Caravan Weight Distribution
Caravans that are overweight or have poor weight distribution are a recipe for disaster, couple this with a hefty crosswind or someone else’s bad driving and you could be in for a nightmare situation.
Overloading your caravan affects the stability of the tow vehicle and its ability to control the situation if your setup gets out of control. It changes the fundamental rule of that the caravan weight should be no more than 85% of the tow vehicle weight. To keep within this rule you’ll need to start with the basics and find out if your current tow vehicle is appropriate for towing your caravan or vice versa.
Find out the weight of your car and caravan and how well they match as a towing setup here. This is a really handy site that’s free and it also gives you a rough estimate of what the towball weight and what the driving experience will be like.
How much weight can my caravan safely carry?
Every caravan will have a plate on it, usually near the door stating weight statistics of it.
What does MIRO or MRO mean? Mass in Running Order or the weight of the caravan including a gas bottle(s) and water in the water heater/ onboard tank. Note: from 2015 manufacturers have to state if their MIRO calculation includes water. Also note that it doesn’t include a battery, this has to be added to in to your user payload.
What is Caravan Payload? Caravan payload is the maximum weight of items that can be added to a caravan’s mass in running order. See MTPLM.
What does MTPLM mean? Maximum Technically Permissible Laden Mass or the total weight of the caravan and all your belongings (payload) combined. If your total weight goes over this figure it may be deemed illegal to be used on the road and your insurance may not cover you.
What does VIN mean? Vehicle Identity Number or chassis number .
Payload or the maximum weight of your added items varies from van to van and is set out by the manufacturer. It is something that gets overlooked as with each trip items seem to get added and then forgotten about when the van is stored. An average payload would be anywhere between 150 to 250kg on a newer van, have a look at some of the items below as an idea of how quickly that allowance can get used up:
- Motor movers! These are part of your payload and roughly weigh 28-35kg.
- Extra gas bottles approx 15kg each. Manufacturers normally include the weight of one in its MIRO calculation.
- BBQ’s, A Cadac Carri Chef is 10kg
- Non lightweight chairs or sun loungers 5kg each
- 100Ah Leisure battery 25kg
- Full Awning, average 25kg
- Pots and pans 3kg
- Aquaroll and Wastemaster 8kg combined.
- Wheel clamp 4kg
- All of the above total 130kg!
Some of the items here could be put in your tow car to alleviate the limit, like the awning, this can also help with the 85% caravan to tow vehicle weight ratio. The only real way to check how much payload you’ve added is to weigh every item, or you could take your caravan to a weighbridge where for about £10 it will give you an exact figure and usually a print out.
Be aware that the Police do spot checks alongside the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) in various places. They normally target lorries but will also check cars and caravans with a weighbridge to make sure you are within the weight limits.
Other items will be checked whilst you are pulled over including tyres and lights aswell. Also, your driving licence will be checked to make sure you are eligible to tow the combined weight of your tow vehicle and caravan, the law changed on 1st January 1997 whereby if you passed your driving test after this date the most you could tow combined with your vehicle was 3500kg in weight.
If you passed before this date you can tow up to 8250kg as a combined weight of tow vehicle and trailer. You can get fined and points on your licence if towing outside of these rules or if your towing setup is deemed dangerous. Remember to use towing mirrors too as you must be able to see down both sides of the caravan and 20m behind it, this is the law.
This picture demonstrates the ideal distribution of weight in a caravan. It helps keeps the centre of gravity low aiding the handling characteristics of the caravan and also helps to stop exceeding the maximum nose weight.
Nose weight is the maximum vertical load (or weight) the tow vehicle can carry, this figure is usually stated on the tow bar as a maximum in kilograms. You can buy proper nose weight gauges or use scales with a length of wood in the hitch to get a fairly accurate reading.
Something that gets forgotten when aiming for perfect caravan weight distribution is food! Tins In the overhead lockers are a classic! A couple of tins of beans are getting on for a kilo high up in the van, multiply this a few times and you get a fair bit of weight up top, especially if they get left and forgotten about from the last trip out.
Awnings are also one to remember, they are often put in the wardrobe or shower when packing everything away, out of site out of mind.
Take a look at this short video which shows what can happen perfectly when a caravan’s weight distribution is wrong.
I hope this has given you an idea of the basics of loading a caravan and what effects this can give have if it’s not done right. Always tow with a stabilizer and degrease your tow ball and stabilizer pads regularly to allow it to work correctly as they work on friction to slow any sway movements down.
If your caravan has the Alko ATC system fitted that is a big bonus as it’s a bit of insurance if your van does get out of shape. It automatically applies the caravan brakes once it registers a number of sway movements, worth thinking about on your checklist when buying a van.
Check out some of our other articles...
Please note these are the words and opinion of the author only. Neither the author nor the website can be held responsible for any errors or omissions. You should seek professional assistance if in doubt.