Safety Chains are Designed to Cradle
Trailer Safety Chains
Trailer Design Requirements
For those who want to incorporate towing trailers, (including campers and caravans) as part of your camping and travel activities, the chances are that your trailer will have been made by a reputable dealer and will comply with all necessary design requirements. This being the Australian Government’s Vehicle Standards Bulletin VSB1. The VSB1 outlines the requirements for building small trailers less than 4.5 tonnes aggregate trailer mass.
One of the requirements set out in VSB1 is the need for one or two safety chains to be fitted to the trailer to meet specific capacities and loads.
Trailers where the total maximum mass of the trailer is under 2.5 tonnes (Aggregate Trailer Mass or ATM) must be fitted with at least one such safety chain.
Trailers that are over this 2.5 tonne ATM are required to have two safety chains fitted – one on each side of the trailer’s centreline. VSB1 also sets out the various Australian Standards that apply for these chains.
How do these Safety Chains Affect Me when towing
These chains have been fitted to the trailer by the manufacturer. But, these guys are no longer on the scene when you hook up your trailer. You need to be sure that you’re using these safety chains properly – for the safety of you, your passengers, your car, your trailer, other road users and pedestrians. Additionally, doing the right thing may also protect you in terms of the law and your insurance.
You need a backup when towing a caravan or trailer
So, think of your chains as the backup to the coupling (your tow ball or other fitting) that you have connecting your trailer to your car. If the coupling fails, or you forget to attach it properly – YES, it does happen – then the chain is there to hold the trailer in tow (with some degree of safety), so that the trailer does not continue merrily on a path of its own.
Yes, I appreciate that bigger trailers have breakaway brakes. But, I’ll put that to one side for the moment.
Requirements for towing a trailer or caravan
There are several important things you must do in terms of the trailer’s safety chains.
- The safety chain/s need to be fitted to the fixing point/s (hole/s) provided on your car’s towbar using rated shackles;
- Do NOT use padlocks, carabiners, snap hooks, R-clips or twisted bits of wire etc instead of rated shackles to fix safety chains to the car as these do not have the necessary load rating;
- Where two safety chains are required (for trailers greater than 2.5 tonne ATM), the safety chains ought be crossed under the trailer’s drawbar / coupling – ie the driver’s side chain of the trailer is fixed to the passenger side fixing point on the towbar and vice versa for the passenger side chain;
- The safety chain/s should not drag on the road when travelling as this will weaken the affected links; and
- Double check (and do it again) that you’ve fitted the coupling and the safety chain/s before driving off and when you stop to take a break etc.
Towing trailers and caravans the safe way
While the primary purpose of the safety chains is to keep the trailer in tow should the coupling fail or break, or if you forgot to attach the trailer correctly, the chains also serve the purpose of providing a ‘cradle’ to catch the trailer’s drawbar in such an event. This then stops the front of the trailer digging into the road and making the situation more dangerous.
A quick web search found that all the mainland states of Australia (except for South Australia from what I could see) stressed the importance of crossing the safety chains. For example, Victoria’s VicRoads states “In the instance that two chains are in use, ensure that they are crossed under the drawbar before being attached to the tow vehicle – this…prevents the front of the drawbar from hitting the road if the coupling disconnects” (refer Pre-Trip Caravan Checklist). In regards to South Australia, they do say that safety chains “…should prevent the drawbar from hitting the road” (refer The Driver’s Handbook – Towing and Loads) without saying that the chains should be crossed.
Additionally, crossing the safety chains means that when you turn the car with the trailer attached, the chain lengths have a reduced effect on limiting the turning circle. This is due to the centre of the chains’ respective radii being moved away from the radius of the drawbar.
Disclaimer – this article is for general advice and Out&About with Dayv recommends independent research be undertaken to establish compliance with State laws, Motor Car Act and RTA regulations. Each vehicle also carries towing restrictions based on weights.