It’s up to you to know if your trailer actually weighs what it says on the tin.

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The privilege of driving a vehicle on our nation’s roads is one that comes with a great deal of responsibility. Your driver’s licence is conditional upon you obeying all the relevant laws and regulations governing vehicle ownership. You, as the driver, are solely responsible for your driving behaviour and for the condition of your vehicle.

For example, if you drive above the speed limit, you infringe a road rule and, as a result, you can be fined. You’re expected to know the road rules about adhering to the speed limit and you are informed about the speed limit by the speed signs on the road. In other words, there’s no excuse for exceeding the speed limit.

When it comes to the weight of your vehicle, you know from the road rules that you cannot exceed certain weight limits imposed by the vehicle manufacturer. It’s a condition of your licence and it’s your responsibility to ensure your vehicle does not exceed any of these limits. These limits are stated on the vehicle’s compliance plate so, again, there’s no arguing it. You cannot say you were not informed.

But there’s problem here and it’s a big one. How do you know the weight stated on the compliance plates of both your tow tug and caravan are correct?

In the case of your tow vehicle, the information on the compliance plate is governed by a very heavily regulated industry that mass produces huge volumes of the same vehicles. Their weights are well known and understood. Unless you fit any aftermarket accessories, you can pretty much rely on the weights as stated on the vehicle’s compliance plate.

Your caravan or camper-trailer is a completely different matter. The vast majority of new caravans are not mass produced. They are heavily customised, built to meet each customer’s individual requirements.
As a result, no two vans of the same type are likely to share the same Tare weight. What’s more, the caravan manufacturing industry is largely self-regulated. Add the fact that there is no standard for establishing the Tare, or empty, weight of a caravan or camper-trailer and you are left with a situation where you think your van weighs a certain amount, but the reality is it could be wildly inaccurate.

This issue about the lack of accuracy in Tare weights of caravans and other trailers is huge.
I’d go so far to say that it’s a scandal and it very likely affects everyone towing today. You, as the driver, are legally responsible for the weight of your rig yet you may not be able to rely on the accuracy of the Tare weight stated on the compliance plate. How can you possibly ensure you are compliant with the law?

Firstly, we need to understand exactly what Tare weight is. Sometimes called unladen weight, it is the weight of an empty vehicle or container. What constitutes empty in the caravan manufacturing industry can vary greatly. If you’re buying a new caravan or camper, before you sign any contracts, ask the manufacturer how they calculate Tare weight.

For many, it will be the weight of the van before it is fitted with gas cylinders, bedding and any accessories that you may have requested including additional solar panels, heater, grey water tanks, etc. Also ask them if they will supply a weighbridge certificate matching the Tare weight stated on the compliance plate. Some manufacturers have their own vehicle scales in house and can show you the weight of the empty trailer before you take delivery.

If you are buying second-hand caravan, you can request the seller to supply a weighbridge certificate or ask if they will allow you to have it weighed before you agree to the purchase.

If you already have a caravan or camper and you’re concerned about its weight, empty the van of all its contents and take it to a weighbridge and have it weighed. When you weigh the van in this state you will know the real Tare and when you subtract this figure from the trailer’s ATM (which is a legal requirement on the compliance plate), you will know how much cargo capacity the van has.

Many owners have started doing this and have received an unpleasant surprise. If you find that your Tare weight is so far out that you have little or no cargo capacity, you are left with a few options

  1. Contact the manufacturer of the van and see if they will be able to supply you with an upgraded compliance plate with the correct Tare weight and, perhaps, a higher ATM. Be very careful about this option. You need to ensure the chassis manufacturer’s weight limits are not exceeded by going down this path.
  2. You can contact a vehicular engineer who may be able to give you specifications to modify the van so that it can accept more weight and a higher ATM. Keep in mind this process is quite expensive and finding an engineer who is willing to do the work can be difficult.
  3. You can just accept the situation as it is and reconsider what you carry in the van itself.

I personally believe option three is the best way to go. With all your gear out of the van, you can reassess your requirements and reduce your load considerably.

Here’s a few tips that might help:

  1. You can replace heavy items, such as chairs, tables and other equipment with lighter gear. Replacing older lead acid batteries with lithium technology can also result in significant weight savings, although this is a costly option.
  2. You could consider removing some fittings from the van that you may not necessarily need. If you were to remove one battery, one gas bottle and one spare wheel, you could easily save yourself 70kg.
  3. Don’t travel with full water tanks. Fill them up at your destination.
  4. Remove gear that you seldom use. A rule of thumb is if you haven’t used it in 12 months, you don’t need it.
  5. Store more gear in your tow vehicle. You might be over on your caravan’s ATM but you may not be over the combined weight limit (GCM) of the tow vehicle.
  6. Transfer any items packed in glass or metal containers into lightweight plastic containers.

The weight issue with caravans and camper-trailers is not going to get better as long as self-regulation in the industry remains the status quo and with customers demanding more features and accessories in their vans, the Tare weights will only increase. Lightweight building materials and improved technology may offer some relief in the future but for now it is very much a case of buyer beware. Whatever you do you simply cannot ignore the fact that your van is heavier that it states on the compliance plate.


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