A snaking caravan is something that no one ever wants to encounter. Responsible caravanners take steps to make sure it doesn’t happen. However, there’s a certain inevitability that once every now and again, you’re going to have to contend with it. 

Towing your tourer to your destination should be an enjoyable part of the trip, with accessories such as the best caravan sat navs helping caravanners enjoy a stress-free experience. However, being confronted by caravan snaking can quickly turn this experience sour. If it’s not dealt with appropriately, it can lead to the caravan dragging the tow car with it, resulting in the driver losing control.

While it sounds daunting, the good news is that with the appropriate preparation and by driving sensibly, you should limit the chances of it occurring – and even if it does, you should be able to get control back of your car and tourer. This guide will make sure that if and when it does occur, you’re ready to deal with it and know what steps to take to regain control.

If you’re relatively new to the world of touring and find the prospect of towing daunting, you could also consider embarking on one of the caravan towing courses.

What is caravan snaking?

Snaking is when the caravan begins to move from side to side when you’re towing it.

If you leave it unchecked, the swinging motion can become more pronounced until the caravan begins to drag the tow car with it. The driver loses control and the family holiday is over before it’s even started. 

It’s scary stuff, but with the right preparation and sensible driving, it’s something that shouldn’t occur. 

Even if it does, so long as you know what to do, a competent driver should be able to bring both their car and van back under control.

So, how do I stop my caravan from snaking?

The best way to avoid dealing with a snaking caravan will be preventing it from occurring in the first place. There are a few measures that you can take that should mean instability will be less likely when you’re towing.

To begin, make sure when you’re choosing your towing vehicle, you follow the guidance for sensibly matching a car to a caravan.

As well as staying within the car’s legal towing limits, ideally the loaded caravan should weigh no more than 85% of the kerbweight of the tow car.

Matches of up to 100% are considered acceptable for experienced tow car drivers, but the heavier the car is relative to the weight of the caravan, the more stable the combination should be.

How do you load your tourer?

It’s not just going to be weight that makes a difference – where the weight is carried is going to factor in too, so you should take appropriate care when you’re loading a caravan.

When it comes to heavier items you’re taking on tour, whether they’re essential caravan accessories or more tour-enhancing luxuries, you should either put them in the car (as near to the rear axles as you can, as opposed to the boot’s bumper end), or place them low down in your tourer, near to the axle.

This is because loading heavy items at the rear of a tourer can lead to them acting like a swinging pendulum. As a result, it will be harder to regain control of any side-to-side movement.

Check the noseweight (the download through the towing hitch onto the towball). Ideally it should be between 4% and 7% of the caravan’s laden weight, but don’t exceed the permitted maximum load on the towball.

Electronic towing aids

In the same way that the best caravan motor movers can help you when you’re reversing your tourer, technology can also help you here.

Many modern cars have advanced stability systems which recognise when a car is towing and act to quell any snaking. These go by various different names, including Trailer Stability Assist and Trailer Sway Control.

Often, modern caravans have stability systems of their own. Al-Ko’s ATC (Automatic Trailer Control) is the most common one, and applies the caravan’s brakes if it begins to sway.

For caravans with a BPW chassis, the equivalent system is IDC (Intelligent Drive Control).

Check before you buy your next caravan to see if such a system is specified. If not, either system can be retrofitted to a compatible chassis.

Drive well, stay safe

The ‘prevention is better than cure’ approach should continue after you set off.

We may be repeating something your driving instructor would have told you, but the maximum speed limits when towing a caravan are just that – limits, and not a target.

If you’re towing in bad weather conditions, particularly if there are strong winds, it can feel much more stable to be towing at 55mph on the inside lane as opposed to swapping lanes at 60mph.

Be especially cautious driving at speed down a steep gradient – be ready to change down a gear so engine braking can help you keep to a sensible speed.

Be doubly wary heading downhill on a windy day. If your speed creeps up and a sudden strong gust catches the caravan, this is when a snake is most likely.

However, so long as you are driving sensibly and the caravan is loaded well, there’s no reason a snake should occur.

Of course, towing a caravan demands your full concentration, but stay relaxed rather than tense at the wheel.

Every slight shimmy or gentle nudge from the caravan isn’t a warning that the tourer is about to get out of control.

The car is always trying to pull the caravan straight, so don’t keep making lots of small movements at the wheel in an attempt to correct every slight bump or bobble behind you.

Lots of fidgety steering corrections will actually make the car and caravan more nervous. Let the car do the work for you.

How to deal with caravan snaking

Let’s say that despite your best efforts, the caravan begins to snake.

To start with, you’ll see the caravan grow larger in one mirror, then the other. You’ll feel the back of the car beginning to move with the caravan, and you’ll be gently rocked from side to side in your seat.

Don’t panic. Don’t start sawing at the wheel to correct the movement.

And despite what some may tell you, don’t try to accelerate out of the snake as this could lead to a higher speed accident. You shouldn’t hit the brake pedal either, as you could lose control.

Instead, gently back off the accelerator. Keep a light grip on the wheel and keep it pointing straight ahead.

Now comes the really hard part. The snaking motion could get worse before it gets better. With each swing the caravan could loom larger in your mirrors and you’ll have to fight the urge to brake or steer.

The next two seconds could seem like half a minute, but have faith that you are doing the right thing. The swaying motion will gradually ebb away, and the car will pull the caravan straight again.

Take a deep breath, and ask yourself why the snake happened.

If you were travelling too quickly for the conditions, then take it easier for the rest of the journey. If you loaded the caravan poorly, then adjust the loading as soon as it’s practical and safe to do so.

Pull in at the next services and treat yourself to a cup of tea or coffee. You’ll need it.

After arriving at your campsite, it will be time to pitch up – knowing the steps to levelling a caravan will help you get your tourer completely flat.

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