04 Jan The weight is over
The day to leave on the family gap year had finally come. It was December 26th, 2015, the day we had allocated to embark on our epic trip. We weren’t ready, not by a long shot, but after weeks and weeks of packing and storing, we were close to being able to go. The truth is that we could have easily stayed on for days more, but this was the date we aimed for and so we left.
Since we were running about 6 hours late and it was already dark by the time we pulled out, we postponed our planned jaunt across the QLD/NSW border, about 2 hours drive away, and went about 10km down the road to camp on our friend’s footpath; logical really! It all felt very real until the people we’d been staying with until that point joined us for dinner a hour or so later. Oh well, but it didn’t really matter because we were officially on the road and it felt great.
The next day we decided that it would be wise to weigh the caravan before we got any further. We wanted to make sure it was safe and that it complied with the law. We know it’s not very Australian to consider such maline things (and word is that a great deal of caravaners don’t concern themselves with such trivialities), but being overweight is potentially dangerous to your’s and other road user’s safety and if you did have an accident, it could mean no insurance coverage.
This might be a good time to provide a list of regularly used terms associated to caravans, cars and weight
This is the mass of your caravan or car as specified by the manufacturer, with no payload.
GTM (Gross Trailer Mass)
GTM is the weight of the fully loaded trailer imposed on the trailer’s axle when it is coupled to the tow vehicle.
ATM (Aggregate Trailer Mass)
ATM is the combined weight of the trailer and its full load when it is not coupled to a tow vehicle
ACM (Aggregate Combined Mass)
GCM is the maximum allowable weight of the trailer, tow vehicle and the load (including passengers) in the tow vehicle and trailer.
TBM (Tow Ball Mass)
TBM is the mass exerted on the tow ball by your fully packed caravan. When your caravan is hitched, this mass is included in your tow vehicle’s payload.
Our 1 day old trip around Australia (well around West Brisbane at this stage) came to a grinding halt. The weight is over, well and truly over. Our manufacturer specified ATM (see above) was 3250kg and we came in at, wait for it, pause for effect, 3950kg. Yep that’s a whopping 700kg; we were grossly illegal and potentially uninsured and we were devastated. We slunk back home with our tails between our legs and pondered how to lose 700kg.
Given when you pack, you logically only pack things you’ll need and so when you have to get rid of 700kgs of things you need, it presents as a challenge. When we purchased our caravan we marvelled at the storage space and when we packed our caravan we naturally filled every possible space with things we could use while on our family gap year. After all it’s a whole year away; that’s a lot of scenarios and stuff to consider. And all this time, we never once considered the weight.
How did we go? Well we obviously got there in the end, but it took 3 attempts, 3 more days and 3 more weighbridge visits. It culminated with us removing everything from the van on the side of the road after a weighbridge visit on my birthday (31 Dec – see picture). Once we were completely empty, we re-weighed the caravan and then only put back the bare essentials. Even after this we still couldn’t (legally) carry water when we travelled. Our water tanks when full take approx. 190kg of our 500kg payload! We’d now only get water when we got close to a campsite where we’d need it (painful, but necessary).
Here’s a couple of tips to new players
Weight is very important
Pack too much or pack it incorrectly and you’ll endanger your lives and the lives of others around you. It sounds extreme, but it’s reality, especially if you’re a novice caravaner. An incorrectly packed van could ride unpredictably and cause a lot of damage within a split second.
Anything added equals extra weight
It’s easy to understand that your belongings i.e. clothes, furniture, crockery, cookware, cutlery, leisure items etc need to be calculated, but remember everything that is added to your caravan and car add weight to your ATM and GCM. Items like bikes racks, extra solar panels, extra batteries, full gas bottles, full water tanks, grey water tanks, even passengers add weight and need to be considered to ensure compliance. It seems harsh but nearly half our original manufacturer specified payload of 500kg could be taken up with full gas bottles, drinking water and toilet water tanks.
Consider replating your caravan
We learned, after this fateful day, that it was possible to have your caravan’s manufacturer alter your ATM or increase your payload to anything up to and including your suspension rating. We asked the question of ours and Crusader in Melbourne happily bumped our ATM up from 3250kg to 3500kg for the price of a new compliance plate ($60). With that extra 250kgs we can legally now travel with full water tanks, a very important factor for when we hit the outback and tropical north during the 2016 winter.
Use a spreadsheet
I wish we had done this. We were even supplied with a template by our caravan’s previous owner and didn’t use it. Before you begin pack, figure out what you want to take, weigh it and add the details to a spreadsheet taking into account your water tank capacity. You need to be accurate here or else you’ll suffer like we did
Really think about your trip
What are you trying to achieve on your trip? Think long about what you’ll use (regularly) and what you won’t. We ended up sending back a 35kg package of items we simply just didn’t use, at great expense I might add. We used these items a lot in our normal lives, but they didn’t fit with the caravanning lifestyle.
You’ll need less than you think
As typical westerners we had lots of stuff and when it came to living with less, muh, much less, we couldn’t imagine it. Now we’re on the road we realise how little we need. Pleasure is taking from exploring and immersing yourself in your ever changing surroundings, not by what you take or have with you.
So there you have it. I’m not sure if we set a record for the most overweight caravan ever, but judging by the laughter that comes from telling other caravaners this story, I think we must have come pretty close. I hope our mistake on this front will help some of you in your own caravanning journey save time and energy and to stay safe. Happy travels.