Buyer beware! Don't get caught in a 'fat van' towing trap!

December 07, 2017
Buyer beware! Don't get caught in a 'fat van' towing trap!

GSA gets regular requests for help from caravan buyers related to industry compliance and in particular tow vehicles and whether they are fit for the purpose intended.

This request is typical: "I was wondering if you could possibly help me? I have purchased a caravan through a dealership in Brisbane. On their brochure, it states that my car (Toyota Prado 2010 150 series) is able to tow this particular van.

"After receiving the van and doing some research I have discovered that my car can only tow 2500kg. (Editor's Note: 2500kg trailer and 250kg on the ball are specified on Toyota's website for 5-door Prado 150 diesel).

"The tare mass of the van is 2220kg with an ATM of 3402kg.

"I have contacted Toyota and Queensland Transport to see if I can upgrade the towing capacity of my car to allow me to tow this van and they have all said NO.

"After contacting the salesman who sold me the van they have told me that it is now my problem?

"Is there anything I can do to get a refund?

"I have also contacted Fair Trade (Office of Fair Trading Queensland) and I am going to put in writing a complaint to this (Name supplied) company but in the meantime, I would like to know if you have any advice that could help me in this situation?"

Editor's note: The Queensland dealer involved has sold what appears to be, in pictures sent to GSA, a US built caravan.


Since this email was first received by GSA in July formal documented complaints and approaches have been made to Ian Cole of the Motor Trades Association of Queensland (MTAQ) and Office of Fair Trading Queensland, and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) the complainant says.

The complainant says the MTAQ process was not successful and MTAQ suggested escalating the dispute to the Office of Fair Trading.

Fair Trading Queensland said they needed more understanding of the towing numbers issues involved in relation to the Prado and the caravan in dispute, she said.

An approach to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) resulted in the response that not enough people are involved in the problem to warrant its intervention.

Legal advice has been sought, but potential costs to seek redress are beyond the complainant’s budget, she says.

GSA’s response - ‘Consumers have the right to expect that a business will not mislead or deceive them. Advertising by a business should never lead a consumer to believe something that isn’t true. This might relate to the value, capabilities or quality of goods and services, source Fair Trading Qld.’

GSA believes in Toyota’s Prado towing numbers and the numbers reported by the complainant the caravan sold is not fit for the purpose intended. The Tare of 2220kg is too high to allow the caravan to be kept under the 2500kg Aggregate Trailer Mass (ATM) allowable for the five-door Prado. This is compounded by sales claims made in the Traders brochure that a Prado is suitable for the task in regard to this particular caravan which the complainant says has an ATM of 3402kg.

On the lynchpin of our consumer law, there are grounds for redress.

It is illegal for a business to mislead consumers when advertising goods and services, source Fair Trading Qld.

From the motor trade and caravan and camping industries point of view, this is the task ahead. No client should ever be put in such a position. A Prado 150 diesel 5-door is not suited or warranted by Toyota to tow the 3402kg ATM caravan sold to the complainant.

Your correspondent has experience towing a loaded horse float with the Prado 120 series manual.


Here is a profile of the Toyota Prado 150 series diesel variants from Toyota’s website supported by an extensive search of Prado related and automotive review websites:

The Prado 150 Series launched September 2010, the fourth generation, came in five and three-door styles, with 14 variations. Vehicle Stability Control on all models. Constant 4WD and anti-skid braking.

The Prado is a long-established Australian favourite mid-size SUV all-rounder. The 90 series launched in Australia in 1997.

Despite its branding, which includes ‘Land Cruiser’ in its title, the Prado is not the Prado's bigger 4WD brother when it has a load behind it.

Towing capacity is 2500kg for the five-door and 3000kg for the three-door, while the five door’s roof load capacity is 80kg. The three-door line-up (SX and ZR), came with the diesel matched to the auto transmission only. The entry-level three-door model, the Prado SX, has the same equipment as the five-door GX, except it lacks a sub fuel tank. The premium three-door ZR is equipped similarly to the five-door Kakadu.

Producing 127kW at 3400rpm and 410Nm between 1600 to 2800rpm, the 3-litre turbo-diesel engine lists a fuel consumption figure of 8.5 l/100km in automatic guise, and 8.8 l/100km when paired with the manual transmission.

The three-door automatic turbo-diesel lists a fuel economy of 8.3 l/100km.

GoSee would expect to at least double that figure towing a caravan of about 2250kg loaded in ideal road and weather conditions.

But this hypothetical 2250kg (ATM) loaded caravan challenges the five-door Prado’s Gross Combined Mass limit of 5490kg. The GX Prado’s Gross Vehicle Mass is 2990kg.

Ratings and Masses and their definitions and terminology remain the number one contentious and confusing Issue for caravan buyers and the caravanning industry itself.

To amend and suitably clarify the various items involved in the Vehicle Safety Standards seems to be too difficult to allow revision of all the legislation involved.


Many caravans cannot be loaded up to the Aggregate Trailer Mass (ATM) Rating figure without the Gross Trailer Mass (GTM) rating figure, and/or the Ball-Load Rating figure, being exceeded.

But the first practical safety aids to prevent the caravan tail wagging the tow vehicle dog are obvious and they can be applied immediately by the caravan industry and caravan buyers. The tow-vehicle must be heavy enough, the caravan must be professionally-designed, the caravan must be correctly loaded, and the driver must be competent.

A prime cause of the trouble is the (wrong and dangerous) belief, as has been stated in various publications over the years, that:

Ball-Loading = ATM Rating - GTM Rating

You simply cannot subtract one Rating from another Rating and expect to come up with an Actual Mass.

It is all too easy to ask the willing Prado diesel to do more than its Toyota towing specifications allow. Both the six-speed manual and five-speed automatic transmissions in the Prado are matched to a full-time four-wheel-drive system with a lockable Torsen centre differential and two-speed transfer.

For smoother shifting, the six-speed manual features a triple-cone synchromesh on first, second and third gears. The manual transmission is available on five-door GX and GXL model grades only.

The five-door VX and Kakadu models got Toyota’s Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System, which first appeared on the company’s leading popular tow vehicle the LandCruiser 200 Series.

As we said before despite its branding, which includes LandCruiser in its title, the Prado is certainly not its big brother when it comes to towing.


Here are the official specification numbers to support that comment from the Toyota website.

  • Prado GX five-door auto towing specs:

  • Gross Trailer Weight braked 2500kg.

  • Tow ball maximum mass 250kg.

  • Gross Combined Mass 5490kg.

  • GX Gross Vehicle Mass 2990kg.

  • GX Manual as above.

The Special Edition 5 door Prado Altitude 3 litre diesel auto varies: its Gross Combined Mass drops 120kg to 5370kg.

The top of the range Kakadu 3 litre diesel also varies slightly: its Gross Combined Mass is 5475kg, 15kg down on the GX model.

Compare these Prado towing numbers with the Toyota LandCruiser 200 Series 4.5 litre Twin Turbo V8 diesel:

  • GXL diesel Gross Vehicle Mass 3350kg.

  • Gross Trailer Weight braked 3500kg.

  • Tow ball maximum mass 350kg.

NRMA reports that the Gross Combined Mass is 6800kg. That is 1310kg more than the 5-door Prado.

Toyota says: "Towing capacity subject to regulatory requirements, towbar design, vehicle design and towing equipment limitations. Ask your Dealer for details of Toyota Genuine Towbar capacity and availability."

Office of Fair Trading update 29.08.2014: Yesterday the Office of Fair Trading Qld officer assigned to look at the dispute told Sammy that she could tow the caravan with her Prado and therefore the trader had not committed a breach.

He argues that all she has to do is adjust the way she loads it.

Remarkable indeed. On Toyota’s figures, a caravan with an ATM of over 3000kg is illegal behind both the 5 and 3-door Prado.

It is highly likely in my experience that when loaded for the road the caravan in dispute will have a ball weight of over 250kg.

For example, the GSA 23ft Jayco Sterling GSA uses has a tare (unladen) ball weight of 175kg.

When loaded for the road with gas bottles, water and batteries, food, clothes, and essential full working kit aboard (ATM) the ball weight is 275kg.

Road travellers will have noted that there are a worrying number of Prados about pulling Jaycos and similar caravans of this size and weight.

The Old Heads know it is possible to fiddle the load situation, between the tow vehicle and the caravan but not safely or legally. Suggested fixes which include taking the back seat out of Prado to boost its towing number threshold deserve only contempt for their irresponsibility.

Sammy’s is a family of five. They certainly are not interested in restricting their caravan experience to tare weight loading restrictions.

Travelling with a change of underwear and a towel for a family of five does not fit their purpose.

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