Nigel Donnelly

See other Advice articles filed in ‘Tow cars’ written by Nigel Donnelly
You've decided what tow car to buy and collected your new pride and joy, but before you head off on tour, Nigel Donnelly suggests doing six key checks

When you pick up a new caravan, the dealer is there to help ensure you have all the bases covered as your leave the forecourt. Swapping car, however, there is no such hand holding – so Practical Caravan is here to help. Here are six things that are waiting to take the joy out of your first experience of towing with your shiny new car for the first time, so make sure you perform these checks ahead of your caravan holidays. Here's our essential pre-holiday checklist.

1. Fit your removable tow bar

Removable tow bars are great because they mean you don’t have the back of your car disfigured all-year round. But when the caravan is packed and the kids are in the car is not the time to be fitting the bar for the first time. Even the simplest ones can be a bit tricky to locate properly, and having a deadline doesn’t help. Do it the day, week or month before you need it. 

2. Remove the paint from the tow ball

New tow balls tend to come with a coat of shiny paint. They look great, but once you’ve clamped your Al-Ko or BPW friction stabiliser onto it, the likely result is reduced stabiliser effectiveness and a sickening groan, particularly at low speeds as the friction pads remove the paint themselves, compress it and grind the fine paste across the surface of the tow ball. So, before you tow, get a coarse sanding pad and remove the paint from the ball. A shiny, clean tow ball will be quiet and allow the stabilser to do its job. Invest in a can of aerosol brake cleaner too, to keep things quiet on subsequent journeys.  

3. Check the electrics

It sounds silly, but you’ve paid to have your tow bar fitted, but did you check that the correct electrics are actually in place? It’s less of a problem if the bar is aftermarket, but if the bar is an original equipment one, there is a very real chance that you’ll have a seven-pin when you want a 13-pin socket, or if you have 13-pin, that the supplementary electric kit for powering the caravan fridge, Al-Ko ATC and battery charging hasn’t been connected. Plug everything in before you plan to go anywhere, just to make sure it all works. 

4. Do your mirrors fit?

Good quality towing mirrors tend to fit most things, but some cars are harder to fit supplementary mirrors to than others. If you have mirrors with the rubber straps to locate them, modern car mirrors tend to be huge and you may find you need new extension mirrors. Even if they do fit, working out the best way to fit them (fitted under the mirror head, over the mirror head, the best spot to place the clamps) is not a job to undertake on the morning of your caravan holiday. A trial run in advance is an excellent idea. 

5. Turn off the folding mirrors

Watching your car’s automatically folding mirrors thump your extension mirrors into the door of your brand new car is sickening. Happily, there is usually no damage, but it can break the mirror clamps, cause horrible noises from the folding mirror mechanism and generally cause alarm. Most cars have a setting to disarm the mirrors. Grab the car's handbook to see if you can do it on your car. 

6. Get good quality sticky pads for your numberplate

You remembered to get the new numberplate, yes? Great. But did you remember to get something to attach the new numberplate to the caravan? Good quality numberplate pads can be had from most accessory shops, but as caravan rear panels can be funny shapes, will flex and generally aren't as flat and uniform as car panels, the standard pads can be a bit of struggle. Halfords sells 6mm deep sticky pads which allow for a bit of movement in the panel as you attach it and these help ensure good adhesion. They come with a solvent wipe too, to prepare the surface, which helps to ensure your numberplate will still be there when you arrive at your destination. 

So all that's left is for us to wish you happy holidays!

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