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5 tips for towing trailers and caravans

by Hugh Wilson | 22 Apr 2016

You may be considering a caravan holiday this summer, or simply want to use your car to tow a few trailers of garden waste to the tip.

But towing is not as simple as hooking up and hitting the road. Here are five tips you need to know for towing trailers and caravans legally, safely and sensibly.

Don’t overload

The regulations around how much weight your vehicle can and can’t tow are quite technical, but a general rule is that a caravan’s loaded weight should be no more than 85% of the car’s kerb weight. You’ll find the kerb weight figure in the handbook.

Alternatively, find your car’s ‘gross train weight’, which may be listed on the vehicle identification number (VIN), normally under the bonnet or inside the driver’s door.

The gross train weight is the weight of the fully-loaded car plus fully-loaded trailer and must not be exceeded.

If in doubt talk to an organisation like the Caravan Club, who have lots of experience in matching cars with the right caravan.

Check your licence

You can buy luxury caravans the size of a small house these days, but are you eligible to drive them? The answer is, maybe not.

Your driving licence tells you the size of the caravan or trailer you’re legally allowed to tow. If you passed your test before 1997 you can probably drive while towing a caravan or trailer with a combined Maximum Authorised Mass (MAM) of up to 8.25 tonnes.

If you passed later than that you’re not legally allowed to tow as much, but the specifications are – again - quite technical. Drivers passing a category B (car and small vehicle) test can tow small trailers weighing no more than 750kg, or larger trailers as long as the combined weight of the trailer and towing vehicle is no more than 3,500kg (3.5 tonnes) MAM.

If you want to tow more than that, you’ll have to pass a further test.

There’s more information here.

Get the right equipment

When you’ve worked out what you can tow, you’ll need to hook it up. Your towing bar must be the right one for its purpose, which is known as being “type-approved”. A type-approved tow bar will come with a label saying which vehicles it’s approved for.

Whatever you’re towing, you have to be able to see behind you. If the trailer or caravan is wider than the towing vehicle you probably need to fit extended towing mirrors. If you don’t, you could face three points on your licence and a hefty fine.

A trailer or caravan weighing over 750kg must be fitted with brakes, which must be in good working order.

Towing tips

So after all that, you’re ready to go.  Just, well, not too fast.  Driving defensively and cautiously is key to successful towing.

If you’ve never towed before have a go before making a purchase, especially if you’re investing in an expensive piece of kit like a caravan. Often, large trade shows and good dealers will let you try before you buy. Clubs like the Camping and Caravanning Club run manoeuvring courses for beginners.

But here are some general on-the-road towing tips everyone should know:

  • Give yourself more time and space for everything. Brake earlier than normal and accelerate more slowly.
  • Take corners more widely so your caravan or trailer wheels don’t mount the kerb.
  • Remember speed limits: 50mph on single lane highways and 60mph on dial carriageways.
  • You can’t use the fast lane of a three-lane motorway unless instructed to do so.
  • Don’t let passengers or pets travel in the caravan.
  • Snaking and pitching – a lateral or vertical movement of the trailer or caravan which can affect the stability of the car – is less likely with well-matched vehicles. If your caravan or trailer starts to sway keep driving in a straight line and avoid the instinct to brake. Take your feet off the pedals and let the car slow smoothly and naturally.

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