There are some things in life that on face value should be pretty simple, but once you delve into them are anything but.
Welcome to the dark and mysterious world of dragging things behind a car, otherwise known as towing.
How difficult can it be? How many rules can you have for the simple act of pulling a trailer behind a car or 4WD? Surely it's easy enough to learn as you go?
The answers to these questions, in order, are: a lot more difficult than you think, lots, and, yes, if you prefer to learn the hard way.
If you're about to buy a caravan, a boat or other trailer, you already have one but lack confidence, or are unsure about the safe, correct way to use it, you can get help from the experts at Tow Ed, a company that runs several different types of courses on towing, ranging from the basics of on-road towing through to advanced off-road and heavy hauling techniques.
As total novices to towing, my partner and I recently signed up with Tow Ed for what we'll call Towing 101 - otherwise known as AUR37119A; Drive and Manoeuvre Trailer(s) - a one day introductory course that is also a nationally recognised qualification that complies with relevant occupational health and safety legislation requirements in different states and territories for employees whose responsibilities include towing.
The course actually started a few weeks before we gathered at the training venue, a large carpark at the International Equestrian Centre at Horsley Park in Sydney's south west.
A course guide arrived in the mail. In its 60 pages was a vast amount of information, particularly on the rules that apply to towing. It's an extremely complex and confusing subject. As we were to find out during the course proper, it's very easy to inadvertently break the law and/or void your insurance by not complying with the myriad of rules and regulations.
And it was also obvious after reading the guide that most people towing caravans up and down the country's highways are in some way or another failing to observe the rules.
How many caravan drivers have you followed, for example, who have no extension mirrors fitted to the tow vehicle, or mirrors that don't extend far enough out to give them a clear view of the traffic behind? Most of them, I'd suggest.
We arrived early on Saturday morning, along with half a dozen other couples, to be greeted by two instructors from Tow Ed.
One couple had won their caravan, and the course, at a 4WD show. A couple of mates wanted to know how to tow their boat. The remaining couples were already caravan owners.
Interestingly, their reasons for doing the course mainly came down to a lack of confidence. They had bought a caravan, done a short trip or two, but did not enjoy the experience because they found it difficult, both on the road and when manoeuvring their van in tight spaces, particularly caravan park bays. "We're here for marriage counselling," said one couple, an obviously poignant comment which got a wry laugh from everyone.
We won't attempt to cover here all the course details of what, how and why you should or should not do when towing. You will find plenty of useful information on this in our country driving section.
However we can certainly recommend the Tow-Ed course. Initially, the instructors spend an hour or so explaining the legalities of towing, the importance of selecting the correct towing vehicle and trailer, the correct way to secure the trailer to the towing vehicle, a pre-drive safety checklist and driving techniques. You can ask as many questions as you like - and all the students on our course had plenty of areas about which they were unsure. We knew nothing, so we just listened.
Then it's on to the practicalities. Firstly, the instructors look at each student's tow vehicle/trailer setup, and point out any potential problems. One couple had a small car that was totally unsuitable for pulling their relatively big caravan. Another had problems with excessive weight on the towball, causing the back end of their car to sag. Everyone benefited from individual attention.
Each of us was shown how to safely hitch and unhitch the trailer. There are about 68 ways you can mess this up, most of them painful, expensive and/or dangerous.
The fun part is a series of driving exercises conducted through the afternoon - firstly, manoeuvring your van through a series of witches hats, then reversing in a straight line, then the big challenge - backing your van into a space the size of a caravan park bay.
And as that line from the AC/DC song goes: "I tell you folks, it's harder than it looks."
But the instructors have the technique down pat, and once you learn the tricks of using your mirrors to establish visual reference points, it begins to make sense. Then it's practice, practice, practice.
Again, an instructor spends as much time with each individual driver as required for them to feel confident.
An important aspect of the course is that there's no "hubbie does the driving and wifey makes the tea" attitude. In fact several couples gave as a reason for doing the course their desire that they both become proficient at towing, so they could share the driving on extended trips.
At the end of the day, it was obvious that everyone had enjoyed the course, found it instructive and value for money. Several couples expressed a sense of relief that they could now enjoy their planned caravan travels rather than setting off in ignorance and dread. And the course fee was deemed a very good investment in the continued health of everyone's relationship.
Tow-Ed courses are run in Western Sydney, Gosford, Wollongong, Newcastle, Lithgow and Canberra.
Here are a few things you probably don't know about towing that we learned on the Tow-Ed course: