Tips for towing a caravan
As the days draw out and the weather gets hotter, most people’s minds are starting to turn to the summer holidays. Caravans can be a great way to get away from the daily grind in your own little home from home, but there’s no doubting that the thought of towing a caravan for the first time can be daunting.
If you’re new to caravanning or are planning your next trip, then now’s the perfect time to brush up on your towing knowledge. Wherever you’re off to, we’ve covered some of our top towing tips below.
CAN YOU LEGALLY TOW A CARAVAN?
There are a number of laws and rules in place to make sure the roads are as safe as possible when it comes to towing a caravan. The following guidelines should get you and your tow car a long way towards meeting the main requirements.
Firstly, you need to understand what weight your driving licence allows you to tow. For instance:
If you received your driving licence before the 1st Jan 1997, then you’re usually entitled to drive a vehicle and trailer of a combined weight of up to 8,250kg
If you received your driving licence on or after 1st Jan 1997, then you’ll usually be entitled to tow a car/caravan weighing a combined 3,500kg or less. If you fall into this category, then to tow a heavier caravan you’d need to pass a car and trailer test, often known as ‘B+E’
You should check your licence to see what you are allowed to tow.
You can find the kerb weight (i.e. the weight with no people or luggage inside) of your vehicle in the owner’s manual or sometimes on a plate on the door sill or on the V5 registration document. The weight of the caravan is usually listed in the owner’s handbook but if you are unsure you should ask the manufacturer.
Before towing, it’s also important to check the owner’s handbook for your vehicle to find out the following information:
Your car’s maximum towing weight. There are two max towing weights for most vehicles: braked and unbraked. This means that if you’re towing something that weighs more than 750kg or is over half the car’s kerb weight, then it needs to be fitted with brakes for it to be legal
The weight limits for tow balls or tow-bars - you need to make sure your caravan is within the limitation for these
The correct tyre pressures when the car is carrying a full load
The UK government also has a useful website with more information, which you can find here: www.gov.uk/towing-with-car
THINGS TO CHECK BEFORE YOU SET OFF
Making sure you have the right equipment before setting off on your journey is very important - to make sure you, your passengers and other road users are safe.
Check that you have all the below covered before you leave home:
It’s a legal requirement that you need to be able to see the rear of your caravan, which means you’ll need to buy extension mirrors which attach to your car’s wing mirrors
Remember to check that your rear light panel is working, as it’s a legal requirement that it does
You need to know that your caravan’s indicators are working whilst you’re on the road. You can do this by purchasing a specialised flashing light or buzzer, which tells you when the indicators are on or warns you if they’re not working properly
You’re never allowed to tow a caravan when there are passengers in the caravan itself
You must make sure that your vehicle’s number plate is visible at all times
Once you’ve taken care of the above, you’ll soon be ready to set off on your adventure!
TIPS FOR TOWING SAFELY
You’ll need to adapt the way you drive while you’re towing a caravan. Once you’re on the road, it’s all too easy to forget you have your home on wheels behind you!
One of the most important things to keep in mind is that the extra weight means more momentum, and therefore a longer stopping distance. So keep your speed down, and try to anticipate braking in advance to give yourself more time.
Keep a slow speed. Remember that you’re towing a large vehicle behind you, and sticking to a sensible speed will help to reduce the forces generated and makes sure you allow enough time to react to things happening on the road around you
Remember the speed limits are different for when you’re towing, keep below 50mph on single carriageways and below 60mph on dual carriageways
For corners, reduce your speed even more than you normally would, and go around them more widely so you have enough room for the caravan to turn
If you realise traffic is starting to build up behind you, try to pull over in a safe space and let the other vehicles drive past
Try to anticipate braking so you can be lighter on the brakes. Remember you have a lot more weight and momentum, so it can take longer to slow down
When deciding where to park, take into consideration your position so that you don’t obstruct other vehicles, or entrances/exits. Caravans are not allowed to be parked in parking meter bays
WHAT IS SNAKING AND PITCHING?
If you regularly tow a trailer or caravan, you’ll most probably have heard of snaking and pitching. It’s safe to say that if you’re new to the world of towing, you’ll need to know what these two terms mean, and how to prevent them from happening.
Snaking is when the caravan or trailer you’re towing has an excessive swaying movement (moving side to side). In extreme cases, the swaying can get faster and become more violent, which can lead you to lose control of the car if you fail to react.
Pitching is when the caravan’s front moves up and down, dragging the rear end of the tow car in a seesaw type movement.
Both of these are usually caused by incorrect weight balance, or a badly packed caravan.
HOW TO PREVENT SNAKING AND PITCHING
If you do find your caravan starting to snake and pitch, then you need to take your foot off the accelerator pedal to reduce your speed gradually. Most people’s instinct is to brake heavily - but this will make the problem worse and can be very dangerous. Instead - keep your foot off the accelerator and gradually change down gears to allow engine braking to slow the vehicle.
The best way to avoid snaking and pitching from happening in the first place is to have a well-matched car and caravan combination. Loading your caravan carefully will also help - for example, putting heavy items on the floor, and lighter items away in storage units.
Choosing a caravan which is fitted with electronic and friction stabilisers can also reduce the chances of snaking and pitching.
Even if you do have all of these safety measures in place, there are some instances where snaking and pitching may happen anyway - this is most commonly caused due to gusts of wind or other large vehicles on the road causing air turbulence, such as coaches and lorries.