David MottonSee other Blog articles filed in ‘Tow cars’ written by David Motton
Unless you spent the Christmas break on a tropical island, you'll have put up with a lot of wet weather in recent weeks. You don't need me to tell you that the flooding in Cumbria, Yorkshire and other parts of Britain has damaged homes and businesses, as well as cutting short some festive caravan holidays.
While this winter's rainfall has been exceptionally heavy, towing a caravan in wet weather is part and parcel of British caravanning. You won't caravan for long in these islands without having to deal with wind and rain.
Here are a few driving tips which we hope will help if you're towing in wet and windy weather.
Prevention is better than cure
Keep an eye on the forecast before you are due to travel. If the winds are expected to pick up in the afternoon, consider an early start to reach your destination before the worst of the weather sets in. Or if you have retired and have more flexibility as to when you travel, consider leaving a day early or a day late if it means avoiding high winds and heavy rain.
If a really bad storm is forecast, with the risk of vehicles turning over, it's better not to travel at all than to finish your journey early with your caravan on its side.
Make sure your car and caravan are ready
It's important to have your tow car and caravan in good condition for any trip, but it goes double when the weather is bad.
Make sure the tyres of both your car and your caravan are correctly inflated, and that there's plenty of tread left. By law, your car's tyres must have 1.6mm of tread in a continuous band across the central three-quarters of the tyre and around the full circumference.
Long before the tread reaches that level, the tyre's performance in the wet will be compromised, with longer stopping distances, less cornering grip and worse traction when accelerating. It's better to change tyres when they have 2-3mm of tread remaining rather than wait until they are down to the legal minimum.
Make sure your screenwash is topped up before you leave, and if your wipers are smearing rather than clearing the windscreen, replace the blades. It should be a quick and easy job.
Load your car and caravan carefully. Keep any heavy items in the caravan low down and close to the axle. Of course, this applies whatever the weather, but when towing in wind and rain it's important to control all the variables you can. You might not be able to prevent a strong gust of wind catching your tourer, but you can make sure you, your car and your caravan are ready when it comes.
Coping with heavy rain
Stopping distances increase in wet weather. So it's important to leave a larger gap than normal between your outfit and the vehicle in front.
Remember the old saying, "Only a fool breaks the two-second rule"? It describes the gap that should be left between your car and the car in front when driving in dry weather. So if you are driving in the wet and have the extra weight of a caravan to consider, it makes sense to leave a considerably larger stopping distance between your outfit and the vehicle ahead.
As well as increasing stopping distances, heavy rain makes for very poor visibility. Use dipped headlights in poor light conditions, but don't turn on foglights unless the visibility is limited to just 100 metres, otherwise foglights could dazzle other road users.
Dealing with high winds
As the recent winter storms have reminded us, heavy rain is often accompanied by high winds – and windy weather is especially intimidating for a tow car driver. Blustery winds can contribute to snaking (when the caravan swings from side-to-side), especially at high speeds.
So, if the wind picks up, drop your speed a little. Slowing from 60mph on the motorway to 50 or 55mph can be enough to make a noticeable difference to the stability of your outfit. In strong winds it may be necessary to tow even more slowly, or even to take a break in a layby or service station.
Don't fight every last twitch of the caravan. Stay relaxed and steer a straight course. If a snake does develop, back off the throttle and keep steering in a straight line.
Many modern caravans are fitted with stability devices such as the Al-Ko ATC system. These help prevent snaking by applying the caravan's brakes before serious instability develops. Stability control systems fitted to the car, in particular a Trailer Stability Programme, can also help the driver deal with a snake.
Towing through deep water
In short, don't. If you are at all unsure about the depth of standing water, it is better to steer clear. The AA advises against driving through water more than 10cm (4in) deep.
If you do tow through deep water, do so very slowly to avoid creating a bow wave; just a small amount of water in the combustion chamber could wreck the engine. Dab the brakes once you are on the other side of the standing water to dry them out.
Be careful, stay safe
Much of the advice above is common sense. With a well maintained car and caravan, careful loading, and cautious but attentive driving, it's possible to tow safely in wet and windy weather. But in the most extreme storms it can be prudent to stay put and wait the weather out.