Towing can feel like a daunting prospect for a caravanner. However, following some simple advice can really make it much more enjoyable – before you know it, you’ll be towing like a pro!
David Motton is on hand to offer his top tips to help you to stay safe on the road.
Play the percentages
You probably know what’s coming next. The 85% ‘rule’ has been the caravanner’s friend for decades. Both major caravanning clubs recommend towing no more than 85% of the kerbweight of your tow car, especially if you are new to towing. It’s a strong recommendation rather than a legal requirement, but you’ll find car and caravan more stable if the car weighs substantially more than the van.
Experienced caravanners may be happy towing up to 100% of the car’s kerbweight, but we’d never recommend going above this weight, even if the car’s legal towing limit is higher. Think of the car as a dog and the caravan as a tail. When the tail weighs more than the dog, if it starts to wag, you could soon be in all sorts of trouble.
It’s easy to overload your caravan, especially if you’re packing for a fortnight away with the family. Check that you are not exceeding the van’s Maximum Technically Permissible Laden Mass (MTPLM), which is the most it is permitted to weigh when fully loaded. Weighing each bag individually is a bit of a faff, so investing in a set of scales such as the Reich Caravan Weight Control amounts to money well spent.
It’s not just about how much weight is in the van, it’s where you put it. In the car, load the heat items first so they are on the boot door and as close to the rear axle as possible. In the van, make sure heavy items are low down and above the axle or axles.
If you own a caravan with a fixed-bed layout, there will be lots of storage space underneath the bed. However, be cautious when loading under the bed as this is usually well behind the axle. Don’t put anything heavy here. It’s a very good spot for bulky but relatively light items such as an Aquaroll and Wastemaster.
Check, check and check again
Make sure your outfit is safe and roadworthy before every journey. Check the car and caravan’s tyres are inflated to the right pressure, make sure all the lights are working, and be sure you have hitched up correctly. Winding the jockey wheel back down to make sure the hitch is securely gripping the towball will prove that car and caravan are safely connected. It never hurts to double-check that the breakaway cable is secure, the stabiliser head is down and the handbrake is off before driving away. It might seem like overkill to some, but having a checklist that you tick off at the start of every journey will make sure nothing important is missed.
Always use towing mirrors
By law, you must be able to see four metres out from the side of the caravan at a distance 20 metres behind you. In practice, it’s very unlikely that even a large 4×4 will be wide enough for you to see that far out and behind using the car’s regular mirror.
But it’s not just about obeying the law for the law’s sake. Having a clear view behind you is essential to stay safe while towing. You can’t change lane safely if you can’t be sure whether another vehicle is about to overtake you.
What appears to be the most direct route isn’t always the best way to travel when you have a caravan in tow. Many campsites will have recommended routes for the last few miles which they outline on their website. If not, give the site a call and ask if there are any narrow lanes or awkward junctions to be avoided.
Smoothly does it
It’s understandable that some drivers are nervous when towing, especially if they are new to caravanning. But being on edge doesn’t make for an easy journey.
As any experienced caravanner knows, towing doesn’t feel the same as regular driving. You will notice some pushing and shoving from the caravan, and you can see it moving slightly in your mirrors. If you chase every slight movement with agitated steering corrections, you’ll only make things worse. Instead, keep your steering, braking, and accelerating smooth and relaxed. The car is always trying to pull the caravan straight, so let it do the hard work for you. If your car and van are well matched, sensibly loaded, and driven at an appropriate speed, small corrections with the wheel should be all you need.
You’re on holiday! Why hurry? Give yourself plenty of time to complete your journey, and allow for regular breaks every couple of hours so you stay alert.
If you allow lots of time, there’s less temptation to speed. You’ll find that car and caravan will be more stable at 60mph than at higher, illegal speeds. In fact, in wet or windy weather you may find that dropping to 55mph or so makes for an easier journey. Remember that your braking distances will be longer when towing, so leave a long gap to the vehicle in front to allow plenty of time to react.
A well-driven outfit needn’t hold up other traffic, but on a twisty single-carriageway road you might find a sensible pace is lower than that of other vehicles. If you notice a queue of cars building in your mirrors, pull over when it’s safe to do so. Stopping in a lay-by for 30 seconds will make little difference to your journey, but you’ll be doing your bit for the reputation of caravanners everywhere!
Get some training
Towing a caravan is something any competent driver is capable of doing safely, but there are new skills to learn. For anyone starting out, or a driver who wants to brush up on their skills, a towing course is highly recommended. The big two caravan clubs both run towing courses throughout the country.
Are you looking for more great driving advice and tips? Then head to our Back to Basics: Driving category, where we’re giving you the information you need to tow your caravan with confidence.
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Think of the car as a dog and the caravan as a tail. When the tail weighs more than the dog, if it starts to wag, you could soon be in all sorts of trouble