Camper Trailer Dos and Don'ts: What to Know Before You Go!

Camper trailer set up in a forest

Australia has some of the most amazing camping destinations in the world, and the best way to experience them is in a camper trailer. 

Also known as a travel trailer, a camper trailer is a lightweight, compact recreational vehicle (RV) that's towed behind your car and provides accommodation when unhitched at your campsite. They range from basic light trailers that fold out to provide a bed and a small kitchen to more luxurious models with full bathrooms, bedrooms, and kitchens. Many trailers are also off-road campers, with advanced suspension and generous clearance to help you reach Australia's most remote campsites.

The number one thing to do if you're interested in camper trailers is to visit a showroom and see them in person. 

Here are a few more Dos and Don'ts for anyone who owns a camper trailer or is looking to buy one in the future.

DO: Know the Rules When Crossing State Lines

Welcome to Victoria sign at Victoria-NSW border

The laws around towing vary from state to state, so if you're planning an interstate camping trip, it's essential to know the rules not just for your own state but for every state you drive into.

Here are some resources to assist you.

DON'T: Buy a Camper Trailer That Doesn't Suit Your Car

There's no point buying a top-of-the-range camper trailer with all the bells and whistles if you can't even tow it out of the showroom.

Too many people get carried away researching the camper trailer of their dreams only to realise that their car isn't capable of towing it legally.

Check your vehicle's owner manual or consult with the manufacturer to determine your towing capacity. Then, compare that to the maximum fully loaded weight (Aggregate Trailer Mass/ATM) of the camper trailer you are thinking of buying.

It's also important to ensure your towing vehicle's brakes and suspension are in good condition and up to the job of towing a trailer, whether it's a light trailer like a soft-floor camper trailer or a heavier model like a hybrid camper.

Most people won't be looking to buy a new camper trailer and a new towing vehicle, so check this important information in advance to ensure you're not left disappointed.

DO: Make Sure You Have Tip Top Tyres Across the Board 

When you're driving a car and towing a camping trailer, you have a lot of tyres to care for, and a lot that can go wrong with your wheels. You want all of your tyres to be in perfect condition before driving with your camper, especially if you're planning on heading off-road.

Here are a few things to check on your car tyres, your camper trailer tyres, and your spare tyres:

  • Tyre pressure is at the recommended level
  • No screws, nails, or cuts in your tyres
  • Minimum tyre tread depth of 1.5mm
  • Check for signs of leaks
  • Check the condition of tyre sidewalls
  • If you have older tyres, replace them before you hit the road!

DON’T: Take Any Risks When It Comes to Brakes

Black laced boot pressing down on a brake pedal

Taking care of your brakes is important on any road trip, and it only becomes more important when you're towing a load.

First thing first, get your vehicle serviced by a professional and ensure they check the quality of your brakes. 

Next, make sure your trailer brakes have been looked at and are in fine working order.

If you have a trailer with a Gross Trailer Mass (GTM) under 2000kg, it must be fitted with hydraulic or mechanical override brakes that have at least one axle. 

On heavier trailers (over 2000kg), you will need electric trailer brakes on every wheel, which operate automatically and independently of your car's brakes.

For camper trailer maintenance and repairs, contact Camping Adventures today.

Note: Gross Trailer Mass (GTM) is the maximum weight that a trailer can safely carry when it's coupled to a tow vehicle.

DO: Inspect and Test Your Trailer from Top to Bottom Before Leaving

The best way to test and inspect your camper trailer is to set it up and see it in action. Unfold your trailer in your backyard or anywhere else that you have the space. Start looking at all the parts - both inside and outside - to ensure that everything works and nothing is damaged or missing.

It can be a bit of a tedious process but discovering these problems at home is far better than uncovering them when you're in the middle of the bush!

Here are a few parts of your trailer to test and inspect:

  • Gas and electrical connections
  • Wiring
  • Interior and exterior lights
  • Backup batteries and backup generators
  • Taps, showers, and plumbing
  • Mesh sections inside your camper
  • Hinges and poles
  • Beds
  • Fridges
  • Camp kitchen 
  • Bolts and seals
  • The hitch
  • Water tanks
  • Tyres and wheel bearings
  • Suspension and shock absorbers
  • Brakes
  • On-board first-aid (ensure its fully stocked)
  • Camper trailer awning and awning poles
  • The exterior body of your trailer

DON'T: Overestimate Your Towbar

Hitching a camper trailer to a car towbar

One common mistake that beginner travel trailer owners make has to do with their towbar.

The idea is that if your car is equipped with a towbar, it's ready to tow a heavy camper trailer. 

In reality, many vehicles and towbars are designed to tow light conventional trailers or more compact camper trailers, as opposed to heavy trailers like large hybrid campers.

As we already said, you need to know exactly what your car's towing limitations are. As well as this, you need to make sure the towbar you have fitted is suited for the job.

Don't waste your money on an excessive towbar that you don't need or an undersized towbar that can't handle the weight of your camper.

DO: Pack All the Gear You Need

If you're anything like us, your campsite could be hours from the nearest supermarket, hardware store, or source of fresh drinking water. That's why it's important to pack all the camping supplies you need into your camper trailer.

This includes everything from perishable and non-perishable food to clothes, cooking and camping gear, cleaning supplies, sleeping bags and pillows, and off-road recovery gear.

Make sure you also have all the right equipment attached to your vehicle, from the tow ball, tow bar and rear bar to wiring connectors and safety chains. Also pack the tools, spares, and supplies you need for some basic repairs.

You can pick up a great range of camper trailer accessories and camping accessories at our camping store in Melbourne!

For more advice on what to bring, check out our list of 80+ Caravan, Camper Trailer, and Camping Accessories.

DON'T: Exceed Your Camper Trailer's Weight Limit

There's a fine line between packing everything you need and overloading your camper trailer.

When you're packing your camper trailer - or better yet, when you're first shopping for one - make sure you pay attention to all its specifications. In this case, the important specs relate to maximum weight.

You don't just want to know how much it weighs empty (called the Tare Weight). You want to know the payload, which is how much weight you can add to your trailer before it reaches its maximum safe weight.

Once you have the payload, you have a guide on how much you can pack for your trip. The payload will be in the hundreds of kilos, but trust us, that amount can dwindle quickly when you're packing full water tanks, gas bottles, and other heavy-duty items.

Also, keep in mind that you might add items to your trailer over time that always live in there. All of these permanent fixtures increase the effective Tare Weight, which reduces your payload. This means you will have less packing weight to play with than what the manufacturer originally specified.

DO: Pack Each Section Separately

For fast setup at your campsite, pack each section separately before you leave.

Place food, camper trailer parts, bedding, cleaning materials, kitchen gear, and more in separate tote bags, collapsible storage boxes, or other storage containers. Then, when you get to the campsite, you can quickly unpack all the bedding in the bedrooms, the food and kitchen gear in the fold-out kitchen, etc. This method helps you make the most of your storage space and makes packing and unpacking easy.

DON'T: Bother Unpacking Your Whole Camper Trailer at the End of Your Trip

The last thing you want to do at the end of a long camping trip is unpack everything. You just want to go home, watch some TV, and crawl into bed.

Well, we've got good news for you. There's no need to unpack your entire camper. Instead, buy a bunch of camping and cooking supplies that will live permanently in your trailer.

That way, all you need to do at the end of the trip is pull out all your dirty clothing, perishable foods, and the handful of other items that you need to unpack. Everything else can stay in the trailer, ready for your next trip!

DO: Make Use of Your Camper Trailer's Stabilisers

Locking the position of your jockey wheel is a great idea and using your camper trailer's handbrake will help, but if you want to keep your trailer stable while camping, you must use your stabilisers (funnily enough).

Some people think they can get away with not using their stabilisers, or not using all of them. The majority of travel trailers will have stabilising poles and struts throughout their body, and engaging all of these will ensure your camper is still, stable, and secure while you camp.

DON’T: Head to a Campsite with Your Eyes Closed

Obviously, we don't mean this literally (although you should always keep your eyes on the road).

What we're saying is that you should always know what you're getting into when you visit a campsite. This is especially pertinent when you're camping in a trailer, where you can often go further and for longer

Always camp in a secure area and be aware of any risk posed by surrounding wildlife. If you're heading to a registered campsite, find out what amenities are available, including firewood, toilets, and picnic tables. 

If you're camping in an area with free access to fresh drinking water, you can save yourself a lot of weight by filling up when you get to the campsite and driving to and from your location with empty water tanks.

Conditions can always change, so check online to see if it's currently safe to camp in a specific area or if things like bushfires, floods, or fallen trees have made camping untenable.

DO: Go Slow and Steady When Driving with a Trailer 

Open road in Australia

Driving with a camper trailer is a completely different experience, and you need to adjust accordingly.

Accelerate and brake slowly, avoid sudden or sharp steering wheel movements, and keep a generous gap between you and other vehicles. Avoid overtaking wherever possible and make room for other vehicles to overtake you whenever it is safe to do so.

Also, keep in mind that your trailer has a tight turning arc, so you will need to take turns much wider to compensate.

When it comes to mountain roads, off-road driving, as well as general inclines and declines, momentum is your best friend.

Take things slowly when going downhill. Use low gears and avoid riding the brakes to prevent bottoming out and hitting your trailer tongue on the ground. When going uphill, build up speed before you hit the hill rather than trying to accelerate through the incline. Use just enough momentum and speed to get up the slope but go no faster in order to keep control.

Don't forget about reversing your camper trailer, either. This is the least glamorous and most frustrating part of the process, and it will take some practice to master.

The key to reversing and parking with a trailer is to go slowly, make tiny steering wheel movements, and remember that when you turn your wheel left, your trailer will turn right, and vice versa.

DON'T: Overwork Your Trailer's Generator and Batteries

The great thing about camping in a travel trailer is access to so many electrical appliances. Thanks to your trailer's electrical system, power outlets, generator, and built-in batteries, you can charge phones, switch on TVs, use a microwave and even turn on the air conditioner. 

However, there's only so much your generator can take, even if you have a heavy-duty generator. So, just keep in mind that you will only be able to use a few appliances at a time. Also remember that most camper trailer generators won't be able to power your most energy-hungry appliances simultaneously, like your AC and your microwave. 

Many small appliances will be able to run on your camper trailer's internal battery power, but once the batteries die, they will need to be recharged using the generator. So, keep this in mind when monitoring battery usage. 

A Few Other Camper Trailer Tips

  • A spirit level is a simple tool that you can use to ensure your camper trailer isn't sloping when you set it up on-site.
  • Park your camper trailer on flat, level ground wherever possible. Avoid spots with protruding rocks, thick tree roots, potholes, or overly soft ground.
  • If you store your trailer somewhere other than home, make sure you bring it to your house a few days before the trip. This gives you plenty of time to pack, check your camper, turn on the camper trailer fridge, and take care of any other pre-trip essentials. 

Need Camper Trailer Info?

Come and visit the Camping Adventures showroom in Clyde North, Victoria.

You'll find a great range of camper trailers in Melbourne, including the Patriot Campers and Lifestyle Campers range. We're also authorised dealers of camper trailers and camping gear in Hobart.

Explore our range online and visit our team in person to find the best camper trailer for you!

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