There is little doubt that we are a country of towers. Horse floats and caravans, camper trailers and work trailers or trailers to move the boat and jet skis or even just to take those pesky palm fronds to the tip, Australians love them all.
And while it is tempting to just hitch the trailer to your car and be on your merry way, the reality is that it is a bit more complicated than that with rules that have to be met to ensure you and your family and those drivers around you are safe.
The same complexities exist when choosing a tow car in the first place. While manufacturers are quick to advertise towing capacities especially in dual-cab utes, 4x4s and SUVs, you often have to look beneath the surface to determine your vehicle’s true towing capability.
A numbers game
Your car’s towing capacity is determined by the manufacturer and the maximum trailer load is specified to ensure that the combination is controllable, safe and efficient. This information is available in your vehicle handbook and the label attached to the doorjamb of the driver’s door. Make sure you read it carefully as vehicles can differ greatly, with differences also possible between variants of the same model.
Another key point to remember is that currently, the legislation around how this towing capacity is quoted by car manufacturers allows for some flexibility. It is important to remember that different car manufacturers use different methodologies when arriving at a towing capacity for their vehicles. Some manufacturers quote increased towing capacities in preference to enabling the vehicle to carry its full payload at the same time (i.e. you need to carry less people or load in the car to be able to tow to the full quoted towing capacity). What does this mean for you? You aren’t comparing apples with apples, so double check how your manufacturer measures it.
So, you have had a look at the handbook and your vehicle’s towing capacity is still as clear as mud? Well, let’s start with an explanation of these important terms.
It seems obvious but your tow vehicle must have sufficient capacity to tow a fully-laden trailer. Your vehicle usually has two tow weights:
Unbraked for trailers up to 750kg. Unbraked trailers rely on the tow car to stop the combination. Braked which is the weight that can be towed with the trailer brakes on. The trailer has its own brakes which are activated when you press the brakes in the tow vehicle. Trailers over 2000kg need brakes that can be independently applied from the tow vehicle.
Payload – the weight you add to your vehicle including passengers, cargo, aftermarket accessories etc
Tow bar capacity – the towbar capacity must exceed loaded weight of the trailer you intend to tow.
There will be a sticker or plate on the tow bar stating the safe maximum weight it can tow. Check those figures correlate with the vehicle’s maximum towing weights. If the towbar is rated higher, the vehicle’s specifications will always be the maximum you can tow but if the towbar is rated lower than the vehicle’s specifications then you have to go with the numbers advised on the towbar.
Tow ball capacity – your tow ball must be rated high enough to actually tow the trailer or caravan. Australian standards recommends a 50mm tow ball with a rating of 3500kg. While most are rated to 3500kg, some only manage 2500kg and you don’t want to be caught short.
Tow Ball Download – the maximum allowed weight of the coupling pressing down on the tow ball. This is the weight on the front end of the trailer not carried over the axles. This is generally 10% of the maximum braked towing capacity but not always. In some small or European cars this figure can be as low as 6%. Can be measured at a weigh bridge by resting the jockey wheel only on the scale.
Vehicle Tare Mass – this is how much your car weighs with no people or cargo in it.
Trailer Tare Mass – this is how much your caravan, campervan or trailer weighs with no cargo or people in it
Gross Trailer Mass – this is the weight of your trailer combined with the maximum weight it can hold
Aggregate Trailer Mass – the gross trailer mass plus the two ball download
Gross Vehicle Mass – this is the maximum your vehicle can weigh when fully loaded including, passengers, luggage, pets, as well as the Tow Ball download if you are towing
Gross Combination Mass – the maximum weight allowed for your vehicle and trailer combined
Front and rear axle load – the maximum weight that can be placed on each axle
Weight distributing hitch – if the ball weight is causing the back of the tow vehicle to sag, you can use a weight distribution hitch which is designed ensure even weight distribution across all wheels of the tow car and trailer. This helps return the vehicle to normal height and ensures you have full traction for braking and steering.
Trailer sway control – works on the tow car’s stability control system and uses electronic sensors to detect if the trailer is moving from side and applies brake pressure on one wheel to bring it backin line.
Ok, so in essence these are the important things to remember:
• Your tow vehicle must have the capacity to pull your laden trailer while also carrying its own payload. The headline tow figure may not actually be practical in real life. Say, for example, you have a tow vehicle that has a maximum GCM of 6000kg and a tow rating of 3500kg. If you actually want to tow 3500kg, the maximum the tow car can weigh is 2500kg (6000kg-3500kg). If the tow vehicle’s tare weight is 2200kg, then your payload is just 300kg (2500kg-2200kg). That 300kg payload is easily exceeded if you have four adults in the tow car as well as some gear in the boot. It is important to do the maths and make sure you are taking the weight of everything into account.
• The idea is to keep the total weight around 80% of the vehicle’s maximum capacity to prevent damage and improve the safety equation. If you are going off road, the experts suggest dropping your trailer by about 1/3rd.
• Watch that the maximum width of the trailer doesn’t exceed 2.55m and the maximum length of the tow vehicle and trailer is no longer than 7m.
• Check that all tyres are properly inflated and all the lights are working.
• Spread the load across the trailer and keep it as low as possible to contain the centre of gravity. When securing the load take into account wind and forces caused by braking and accelerating.
• Some manufacturers impose speed limits when towing – usually 80km/h – either as a blanket rule or when a trailer exceeds a certain weight
• When driving, allow greater distances for braking, overtaking and merging.
• If you are travelling long distances, check the load, tie-downs, couplings and tyres whenever you stop
Brake Maintenance 101
Cars today may be fitted with an amazing array of safety features including marvels such as lane keeping assist, blind spot monitoring and cross traffic alert, but good brakes remain the most vital component of any motor vehicle safety system. Getting your car to stop quickly and efficiently at a split second notice can be the difference between life and death.
To that end, it is important that the brakes in your vehicle are regularly inspected to ensure they are in good working order so the system can function at its optimum.
How do your brakes work?
Most cars use a hydraulic system to operate braking. When you push the brake pedal, brake fluid is pushed through the brake lines into the calipers. They squeeze the brake pads onto the brake disc rotors which spin with the wheels applying friction and slowing them down. Brake pads are made from tough materials that can withstand heat and the force generated through braking but wear and tear through constant use means that brake pads need to be periodically replaced.
Brake disc rotors needing replacing too but not as often as brake pads. Over time they develop grooves on the surface from friction created by the brake pads and while they can be resurfaced to smooth them over, they have to eventually be replaced.
The brake fluid, which keeps the system flowing has to be flushed occasionally and replaced to keep the brakes working efficiently. The fluid absorbs moisture and as it builds up it can impact the braking performance and can also cause rust to form in the braking system.
How do you know your brakes need checking?
If you notice one or more of the following you should book your car in for a brake check right away:
• Loss of grip when braking
• Car takes longer than normal to stop
• Shudder through your steering wheel when braking
• Soft, spongy or low brake pedal
• Squeals, screeches when braking
• Car feels like its pulling to one side
• Brake system warning light flashes
If you don’t service your car with us, however, and your mechanic advises that your Toyota needs new brake pads or calipers, rotor drums or shoes, make sure you opt for genuine Toyota parts. They are not only the best fit for your car, but are made with care to offer superior performance and longevity and are backed by our 12-month warranty.
What is a Comparison Rate?
As the owner of a car dealership, friends often ask me this question. The general feeling is that it’s some type of spin in a car ad. Actually it’s quite the opposite. Car advertising which involves the promotion of vehicle finance must, by law, include the comparison rate which relates to the particular finance deal being advertised.
The comparison rate does exactly as it suggests, it allows consumers to accurately compare the finance deal, by forcing the advertiser to include all components of the finance contract which may ultimately effect what the consumer pays over the life of the loan. For example, this prevents promotion of a very low interest rate to make an offer look attractive, but then stacking the loan with fees and charges which push up the payment to the consumer and the income to the financier.
A Comparison rate takes into consideration the loan term, the interest rate, payment frequency as well as upfront and ongoing fees, to arrive at a percentage rate which a consumer can compare easily to other finance offers, i.e. they are all calculated the same way. For the purposes of arriving at the Comparison Rate, the calculation assumes the loan amount will be $30,000 for all loans, so that all Comparison rates are calculated equally.
Legal guidelines published by regulators suggest that where a car is being advertised with a finance component, the ad should include the drive away price of the car and the comparison rate. These elements should be easily visible and obvious to a private consumer viewing the advert.
The fine print of the ad must contain other important elements such as the breakdown of fees and charges in the finance contract, the term of the offer and other important details calculated into the finance contract such as the deposit amount, if any, and the term of the loan.
Why does my oil turn black just after a service of my diesel?
So your car has been in for a scheduled service and running beautifully after the exercise. A week later while you are washing the car, you pop the hood, and causally have a little look around, just to make sure mind you, that your mechanic has actually done what he said he had.
After all, looking under the hood or kicking a tyre is almost part of our DNA now. Along with being deeply suspicious of your mechanic.
Now, even a decade ago you could really have a nose around – checking the filters and spark plugs, peering into the alternator and pushing and prodding whatever else you could get your fingers into.
Modern vehicles, however, offer limited access to this playground.
But the dipstick is still reachable, so oil check it is.
You juggle the stick around, pull it out and peer at it intently, hoping to impress any on-lookers with your mechanical prowess.
The oil level is perfect, but hey, it doesn’t look as clean as you think it should be.
Now before you bang the hood shut and storm off to accuse your mechanic of every indiscretion under the sun, hold on to your horsepower for just a second.
If your car is a diesel, black oil, even this soon after a service is perfectly normal.
The oil in your engine is there for three main reasons – to lubricate the moving metal parts reducing friction, to help in cooling by transferring the heat from the metal components to the sump and to clean the engine of the carbon deposits that can hinder performance.
It is the latter that is behind your oil turning black.
Diesel combustion engines produce much more soot (partially burnt fuel) and sludge as part of their normal operation than their petrol counterparts.
The modern trend for direct engine systems compounds the problem because while the higher fuel injection pressures in newer diesel engines produce lower exhaust emissions, it increases the production of soot.
The soot forms in cooler parts of the combustion chamber until it impinges on the cylinder wall and is scraped into the oil sump courtesy of the pistons leading to a faster blackening of the oil.
The particles are so tiny that they are able to escape the oil filter irrespective of how new or good the filter is.
Every vehicle, provided it has been run in, has some carbon build-up in the engine with the amount increasing with the number of kilometres on the clock.
So when your mechanic changes the oil in your car, the golden amber liquid is quickly darkened by the residual oil and carbon build-up in the engine. The high soot production, part of the everyday running of the car, takes care of the rest and within a few days that lovely new oil can look rather dirty.
That change in colour is a sign that the oil is actually doing its job.