You probably know about the five Ps: Perfect Planning Prevents Poor Performance. Planning is especially important if you want to prevent towing emergencies from occurring.

Careful driving, a well-chosen route and correct loading all contribute to safe and stress-free towing.

Sometimes, though, even carefully laid plans go wrong, even if you have one of the best caravan tow cars. And when that happens, it’s best to be ready. Hopefully you’ll never need this advice, but just in case, here’s what to do in a towing emergency.

Coping with a snake

Many caravanners dread the prospect of a snaking caravan. One moment you are towing serenely, the next, the van is wagging from side to side and starting to drag the back of the car with it.

So it pays to make a snake as unlikely as possible. That means starting with a sensible car/caravan match.

Both major touring clubs recommend towing a caravan weighing no more than 85% of the kerbweight of the tow car.

It’s particularly important to somebody who is new to towing, but it’s of benefit to all. The more favourable the matching ratio, the better the outfit’s stability.

Carefully loading a caravan is also very important. A caravan carrying the same items will behave completely differently depending on how it has been loaded.

Keep heavy items low down and close to the axle(s). Check the noseweight (the weight of the hitch pressing down on the towball) and aim to be close to 7% of the caravan’s loaded weight, so long as this does not exceed the towball’s or the hitch’s maximum (usually 100kg for an Al-Ko chassis as in most UK caravans).

A diagram of a snaking caravan

The way you drive is important, too. Treat the speed limit as an absolute maximum and be ready to drive more slowly in bad weather – especially if it’s windy and the road is exposed. Even a small reduction from 60mph to 55mph can be enough to make a difference.

Be especially cautious when driving downhill in high winds, as these are the conditions in which snaking is most likely.

If a snake does happen, you’ll start to feel a side-to-side movement, and you’ll see the caravan moving from left to right and back again in your mirrors – and take a look at our best caravan towing mirrors guide if you’re after a new pair. Lift off the throttle, keeping the front wheels of the car pointing straight ahead. Act quickly and a potential snake will be no more than a worm-like wiggle – your passengers might not even notice anything untoward.

But perhaps you don’t spot the signs early enough, and the snaking movement becomes more pronounced. Don’t panic – keep your feet off the pedals and make no sudden steering movements.

If you are in a proper snake, there are a horrible few moments where the snaking gets worse before it improves, but have faith – as your speed reduces and the energy ebbs away, the car should pull the caravan straight again.

Don’t be tempted to accelerate out of a snake, because the chances are, this will simply increase the speed at which you lose control. Don’t brake, either – if the vehicle slows suddenly with the caravan swinging out to one side, it will lead to a crash. Prompt, calm action is the key here.

Dealing with a blowout

While you can usually feel a snake coming if you know the early warning signs, a tyre blowout can be very sudden.

However, you can make a blowout much less likely by ensuring that your tyres are inflated to the correct pressures and still have plenty of tread.

If the tyre does blow, stay calm and avoid making violent movements at the wheel, but do steer if you need to do so to keep within your lane. Gently ease off the throttle, but don’t jump on the brake pedal. Just as when snaking, this instinctive action could lead to a crash.

A damaged tyre
Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Allow the speed to die away until you have regained full control of the outfit. Move to the hard shoulder if you are on a motorway, but do so carefully, checking your mirrors first. Put your hazard warning lights on, so other drivers know to give you space. Call National Highways on 0300 123 5000 (it’s a good idea to save the number in your phone) to alert them. If you are on a road without a hard shoulder, put your hazard warning lights on and find the nearest safe place to pull over.

Don’t forget to carry out some caravan tyre safety checks before setting off too.

Handling a breakdown

A regular breakdown is less stressful than a snake or a tyre blowout, but is still very frustrating and potentially dangerous.

If you lose power, you’ll need to move over to the hard shoulder on the motorway. Try to reach the hard shoulder before car and caravan come to a stop, but don’t carve across traffic to do so.

Although it’s far from ideal to stop in the main carriageway, it’s better than causing a collision by swerving into another vehicle. Hazard lights will warn other road users to expect the unexpected. Use side lights in the dark and fog lights if visibility is poor.

Without power, you might be unable to reach a safe stopping place on a single carriageway road, in which case you’ll have to leave car and caravan with the parking brake on and move yourself and your passengers away from moving traffic, exiting to the left of the vehicle.

Consider placing a warning triangle at least 45m from your stranded outfit, so road users know there’s an obstruction ahead – but only if it is safe to do so.

Don’t risk being run over, and don’t use the warning triangle on a motorway – the danger outweighs the benefit.

Call your caravan breakdown cover provider to arrange recovery of your car and tourer. It’s likely that caravans and trailers will be included in your policy, but always check when you are taking out cover, to be sure.

After an accident

If you have an accident, ideally don’t stop in a live lane. Find a safe place to pull over if the car and caravan can still be driven. Share your details with the other drivers involved and take photos of any damage. If anybody is injured or you suspect a driving offence has been committed, call the police. If the collision is very serious, calling the emergency services should be a high priority once you and your passengers are safe.

If you’re after a towing aid to help you enjoy a stress-free drive to your destination, take a look at our best caravan sat nav guide to see our favourite options on the market.

Future Publishing Limited, the publisher of Practical Caravan, provides the information in this article in good faith and makes no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. Individuals carrying out the instructions do so at their own risk and must exercise their independent judgement in determining the appropriateness of the advice to their circumstances and skill level. Individuals should take appropriate safety precautions and be aware of the risk of electrocution when dealing with electrical products. To the fullest extent permitted by law, neither Future nor its employees or agents shall have any liability in connection with the use of this information. You should check that any van warranty will not be affected before proceeding with DIY projects.

Lead image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

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