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Five modifications that can make your caravan overweight

There will be a lot of new caravan owners out there right now thinking about the accessories they want to fit to their vans and what gear they want to carry. This will inevitably lead to needing to modify their vans to carry this extra gear. But did you know that this can seriously affect the caravan’s weight and/or stability on the road? Apart from the possible legal and insurance implications, the risk an overweight rig poses to its owner, as well as other road users, cannot be understated.

Over the last few years, awareness of these issues has become more widespread. There has been a fast-growing number of companies that provide mobile weighing services to caravan owners and they have been slowly gathering important data that shows the most common modifications owners are making that are putting their rigs over the edge.

One company, Check Weight-Mobile Caravan Weighing contacted RVDaily to share some of their findings. Here are their top five modifications that could make your caravan overweight or unbalanced.

1. Bicycle racks

At Check Weight, we get asked all the time, “Where’s the best place to put our pushbikes?“ Well, the best place is probably to leave them at home, but for many people, that’s not a satisfactory solution. There are really only a few options:

  • In the caravan. This is not very practical, and they can be a real pain if they are adult pushbikes. It’s maybe okay for toddler’s bikes.
  • On top of the tow vehicle. This is okay if you’re tall and fit enough to get them on and off the racks. But if you’re vertically challenged or getting on in years, then its probably not all that practical. If you only use them occasionally, then this is maybe a good option.
  • On the rear of the caravan. This is NOT the best option in the majority of cases. Any weight on the back of the caravan reduces your tow ball weight by at least 50% of the total. So if the bikes weigh 40 kilograms, then you reduce your tow ball weight by 20 kilograms.

The problem with bike racks

It doesn’t sound much but if your tow ball weight is already light, then another 10 kilograms off the tow ball can mean the difference of experiencing sway at a lower speed. The thing to remember is the lower the tow ball weight, the more potential there is for the caravan to sway and become unstable.

mods that make your van overweight - bike racks
The rear bumper is the worst possible location for added bike racks.

If you are putting a bike frame on the rear bar of a caravan, then that potentially adds extra weight if it involves fitting a frame, some extra brackets and a handful of bolts. These types of rear bike carriers tend to wobble, and if not fitted securely, they can break and fall off. Just follow a few caravans with push bikes on the back, and you will see what we mean.

From a weight perspective, mounting bike carriers on the A-frame is probably the best place as long as you don’t have too much weight on your tow ball already. We have seen bike racks that weigh around 25 kilograms on their own. Add the weight of the bikes, around 30 kilograms, and suddenly you’ve added 55 kilograms. Depending on the position the bike rack is mounted on the A-frame, it can add around 70% -80% of the total weight to your tow ball. That’s another 35 kilograms of tow ball mass. That’s a lot!

So, if you need to modify your caravan to carry bikes, you need to be fully aware of the total weight of the bike holder, the brackets and bolts as well as the bikes themselves. Then you need to consider the likely effect all that extra weight will have on the handling and tow-ability of your caravan.

2. Generators

With the rise in popularity of free camping as well as our desire to take all of our electronic tech with us on our travels, the number of caravanners carrying generators is on the rise. While they are quite useful, they do present some issues when it comes to the weight and stability of your caravan.

Many generators weigh somewhere in the order of 25 – 35 kilograms. That’s a lot in one small lump. There’s only really one place to put a generator, and that is in a box on the A-frame. Putting that much weight on the rear of a caravan is potentially dangerous. We have weighed many caravans, and many owners struggle with generators.

As is the situation with bikes, you need to assess whether or not the amount of use you will get out of a generator is worth the headaches of carrying one on your caravan. They are heavy and cumbersome to move around. You also need to carry sufficient fuel for them as well. Many national parks won’t let you use them.

modifications that make your van overweight - generators
Generators come in all shapes and sizes. The heaviest one here weighed 45 kilograms.

3. Big storage boxes

A lot of manufacturers are putting massive storage boxes on the front of new caravans as storage for generators, BBQs as well as other essential “stuff”. But these big toolboxes weigh quite a bit on their own. And because of their size, owners tend to feel the need to fill these spaces with more stuff with little consideration to the weight.

As we found with mounting bikes on the A-frame, these boxes will add around 70% of the weight of the contents to your tow ball. So be aware. Just because you have the space, doesn’t mean you have to fill it!

While A-frame mounted storage boxes present their own issues, adding extra storage boxes to the rear bumper of a caravan can have worse consequences for caravan stability. Unless your caravan was designed with this storage as part of the weight distribution, you should avoid adding toolboxes to the rear of your caravan.

mods that make your van overweight - tool boxes
Just because you have a huge toolbox on your van doesn’t mean you have to fill it up with a lot of heavy gear.

4. Jerry cans of fuel and water

Jerry Can holders on the back of caravans are another item that manufacturers offer as optional extras with very little consideration as to the effect they have on overall balance and weight distribution. Like the bikes and toolboxes above, any weight you put on the back of your van will take around 50% of the weight of the object off the tow ball. If you store 20 litres of water on the rear of the van, it will take 10 kilograms off the tow ball. Put two x 20-litre containers on and you have taken 20 kilograms off your tow ball.

If you must have the jerry can holders there, travel with the cans empty until just before you get to your camping location and then fill them up at the last town. At least you’re minimising the distance you’re driving with the additional weight and you can lower your speed, lessening the effect of that weight on your vehicle.

modifications that make your van overweight - jerry cans
If you must use jerry cans on the rear bumper, consider filling them up at the very last minute before you arrive at camp.

It’s normal now for batteries to be placed under the caravan, in external boxes attached to the chassis, usually just in front of the axles. What many owners don’t realise is just how much weight there is in regular lead-acid batteries. Most batteries of around 100 to 120ah capacity will weight between 30 and 40 kilograms. Most caravans will have two batteries and they are likely to be placed on one side of the van.

If the batteries are placed behind the wheels on one side, they will tend to upset the balance of the caravan by putting too much weight on the rear, so it is not recommended.

If you’re upgrading the existing batteries in a second-hand van, consider purchasing Lithium batteries. They are much lighter and offer more usable power than the equivalent AGM batteries.

mods that make your van overweight - batteries
If you need to add extra battery capacity to your van, consider upgrading to Lithium batteries.

This article was originally published on Check Weight’s website. Check Weight is a mobile caravan weighing business based in Newcastle, NSW. Check Weight saw a need for an easier way for caravan, boat and 4WD owners to check the weight of their vehicles. Engaging Check Weight assists you to have a rig that is safe, stable and compliant with the law.

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