Guide to Towing

Your vehicle

A quick look at the side of a car gives you an idea as to its potential for towing. If it has a relatively long wheelbase and the overhang at the back is short (distance between the centre of the rear wheels to the tow ball) that's a good start . We have listed some important calculations that you should consider in order to set up both vehicles for better towing.

 

Tow Car Kerb Weight

The kerb weight of the towing vehicle as defined by the vehicle manufacturer (we suggest that you consult your vehicle's manual for this). Alternatively you can use our guide to find your vehicles kerb weight, maximum tow weight, 85% & 95% kerb weights.

Actual Laden Weight

The total weight of the caravan/trailer and its contents when being towed.

Caravan or Trailer /Towing Vehicle Weight Ratio

The actual laden weight of the caravan expressed as a percentage of the kerb weight of the towing vehicle, i.e.: actual laden weight of caravan, divided by kerb weight of towing vehicle, multiplied by 100.

Breakdown Cover

You might want to ensure that your breakdown cover includes your caravan should you breakdown. It can be expensive to recover your car and caravan should you have a mechanical fault on either. Get a quote for breakdown cover that includes your caravan as standard.

Towing Videos

Have a look at these useful videos about towing a caravan

Car to Caravan weight ratio 

It is recommended that you do not exceed an 85% caravan to car weight ratio.  This means that your caravan, fully loaded, should not be more than 85% of your cars kerb-weight (or Max tow weight if this is lower).  If you are an experienced caravaner you can go up to 100% weight ratio but this is not recommended.  If the caravan is more than the kerb-weight of the car and you are stopped by the Police you could be prosecuted.  Our tow weight guide provides you with 3 figures that will help determine how much you can tow.

Tow bars

tow ball and electrics

New technology and high fuel prices has lead to car manufacturers producing lighter vehicles. This is because lighter cars use less fuel and therefore are cheaper to run. The changes to road tax prices also has penalised owners of heavier and more thirsty cars.  In addition, modern cars only have a few points strong enough to attach a tow-bar. removable towbar Always make sure that any tow bar you fit or have fitted to your car is properly fitted to the car otherwise it may fail with catastrophic results.

For more information about fitting a tow bar to your car read our 'fitting a towbar' guide

The European Union have introduced new laws, EC Directive 94/20/EC, that requires cars (or other light passenger vehicles, registered after 1st August 1998 are fitted with a ‘type approved’ tow-bar. 

Towbar electric wiring

New vehicles fitted with a tow bar will be fitted with a 13 pin connector, the same applied with new caravans. Older cars and caravans will have the 12n and 12s connectors. Don't worry if you find that your caravan and car have different types as you can buy an adapter for about 20. There are two types one that will convert a caravans 13pin connector to a 12n & 12s type and visa versa.

You could also re-wire your car or caravan to match but an adapter is probably the best approach.

Type approval summary

  • Maximum nose-weight
  • Approval number
  • country where the towbar was tested e.g. UK is e11

Exemptions:  The new law only applies to cars it does not apply to commercial vehicles.

Stabilisers

Stabilisers are an effective method of increasing safety when towing a caravan.  They are designed to reduce vertical (pitching) and horizontal (snaking) instability.  This is often caused when an outfit is being overtaken or overtaking.  The instability is caused by the air being forced between the two vehicles.  Other caused of instability are: 

More information about stabilisers and active trailer control systems

What types are there? 

There are basically two types of stabiliser:

blade stabilizer

Blade stabilisers fit to the towing bracket and the caravan and use a tensioned blade with two dampers to reduce movement from side to site and up and down. These are far less popular these days as many caravans have the tow ball devices installed when new.

 

 

towball stabilizerTow ball devices often fit to the caravan hitch point and involve replacing the tow-ball on the car. Often tow ball stabilisers are installed either by the caravan dealer or manufacturer when the caravan is new. They are a lot easier to use than the blade versions

 

Legal Requirements

Driving licence

From 1 January 1997, new drivers may drive a vehicle up to 3.5 tonnes gross vehicle weight (GVW) with a 750kgs GVW trailer. Towing under a provisional licence is NOT acceptable. For more details on driving licences and towing. There are a couple of books that will hep you prepare for the towing test.

Insurance

Most car insurance policies will cover you for third party liability when towing, but we advise you to check your own policy carefully.  If you are unsure about cover when towing then contact your insurance company for clarification. 

Speed limits

The maximum speed that a car towing a trailer etc. is 60mph on UK motorways and dual carriageways and 50mph other  roads (providing, of course, there is  no lower speed limit is in force at the time). Vehicles are not allowed to use the right-hand (overtaking) lane of a three lane carriageway whilst towing.

Size of trailer

Assuming that an ordinary car (not a goods vehicle) is the tow vehicle, then the overall length of the trailer, caravan etc. must not exceed 7m, excluding A-frame and hitch . The maximum width of the trailer should not exceed 2.3 m.

Lights and reflectors

Caravan Light Cluster

All trailers on the road during darkness must have the following;

All lights must be in proper working order, and correctly fitted to your car's electrics - see below for wiring standards on the 12 'n' and 's' socket.

Tyres and number plates

Wheels and tyres must be capable of carrying the maximum laden weight of the caravan at the maximum speed limit (this varies throughout Europe). Trailers, caravans etc. must be fitted with an approved style number plate.

Suspension

It is vital that the towing vehicle's rear suspension is not deflected excessively by nose weight on the tow ball. If it is excessive, steering, stability and headlight alignment will be affected.

MOT certificate

This is not currently required for trailers and caravans. However,  an un-roadworthy trailer may invalidate your insurance and may mean you are committing an offence under the Road Traffic Act. 

Passengers

It is illegal to allow passengers to travel inside the trailer or caravan etc.