Towing is very different from everyday driving – it requires additional driving skills and safety precautions. As a driver, you have a legal responsibility to other road users and yourself when towing a camper trailer, caravan or other vehicle, to drive to suit the conditions. Yet any towing combination is only as strong as its weakest link – safety chains are required to meet certain standards, as is the tow vehicle’s tow bar. So, when it comes to shackles – the bits that connect the two – what gives?
While there is an Australian Standard relating to shackles – AS 2741-2002 – it only relates to the use of shackles for lifting purposes, such as lifting an engine into a car bar, not for towing. It’s also worth noting that there is a standard for the safety chains themselves – AS 4177.4-2004 – but not the shackles that connect them up. Go figure. The issue is that the load placed on shackles used for towing is different to lifting and, consequently, AS 2741-2002 does not directly apply.
Several years back, the issue of whether rated shackles were a legal requirement for towing reached a boiling point when some people claimed that a new regulation had come into effect necessitating their use on all caravans and trailers. The issue has continued to create confusion amongst the public and misleading propaganda has furthered the misconception that people will be fined if found using a non-rated shackle. Currently, the use of rated shackles is not mandatory, however it is recommended that people choose a shackle that is fit for purpose and compatible with the safety chain in terms of strength and size.
The Australian Administrator of Vehicle Standards, in consultation with the Australian Motor Vehicle Certification Board, recently issued a Circular which covers shackles used for towing and was developed in agreement with state and territory regulators to provide clarity and a uniform approach in Australia to the use of safety chain connection devices. The circular has plenty of useful information – full details can be found HERE – and outlines how AS 2741-2002 can be specifically applied to shackles used for towing.
An appropriate shackle is one that shows the manufacturer’s identification, quality or grade – M or 4, S or 6 – the Working Load Limit, the maximum load that may be applied to the shackle, and markings to allow that shackle to be traced back to a test certificate.
The circular also includes this useful table to show how shackle standards relate to caravan/trailer ATM.
Table 1 – Typical shackles recommended based on trailer ATM
As the circular states, “there is no legal obligation to comply with this guidance material…it is the responsibility of the person…to demonstrate to state or territory road authorities that a particular safety chain connection device is appropriate for the combination vehicle.” Yet, if you have advice providing you with help to select something that’s designed to keep you tow and tug hitched together – to prevent your camper taking a ride on its own – you’d be mad not to follow it.
Luckily, shackles are very rarely used for their actual purpose – a backup link to the towing hitch that connects your trailer’s safety chains to the tow vehicle and prevents the drawbar from touching the ground if the coupling brakes or disconnects from the tow ball – so most are never placed under any sort of load. However, should they be a requirement, rather than a suggestion to ensure the safest towing? Regardless, knowing how shackles are rated, what load they can support, and whether they comply with the relevant Australian standards is all important information for those who tow to know.
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