Towing a trailer; what’s the pro’s and con’s?

There are a lot of people in Australia who make the decision to purchase a trailer and tow it behind their 4WD while travelling. Whether its a box trailer, camper trailer, hybrid, caravan or boat, towing something behind your 4WD has a number of benefits.

However, like  everything, there’s no free lunch and a whole lot of those travelling this great land will tell you of the benefits of not having to drag something behind you. In the end, you have a make a choice as to what is most suitable for your situation, and it doesn’t always stay the same as time passes, and for each trip.

You’ll never get the perfect setup. It doesn’t exist. However, you can get as close to your requirements as possible, and that has to do. Whether that setup includes a trailer or not is entirely up to you.

If you are considering a Hybrid Camper (which is the perfect solution for some people) then we’ve written the ultimate guide that you can read here; Hybrid Campers; the ultimate buying guide.

To tow or not
To tow or not to tow?!

What’s the benefits of towing a trailer?

Huge increase in available space and weight capacity

I don’t believe there are many 4WD’s out there in Australia who are travelling for more than a week at a time and that have the normal modifications that are within the factory payload, not towing a trailer.

It’s just not possible. Add the weights up of your modifications, plus your occupants, plus a full tank of fuel, and you’ll be close already. That’s without the camping gear, food, water and everything else that comes with. If you don’t believe me, have a read of this: What does your 4WD weigh?

Of course there are ways around this including getting a GVM upgrade. Without it, your insurance is effectively void, and your chances of breaking something go up significantly.

Towing a trailer will give you a heap of extra storage space and payload. Our camper trailer has just over 1000kg of available payload, not to mention probably double the storage our 4WD has.

Of course, this is not going to apply to every situation; some caravans have terrible payloads, but in general, by towing a trailer you’ll gain far more storage and weight capacity.

Reconn R2 Hypercamper
Our new Reconn R2 has over 1 tonne of payload

Removes stress from parts of your vehicle

Load any vehicle up to the hilt, and your chances of breaking something go up. You cannot fight physics. Beyond that, a heavy 4WD is not one that performs well.

You might not notice anything for a while, but the more weight you add, the more stress you put on everything from wheel bearings to differentials, the chassis and driveline.

80 Series 4WD
Our 80 Series Land Cruiser was extremely heavy with lots of modifications and gear on board

By removing some of the weight from your vehicle and placing it in a trailer behind, the motor still has to do the same (or more) work, but you don’t physically have to carry it all. Your suspension, chassis and other structural bits will thank you as the load is now spread over a much greater surface area.

Of course, towing a trailer makes your vehicle work harder in some situations as its extra drag and weight to pull, so you have to weigh it all up.

Isuzu Dmax
Being able to distribute the weight better is always a good thing

More options for adventure and comfort

Most people travelling don’t just tow a box trailer around. They tow a camper trailer, or a boat, or a caravan. What ever it is, it greatly increases what you can do. I can’t tell you how much more fun we have on our adventures by towing an offroad boat trailer.

Weight issues in a tinny
The amount of fun you can have with an offroad boat trailer and tinny is astounding

Camper trailers and caravans allow you that bit more luxury when travelling, and in general having extra storage allows you to take a few more luxuries. Instead of rolling a swag out at night we climb into a queen size bed with proper sheets and a nice warm quilt. 

Instead of having to skips showers on a regular basis because we can’t carry enough water, our camper trailer takes 270L and with a hot water unit and shower on board it means we can enjoy them when ever we want.

Of course, there’s lots of different ways to camp, and there’s no right or wrong way (and I quite enjoy a swag and proper camping trip!), but the more room and payload you have, the more luxuries and comforts you can take with you.

Reconn R2 shower tent
The shower/toilet tent on the side of our Reconn R2

What’s the cons of towing a trailer?

Like with everything in life, you can’t expect to change something without having at least a few adverse reactions. Towing a trailer has a lot of benefits, but also a lot of negatives, which is why we are writing this post.

Speed reductions

In much of Australia, towing a trailer means your maximum speed is reduced from 110km/h to 100. This is not necessarily a bad thing as it will recover some of the extra fuel used, but it does mean your travelling takes longer.

I remember being quite concerned about this when we started towing, because the 1200 kilometre days we used to do on a regular basis would become just out of reach.

However, for us, its been null and void as we have two young kids, and that rules out any huge days of travel anyway! It also makes overtaking harder, which is problematic when trying to get around big trucks. Usually we just sit behind these days, and have a more relaxing drive!

4WD boat trailer wheels
Towing something means you need to slow down

Additional weight considerations

The moment you hook a trailer up, there’s a whole new world of weights you need to be aware of. We wrote a post a while back that makes it all super easy to understand; Towing capacity; a simple guide to keep you legal.

In essence though, you need to comply with GCM, tow ball mass, rear axle capacity and a whole heap of other terms. Make no mistake, many new 4WD’s can easily be made illegal with a family on board, bull bar and a decent trailer, and that’s without any modifications or gear!

Tight tracks

The moment you hook something up to the back of your 4WD, you have to watch it when travelling. Every corner you have to make sure its not going to clip a tree, or another vehicle. Travelling down tight tracks with a big trailer is one of the more stressful ways to go 4WDing! 

Eventually, you conclude some tracks just can’t be driven easily enough, so you stick to roads that are bigger and easier to get through. You most certainly learn to send someone else in first, or that you know the conditions before tackling a tight track!

Think small
Towing through narrow spots is not much fun at all

Extra fuel consumption

You can’t pull more weight around without it costing you more in fuel. If its a big trailer, expect to use a lot more fuel as the wind drag will be substantial. There’s a reason a lot of caravan owners sit at 80 – 95km/h. Any faster and they’d think they had a hole in their fuel tank!

This varies a lot from vehicle to vehicle, and is hugely dependent on the size and weight of the trailer that you are towing, but using up to 100% more fuel is not uncommon when towing a big caravan.

Our Isuzu Dmax achieves around 10.5L/100km around town, which isn’t bad considering the weight and modifications fitted. On our 3 month trip to the Kimberley we averaged 13.8L/100km towing a 1.5 tonne camper trailer majority of the time.

With the Reconn R2 Hybrid camper, it seems to sit around 15L/100km. Given when it was completely stock the consumption was around 8.5L/100km, its a fairly substantial increase and the trailer we are towing isn’t exactly big, or heavy!

Filling the Dmax with fuel
Expect to use more fuel towing something

Turning around in tight spaces

Everything from shopping centres, to tight 4WD tracks, to caravan parks becomes more difficult with a trailer. Every time you chuck it in reverse, you have to think about where the trailer is going to go, and what its likely to hit.

Beyond that, you just stop going into some places that are hard; shopping centres for example are often a case of walking in from a bigger parking bay. You will have some interesting scenarios with your partner, and keeping everything cool becomes a bit more of a challenge!

Your vehicles capability decreases

The moment you hook a dead weight onto the back of your 4WD, you are going to have a harder time off road. This is everything from creek crossings to beach work, slippery hill climbs, rocks and general sand driving. Not only does the physical weight become an issue, but the trailer touching, not following the exact line of your vehicle and getting hung up is also extremely likely.

You have to drive differently with a trailer off road, and it is much, much easier to get stuck or have issues. Instead of 4 wheels to get through something, you have 6, or 8 and its easy for something to make your vehicle struggle.

Another thing to look after

When you buy a trailer, you’ve got another set of wheels, bearings, brakes and electrics to take care of. Another thing to pay insurance and rego on, and to keep in a good roadworthy condition. This varies a lot from trailer to trailer, but regardless of what you get, you still have another thing to look after.

If it has canvas on the trailer, you really need to take care of it or you’ll end up with mould or damage. Trailers are obviously a lot less maintenance than a 4WD, but they aren’t maintenance free!

New camper trailer wheel bearings
The more you own, the more you have to look after!

Our experience towing

We started our journey camping out of 4WD’s, and the idea of towing something was just unnecessary, and it worked for many years prior to kids.

Oztent in the Kimberley
Our original camping setup for more than 5 years

However, eventually it got to a point where we had too much gear and not enough room or weight left to take it. We knew camping with a toddler would be much easier with a camper trailer, and so we found one that had lots of space and an amazing payload.

This was our first camper trailer, and we had a lot of fun in it; Our soft floor camper trailer for travelling Australia.

Camper trailer at Cleaverville
Our soft floor camper trailer at Cleaverville

A few years later, after we had our second son and missed out on lots of winter camping due to it being too difficult to use, we stumbled across an amazing deal and couldn’t let it pass up.

Our new Hypercamper is super comfortable, easy to tow, very fast to setup and extremely functional. You can read more about it here Reconn R2.

Now, the trailer takes a lot of the weight and we keep our Isuzu Dmax as light as possible (which is still not that light!). We can take our family camping with a significant amount of comfort, but still enjoy the way off the grid locations and for a long time without worrying about running out of anything.

It’s self sufficient in every way, and water would be the first thing we’d run out of, but could easily last 2 weeks away from civilisation.

Pop up camper
Our new Reconn R2 behind the Dmax

There is no way that I would be taking our family camping out of the Dmax only. There just isn’t enough room, or payload to carry what we need. Short term, absolutely, but we’d have to change setups and it wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable as what we have now. 

To tow or not to tow?

Ultimately, the decision has to be based around your requirements. If you don’t have to tow, I can’t see any reason why you would. If you are comfortable camping out of your 4WD, then don’t use a trailer. However, if you want to explore the amazing coastline from a boat, or enjoy the luxuries of a hybrid or caravan then you have a good reason to tow something.

Just know that the moment you buy a trailer to tow its extra work in a whole heap of ways, and that it will absolutely limit where you go. There are some trailers out there designed to go anywhere your 4WD will go, but it would do it easier if it wasn’t towing!

Do you tow anything? Does it annoy you?

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