Compared with our cars, caravans have it easy. Whether they are tucked away in secure storage, or hibernating under a caravan cover on the driveway, tourers will mostly avoid the worst weather of the year.

Tow cars aren’t so fortunate. Although they might not have to do any towing, our vehicles will still be on everyday duty throughout the year. Autumn storms, winter snow, gritted roads – they go through a lot. In some cases, they’ll even be towing in winter.

Every spring, attention turns to our tourer, woken from its slumber for another season of adventures. Yes, it’s a smart move to clean your caravan, check over the appliances, look out for any damp, and so on. But don’t neglect your tow car, just because it’s at work rather than rest throughout winter.

Towing places a lot of strain on a car. That’s especially true of the engine and transmission, but the tyres and brakes also face additional demands when hauling a tourer. So even if your car has performed faultlessly throughout the darker months, it pays to make sure it’s ready for the towing season.

Here are some of the checks that we would recommend you should make before your first tour this spring. If you’re thinking of getting a new towing vehicle too, be sure to check out our best caravan tow car guide.

Check your towball

These days, most newer cars will have a detachable towball, or perhaps a retractable one that folds up out of the way. If you have a retractable towball, check the condition before you refit it. Look carefully for any signs of corrosion, which you can remove with an emery cloth.

Consult the instructions for a reminder of the procedure for refitting the towball if you are in any doubt, and be sure that
it still fits correctly.

Expect to see a green indicator showing the towbar has been properly locked in place. A red or a partially green indicator means it has not been secured in position correctly.

Assuming that the indicator is green, give it a good shake by hand, just to be sure there’s no play or movement.

Drop-down towballs are now increasingly common, especially on prestige cars. The trouble here is that while the towing gear is out of sight when not in use, it’s not fully protected against wet roads and salt.

So as with a detachable towball, be sure that it’s free from surface corrosion. Check that the mechanism is working correctly, both lowering and retracting the towing gear, just in case there’s a fault. Ideally, take a look a couple of weeks before your first tour, so you will still have plenty of time to get any problems fixed.

Inspect carefully for any signs of corrosion on the towball

For peace of mind, we would also be inclined to check the electrics are working, either by hitching up on your drive, or by visiting your caravan in storage. That way, you’ll know power is going to your van’s road lights and appliances such as the fridge. If it isn’t, you’ll have time to get to the bottom of the problem if you test the electrics in advance.

Check your oil

Some of the checks to make before your first adventure of the year are likely to be part of your maintenance routine already, such as checking the car’s oil level. However, a recent survey by Castrol found that 30% of UK drivers never check their car’s oil level between services. Some 12% of the drivers surveyed said they didn’t know how to perform this basic check.

We’re sure this doesn’t apply to Practical Caravan readers! So instead, just take this as a polite reminder to check your oil in the days before your first towing journey of the season, with enough time to buy more oil if the engine needs a top-up.

Top up washer fluid

While you’ve got the bonnet open, why not check the washer fluid? Keeping the windscreen clean enough for a clear view of the road ahead is a ‘must’ in the Highway Code. In practice, this means you’ll need to keep the fluid topped up.

Make sure the wiper blades aren’t too worn. If they smear rather than clear the screen, it’s time for replacements.

Winter washer fluid will work fine in summer, so you don’t necessarily need to switch to summer fluid. In fact, we’d be inclined to stick with winter washer fluid during early spring, just in case of a cold snap.

Tyre tread

Everything a car does depends on the tyres. Whether you want to go, stop, or turn, those four patches of rubber are essential. As with keeping washer fluid topped up, checking the tyre tread is important, whether you’re towing or not. But it’s doubly vital while towing.

The minimum legal tread depth across the central three-quarters of the tyre is 1.6mm, although performance (especially in wet weather) will have started to decline before this point. Think about replacing tyres with 2-3mm of tread depth remaining, rather than waiting until they are borderline illegal.

If you are someone who swaps to winter tyres for the coldest months of the year, be ready to change back to summer rubber once the temperature is consistently over 7˚C, because above this temperature, summer tyres will generally be more effective.

Inflate tyres to the correct pressure

Tyres with plenty of tread will work at their best when inflated to the correct pressure.

When the vehicle is towing (or simply loaded up with people and their luggage), the manufacturer’s recommended tyre pressures will typically be few PSI higher, especially in the rear tyres.

Checking tyre pressure
It’s important to keep your tyres inflated to the required pressure

A reliable portable inflator and gauge will allow you to inflate to the correct pressures before you set off, and then reduce them a little for solo driving during your holiday.

Treat yourself to a caravan-specific sat nav

Sat navs are becoming more sophisticated, but not all of them will be able to adapt routes to suit caravanners.

If you are tired of being sent down a narrow lane to save 30 seconds on your journey, treat yourself to a caravan sat nav that will take account of your tourer’s dimensions when deciding on the best route.

  • Looking for a way to improve your towing? Then be sure to take a look at our guide to caravan towing tips.

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