So, you've got a heavy caravan or boat that you want to tow? Don't be misled by the advertising! Just because your 4WD has a certain 'towing capacity' doesn't mean you can actually tow that under normal conditions.
Today, you can pick up a number of new 4WD's that have a claimed 3500kg towing capacity. The thing is though, its completely misleading, to the point where you are almost guaranteed to be overloaded towing something that's 3500kg. How is that possible?
How do they mislead you?
Any vehicle on the road must comply with a number of different weight requirements, whether they are towing or not. Lets keep it simple, and just look at the Gross Combination Mass (GCM). This is the maximum amount both your 4WD and trailer can weigh as a combined weight.
Whilst you might be able to tow the maximum amount the vehicle is rated for, it can only be done under some pretty severe weight limitations. This is in relation to what the tow vehicle itself has on board in terms of weight; anything from passengers to extra fuel, 4WD accessories and general gear.
A more in depth look at 3500kg towing capacities
Take a dual cab Ford ranger, which has a GCM of 6000kg, and a claimed towing capacity of 3500kg. Remove the weight of the vehicle (with nothing in it!) from the GCM and you have 3800kg. Then, remove the 3500kg trailer you are towing, and you are left with a mere 300kg.
Now, put 4 people in the Ford ranger, and there's a good chance you are overloaded. Bear in mind this is without considering ANYTHING else in the 4WD. No extra fuel, no bull bar, no drawers, no fridge, water, winch, recovery gear and the list goes on.
Let's go the other way. The same Ford Ranger, decked out with lots of accessories and gear, weighing in at the maximum weight of 3200kg. Given you can't exceed the GCM of 6000kg, you are left with a maximum towing capacity of 2800kg.
Now, how many 4WD's have you seen, decked out with every accessory under the sun, loaded to the hilt and towing a trailer that's over 3 tonnes?
If you want a complete, simple guide for ensuring you are legal, have a read of this - A simple towing guide for keeping your 4WD and trailer weight compliant.
How do other vehicles compare?
The Dmax has a 5950kg GCM, and 3500kg towing capacity. Take away the towing capacity and you have a maximum weight of 2450kg. Given the vehicle weighs 1930kg empty, you've got a capacity of 520kg, but your towball weight still has to come off that.
A Triton has a 5885kg GCM, and a 3100kg towing capacity. Remove the towing capacity and you have a maximum weight of 2785kg. With the vehicle weighing 1965kg, you are left with 820kg, minus the towball weight
The NP300 Navara has a GCM of 5910kg, and a 3500kg towing capacity. This leaves you with 2410kg. Minus the weight of the vehicle and you can carry 489kg. Then, take away the towball weight.
If you want to see how your vehicle compares, find it on here - http://www.redbook.com.au
What does it mean?
As long as you are aware of the above, and you make sure you are within the GCM, towing capacity and pay load of your 4WD, you won't have an issue. The problem though, is so many people are not aware of these things, and would probably be horrified if they did know. There's a huge number of 4WD's on the road today that are towing and would not be legal. Not good.
Remember that a 500kg pay load can get eaten up pretty easily. Have a think about What your 4WD weighs, and you might be surprised. Even better, take it over a weigh bridge and see for sure, but be prepared for a shock!
What if I am over?
If you are over your payload, or Gross combination mass, you are going to want to do something about it. In the event of an accident, you may be liable for the damage that happens, as you were not driving a vehicle that met the law. 4WD insurance claims can be denied, and you could end up in a world of legal pain if someone is hurt. It's not worth the risk; you are required to drive a Legal 4WD on the road, and are responsible as individuals.
I think its shocking that vehicle manufacturers can proclaim such towing capacities without explaining that they come with severe limitations. It's appalling, really. Whilst I understand ignorance is not an excuse, there is a certain amount of trust that you put into a 4WD manufacturer!
What do you drive and tow? Are you within the limits?