weight maybe the critical factor.

This post has made me re-think my concern about my ball weight. I've been worried that it was too heavy (about 220 kg - +1800 kg loaded van) and have been shifting some items from the front boot to under the bed.

My van has a TREG coupling but like you, I think my HR WDH would not allow the the van to"spin" thruogh 90 degrees or more.

FollowupID: 366598

Reply By: DerekH - Friday, May 06, 2005 at 10:55

Friday, May 06, 2005 at 10:55
Thanks for all your posts. They've been very helpful and have given me many insights into what was right and wrong, prior to and during the accident.

Just for the record:

> Yes, I was on the Western Ring Road around Melbourne, Tuesday afternoon 3rd May
> I was watching constantly for overtaking trucks in my towing mirror and getting ready to compensate for the suction when they went past.
> The brakes I applied were the independent electric caravan brakes through the hand controller which normally straighten me out when this sort of thing happens
> I didn't touch the footbrake, but I did take my foot off the accelerator
> I realise that I should have accelerated but as I veered across 2 lanes of a crowded freeway at around 80 - 90 kph, it was against instinct. Also, I didn't have time to change gear to get any sort of power under acceleration.
> Though not a treg, the hitch is a modified ball hitch with a 360 degree swivel (I think it's a Hyland) - although I note the fact that the weight distribution hitch may inhibit its effectiveness.

In future, I will:

> modify my towing technique and take the advice to ease off the gas as I see trucks approach so I can accelerate as they go past.
> I have already "mastered" the technique of applying the caravan brakes through the hand controller and figure that accelerating at the same time as applying the caravan brakes can only amplify any damping effect on a potential sway.
> check the loading layout - I had picked up some annexe walls earlier and I just put them on the floor at the rear of the van, which would definitely have affected the balance of a lightly loaded van.
> have a look at anti-sway bars.

Just like when 4WDriving, I have learnt from experience that my instincts (in this case, not to accelerate) have to be overcome. I hope if it ever happens again, I will react differently with a much improved outcome.
AnswerID: 109993

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