For several reasons, the prospect of hitting the open road in South Africa has become an altogether more daunting experience over the years. From the general condition of road surfaces and markings to the haste that many drivers feel compelled to display, the level of vigilance required to navigate both ourselves and our loved ones to some of the nevertheless most tranquil destinations in the world has increased. An ever-popular South African pastime, here’s how to take control of your next caravan cruise.
Check your driver’s license
In South Africa, you’re required to be in possession of a valid Code EB driver’s license in order to tow a caravan. While a Code B license allows you to be in control of a vehicle with a trailer attached, the gross mass of this item may not exceed 750-kilograms. Towing anything that weighs more than 750 kg requires a corresponding upgrade of your licences’ status.
Check your vehicle
For reasons of logistics and legality, it’s important to ensure that the towing specification of your vehicle complies with those recommended for a successful caravanning expedition. When confirming the specified towing capacity associated with your vehicle, look for the “braked” reading. This implies that the item you’ll be lugging has a dedicated braking system that once attached to your car, will work in tandem with its stopping prowess.
Consider how you pack
It’s important to consider where you place the weight within your caravan while in transit. Best practice is to concentrate heavier items, including a spare battery, over the axle of the camper, thereby managing the trailer’s centre-of-gravity. Focusing too much weight on the front of the caravan will place unwelcome strain on the rear suspension of your towing vehicle. Having an on-the-move trailer leaning backwards can result in a potentially dangerous pendulum, or sway effect.
Seasoned caravanning communities are known for having meticulous checklists double ticked before setting off on each new adventure. This includes everything from confirming all tyre pressures and various towing connections, to whether all the windows and cupboards within the caravan are secured before setting off.
While it’s recommended that the vehicle is refuelled before hitching it to the caravan to avoid unnecessarily tight manoeuvring around a petrol station forecourt, another crucial check involves making sure that all lighting and braking systems are working in sync.
Slow and steady
Considering both the average combined weight and overall length of a caravan-towing vehicle, it’s imperative to adjust your driving style accordingly. While maintaining a steady cruising speed somewhat slower than the respective national speed limit will play a role when it comes to saving fuel, this also affords the driver that much more time to react to changing conditions on the road ahead. It stands to reason that a heavier vehicle will need a greater distance in which to come to an emergency stop compared with a lighter car, the physics involved in towing means that a sudden swerve could have disastrous consequences.
It’s good practice to plan your route to avoid as much congestion as possible, both with a view to maintaining momentum and while avoiding too many potentially tricky low-speed manoeuvres.
While many modern vehicles with an adventure-focused mandate feature built-in technologies aimed at making the act of towing that much simpler, the prevalence of these systems has resulted in many aftermarket devices being available. These include adapted reverse camera setups that include digital guidelines, as well as supplementary tyre-pressure monitors.
Vehicles like the modern Ford Everest and Toyota Prado feature dedicated stability control-linked settings aimed at countering the potentially dangerous effects of a swaying trailer.
An inexperienced driver is encouraged to seek out any additional advice or training before setting out with a caravan in tow.