by Collyn Rivers
Australian RV and towing rules
The current (February 2018) Australian RV and towing rules and regulations are outlined here. There will be changes, but not until (a probable) 2024.
Caravans – including fifth wheel caravans, camper trailers, and their tow vehicles
Tare Mass (weight)
This is the total mass of the trailer when not carrying any load, but ready for service, with all fluid reservoirs (if fitted) filled to nominal capacity except for fuel (as say for a diesel heater), which shall be 10 litres only, and with all standard equipment and any options fitted. This includes any mass imposed onto the tow vehicle when coupled to the resting on a firm and flat surface. It includes one 9 litre LP gas bottle, but not its gas content. It does not include any water.
Tare Mass is not defined as its weight ‘ex-factory’. It may be that, but if any specified ‘options’ are subsequently fitted or provided prior to the owner taking delivery, they too are legally part of the Tare Mass. This should thus be included as Tare Mass on the compliance plate, but that cannot be relied upon. Always, accordingly, insist on the trailer being weighed in your presence on a certified weighbridge, prior to final payment. Take this seriously: there are many confirmed reports of declared Tare Mass being well below the actual weight at the time of delivery.
Aggregate Trailer Mass (ATM)
This is an obligatory rating set by the trailer maker. It is its maximum legally allowable laden weight when standing on a level surface. It includes the weight carried by the tow bar of the towing vehicle. For caravans and camper trailers, the ATM includes personal effects but there is no legally obligatory allowance – only an industry recommendation. That (in 2018) is 250 kg (550 lb) for single axle caravans and 330-450 kg for two-axle caravans. Custom-made caravans, however, usually have more and the amount desired should be pre-agreed and included in the purchase contract.
Pic: courtesy of caravanbuyersguide.com.au
Gross Vehicle Mass (GVM)
Applicable primarily to the tow vehicles is a manufacturer-set rating that must not be exceeded. It is the vehicle’s permitted maximum loaded mass – defined as its Tare Weight plus the load and specified by the vehicle manufacturer. If subsequently modified, it is that mass shown on a modification plate attached to the vehicle.
Gross Combination Mass (GCM)
This is a maximum permissible weight rating (specified by the tow vehicle maker). It is of the tow vehicle’s total laden mass, plus the laden mass of anything it may tow. The GCM rating is particularly a trap for buyers of dual-cab utes. Many such vehicles are promoted as having a towing capacity of 3500 kg, but as their GCM is typically around or under 6000 kg if towing that 3500 kg, this limits the tow vehicle’s laden weight to 2500 kg. Such a combination is unsafe.
Tow Ball Mass
There are no legal requirements, but general engineering consensus is that a typical Australian-made caravan needs about 10% of its full laden weight as tow ball mass. The typically lighter EU/UK products require 6%-7% of the fully laden weight. The typically shorter (about 4 metres) camper trailers require 5%-7% but more is not a problem. Fifth-wheel caravans too are not that critical: 10%-25% is fine.
Legal Maximum Towing Weights
In Australia, for tow vehicles under 4.5 tonne, the maximum laden trailer weight is (currently and legally) the lesser of that allowed by the tow vehicle, tow hitch, or the maximum trailer mass. This overrides earlier legislation limiting towed weight to 1.5 times the tow vehicle’s unladen weight. Many believe these limits are too high for current caravan weights and towing speeds: see https://rvbooks.com.au/caravan-and-tow-vehicle-dynamics/
Trailer Dimensions – conventional trailers
Centre-axled trailers (legally known as ‘pig’ trailers) must not exceed 12.5 metres overall. The maximum distance from tow hitch to centre-line of the axle/s must not exceed 8.5 metres. The rear overhang must not exceed the lesser of 3.7 metres, or the length of the load-carrying area (or body) ahead of the rear overhang line.
Trailer Dimensions – fifth wheelers
The distance from the towing pivot point to the rear of the trailer must not exceed 12.3 metres. That from the towing pivot point to the rear over-hang line must not exceed 9.5 metres. The rear overhang must not exceed the lesser of 60% of the former dimension or 3.7 metres. The maximum forward projection must not exceed a 1.9-metre arc from the towing pivot. The pic below hopefully makes this clearer.
Maximum dimensions for a large fifth-wheel trailer
Australian RV and towing rules stipulate that caravans and camper trailers less than 4.5 tonnes must have a compliance plate (currently) self-certified by the manufacturer or importer. It confirms the vehicle complies with the Motor Vehicle Standards Act 1989. The plate must specifically show the manufacturer’s or importer’s name, trailer model, vehicle identification number (17-digit), date of manufacture and Aggregate Trailer Mass. It must also include this statement. ‘This trailer was manufactured to comply with the Motor Vehicle Standards Act 1989’.
All information on the compliance plate (and/or otherwise supplied) must be true and correct for that specific vehicle. It should reasonably be expected this information to be accurate but this cannot be taken for granted. Discrepancies related to declared mass occur because some makers produce only standard products. If the declared tare mass is that ex-factory (see above) it may not include dealer-supplied and installed optional extras. If this arises, contact your state or jurisdictions equivalent of NSW’s Department of Fair Trading if the discrepancy seriously prejudices the RV’s usability (measuring errors of a few kgs, however, are inevitable.
NOTE: The above-noted self-certification is likely to be changed under the new legislation. This will be notified when more information becomes available.
This too is legally required (section 20.1 of VSB1). It must include the manufacturer’s recommended tyre size, tyre load rating, speed rating, cold inflation pressures and either the statement: ‘the tyres fitted to this vehicle shall have a speed category not less than ‘L’ (120 km/h)’. Or if the recommended maximum vehicle operating speed is less than 120 km/h, ‘the tyres fitted to this vehicle shall have a speed category at least equal to the recommended maximum vehicle operating speed, i.e. ‘ . . . ‘km/h.’, where ‘…’ is the vehicle manufacturer’s recommended maximum vehicle operating speed. This data may be included in the Compliance plate or on a separate plate – that is in a ‘prominent position’.
RV and towing rules – light (powered) vehicles (under 4.5 tonne GVM)
These are covered under the Vehicle Standards Bulletin 14 National Code of Practice for Light Vehicle Construction and Modification. There are minor differences from state to state – covered in each state’s version of Vehicle Standards Bulletin 06 (VSB 06).
Far simpler than for trailers, this is the mass of any vehicle likely to be converted or made as a campervan or motorhome. It applies to the vehicle when ready for service, unoccupied and unladen. It requires all fluid reservoirs to be filled to nominal capacity except for fuel (10 litres only). It includes all standard equipment and any options fitted.
Gross Vehicle Mass (GVM)
The GVM must include 68 kg for each of two front-seat occupants, plus, if the designated ‘Seating Capacity’ is five or more, 68 kg for a rear ‘Seat’ passenger. Apart from that, it must include a personal effects allowance of 60 kg for each of the first two sleeping berths, and 20 kg per berth thereafter. This ‘allowance’ applies to everything carried. This includes pets, goods, bedding, food, cooking utensils and luggage.
Manufacturers are obliged to provide only that amount. Most owners find that to be far too low. If you need more (and you will), specify by how much, and in writing, when ordering. If you do not, dealers and manufacturers are likely to insist it is ‘not their problem’.
If self-converting an existing vehicle to a campervan and motorhome (under 4500 kg [9920 lb]), see VSB 14. This provides nationally acceptable technical specifications to ensure the result complies with Australian Design Rules (ADRs), and the Australian Vehicle Standards Rules (AVSR). Compliance with VSB 14 helps to ensure the result satisfies the regulatory requirements.
Heavy vehicles (exceeding 4.5-tonne GVM)
The rules and regulations for large motorhomes/coach conversions are covered in the National Code of Practice for Heavy Vehicle Construction and Modification. The dimension and weight requirements are prescribed in the Heavy Vehicle (Mass, Dimension and Loading) National Regulation 201. Dimensional limits are in VSI No. 5.
Main dimensional limits are length (rigid trucks) 12.5 metres (coaches) 14.5 metres. Width must not exceed 2.5 metres except for lights, mirrors, reflectors, signalling devices etc. Exclusions are explicit: e.g., they do not extend to awnings etc. Maximum allowable height is 4.3 metres. Rear overhang must not exceed the lesser of 60% of the wheelbase or 3.7 metres. The maximum combination length (if towing a trailer) is 19 metres.
These are overall measurements; they specifically include bicycle racks, bull bars, toolboxes and spare wheels etc. The weight limits are complex and apply in all states. (www.legislation.qld.gov.au/LEGISLTN/CURRENT/H/HeavyVehMDLNR.pdf.)
Motor vehicles and trailers over 4.5-tonne rating have a Compliance Plate issued by the Federal Vehicle Safety Standard (VSS). It provides proof-of-compliance with the applicable Australian Design Rules following VSS’s engineering inspection and approval.
The main reference, Vehicle Standards Guide (VSG5) sets out the safety requirements. It summarises the most common modifications. It shows how they must be done to comply with the Heavy Vehicle National Law and other legislation and regulations. Some vehicles need certifying by an Approved Vehicle Examiner. It is advisable to consult an Examiner before starting work – especially if the GVM has to re-rated.
An excellent reference source is the Vehicle Standards Guide 5 (VSG-5) Converting a vehicle into a motorhome Revised June 2018.
The legal requirements for 230 volts are set out in AS/NZS 3000:2007 and AS/NZS 3001:2018. These apply to 230 volts regardless of its source (e.g. solar or generator etc) even if there is no intent or provision for grid supply.
Most states require Electrical Certification but (for reasons unclear) Energy Safety Victoria declares RVs are not ‘electrical installations’ – but ‘appliances’. Therefore (it claims) they are exempt. It requires RVs to meet AS/NZS requirements re 230 volts but installation need not be done by licensed electricians. Nor is Electrical Certification required.
There are no legal requirements for an RV’s 12/24 volt dc wiring, excepting that relating to obligatory separation from 230-volt wiring (avoided if wished by using 230-volt cable for the 12/24 volt system). For vehicles over 4500 kg, however, all 12/24 volt dc wiring must accord with the Heavy Vehicle (Vehicle Standards) National Regulation, Schedule 2, Part 2. Section 17.
With minor exceptions, the above electrical requirements apply also to RVs used in New Zealand.
Solar must comply with AS/NZS 5033. If it does not exceed 60 volts DC or 35.4 volts AC, there is no requirement that it be done by a licensed electrician. RV Books recommends using a nominally 12 or 24-volt system for RV use.
LP gas installations (Australia-wide) must meet the requirements of AS/NZS 5601.2:2013 in detail. In addition, some states/territories have marginally different requirements. The only way to ensure compliance is to obtain the certificate from a licensed gas fitter. For imports see: https://rvbooks.com.au/imported-rvs/
Apart from chassis and related issues, there is no current RV industry ‘standard’ for any aspect of caravan or motorhome construction. This varies from excellent to cynically dreadful. A few companies nevertheless have established a good reputation. Caravan forums provide advice – but some posts are blatantly promotional.
Obligatory on-road lighting etc
Vehicle lights and reflectors must meet legal requirements relating particularly to specific functions. Requirements relate, for example, to defined viewing angles (horizontally and vertically) and lighting intensities. Those approved for RVs in Australia carry an E-mark or a CRN. The E-mark is a capital ‘E’, with a circled sub-script number plus an embossed approval number. Those sold only in Australia must have a CRN (component registration number).
Hints for home building
Weigh the bare vehicle prior to starting work. Then weigh and keep a running total of everything you include. It is very easy to underestimate the total weight. If the RV has a toilet or shower, it must be in working order when you present it for registration. If it is not, leave the space, as ‘that’s where I am going to add a cupboard’. (Hint: that ‘cupboard’ does not need to be in place for rego purposes.)
Every aspect of building an RV is covered in the Caravan & Motorhome Book. For solar and electrics see Caravan & Motorhome Electrics. For in-depth coverage of solar in RVs see Solar That Really Works!
Driving licence requirements
A C class licence is required for vehicles under 4.5 tonne (including with seating for up to 12 adults). Such licence includes towing a caravan as long as the GCM is not exceeded. (This now includes the ACT). An LR licence is needed for vehicles exceeding 4.5 tonnes and less than 8 tonnes. An MR or HR licence is needed thereon. This requirement relates to the potential carrying capacity. If the GVM is 5.5 tonne but has an on-road weight of only 4.4 tonnes you still need an LR licence.
In most parts of Australia, it is illegal to park a vehicle of 4.5 tonnes or more in built-up areas for over one hour. This applies also to a tow vehicle and trailer over 7.5 metres. An exception, however, is where a sign or traffic control device allows otherwise. It is legal to do so for dropping off or picking up goods but for no longer than necessary. If longer is needed, ask the local council to grant an exemption.
Australian RV and towing rules and regulations for large motorhomes/coach conversions are covered in the National Code of Practice for Heavy Vehicle Construction and Modification. Dimension and weight requirements are prescribed in the Heavy Vehicle (Mass, Dimension and Loading) National Regulation https://www.nhvr.gov.au/files/201402-0113-general-dimension-requirements.pdf.
Further information about AVEs and heavy vehicle modifications can be found at https://www.nhvr.gov.au/safety-accreditation-compliance/vehicle-standards-and-modifications/heavy-vehicle-modifications.
See also https://rvbooks.com.au/articles/ and https://rvbooks.com.au/imported-rvs/
See also the associated caravan-and-motor-home-compliance/
Our more technically in depth books are the Caravan & Motorhome Book, the Camper Trailer Book, Caravan & Motorhome Electrics, Solar That Really Works! for RVs and Solar Success for home & property systems. All are available from all main bookshops throughout Australia and New Zealand.
To assist others please Link to, or mention this article on related forum issues.
Australian RV and Towing Rules and Regulations – references
Australian Design Rules (ADRs) – https://www.infrastructure.gov.au/infrastructure-transport-vehicles/vehicles/vehicle-design-regulation/australian-design-rules
Heavy Vehicle National Law, Heavy Vehicle (Vehicle Standards) National Regulation, Heavy Vehicle (Mass, Dimension and Loading) National Regulation – www.nhvr.gov.au/hvmodifications
Vehicle Standards Bulletins(VSBs) – https://www.infrastructure.gov.au/infrastructure-transport-vehicles/vehicles/vehicle-design-regulation/rvs/bulletins
For issues relating to imported RVs see https://rvbooks.com.au/imported-rvs/
For issues relating to imported RV electrics (particularly compliance) see https://rvbooks.com.au/imported-rvs/
See also the associated https://rvbooks.com.au/caravan-and-motor-home-compliance/
Virtually every issue relating to RV is covered in Caravan & Motorhome Book. Full details of RV electrical requirements, installation are in Caravan & Motorhome Electrics. Solar books are: Solar That Really Works! (for RVs) and Solar Success for home & property systems. For information about the author – click on Bio.
To assist others please Link to, or mention this article on related forum issues.