two caravans in a field

Beginners Guide: How To Tow A Caravan Safely

A staple of British life, caravan holidays are how many of us spent our summers growing up, with parks containing rows and rows of ‘statics’ still lining the coast around the whole of the UK even today. Some people prefer to go one better than booking into an immobile trailer that’s stuck in one location and instead purchase their own caravan which can be towed around the country on a whim. What to go down to Cornwall? Go for it. Prefer to see the Lake District? Whenever you feel like it! The problem is, towing one of these lumbering living spaces behind your car isn’t easy. Here’s how novice caravan owners should tow their safely.

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Car towing caravan on scenic coast

Who Can Tow A Caravan?

The good news is, anyone with a full car driving licence can tow a caravan. There are no special licences that you need to apply for or earn in order to qualify for this permission. However, there are some slight differences in what you can tow depending on your age.

Drivers over 70 can only tow trailers or caravans behind a vehicle that together have a Maximum Authorised Mass (MAM) of less than 3,500 kilograms. If you wish to tow something large and your MAM exceeds this, over 70s will need to pass the D4 medical test and an eyesight test.

Those drivers of any age who wish to tow something extremely large, with a MAM above 7,500 kilograms, could also be required to complete further testing, depending on the type or trailer or caravan they’re planning to pull. If you passed your test before 1997 though, you basic licence will have you covered.

Can My Car Tow A Caravan?

Technically, there are no specific cars used for towing caravans, just ones that are better at doing so. The size and power of the vehicle is important but must also be factored against the weight of the caravan you’re towing. To know what your particular car is capable of, you’ll need to figure out your towing capacity.

The easiest way of doing this is to check the owner’s manual for the car, although not all of them mention the vehicle’s capacity. The next simplest method is to locate the VIN plate, which will feature the eponymous Vehicle Identification Number along with several other lines of information. Look at the numbers and take the figure on line one away from the figure in line two to find out the towing capacity of the car.

If you’re a total beginner, you might want to take things a little bit easier to start off with and follow the 85% rule rather than immediately pushing yourself to the limit. You can take the kerb weight of the car and the maximum technically permissible laden mass (or MTPLM) of the caravan and use these figures to do some maths; if the MTPLM is 85% or less of the car’s kerb weight, it should be smooth sailing all the way to your destination. If it’s 85% or above, up to 100%, things could be a little trickier and while not recommended for beginners, still possible. If your figure comes out at more than 100% – meaning the caravan is heavier than the car towing it – you should probably avoid the journey altogether.

Are There Weight Restrictions When Towing A Caravan?

There are indeed weight restrictions for towing a caravan, and once again these can be discovered by checking the vehicle handbook or, if it’s not in there, the VIN plate. The VIN plate will list the car’s ‘gross train weight’. This is the total weight of the vehicle itself when fully loaded plus the weight of a trailer when that too is fully loaded. The gross train weight must not be exceeded.

Are There Speed Restrictions For Towing Caravans?

When you’re pulling your caravan, it’s likely that you’re heading on a road trip that’s covering some distance. Therefore, you’re almost certain to hit a single or dual carriageway or even a motorway at some point.

On these roads, the speed limit for you will be 10 mph less than it would be if you were not towing the caravan. For example, on a dual carriageway you’d be limited to 60 mph and on a single carriageway, you’d have to stay at 50mph or below. Bear in mind that any temporary speed restrictions that are put in place still apply, so if a variable speed limit sign reads 40 mph, slow down to 40 mph unless you want to face the consequences.

On regular roads, normal speed limits apply. While you’re pulling out of your residential road, that 30 mph speed limit remains the same for you and your caravan. Just remember that it’s a maximum, not a minimum and if you’re new to caravanning, it might be wise to start off slow and steady.

What You Need To Consider When Towing A Caravan

Many of the key things to consider when towing a caravan, especially as a beginner, have been covered on this page, so let us summarise…

It’s crucial to the success and safety of a journey that you don’t try to pull a caravan with a car that is not powerful or heavy enough to do the job properly. You risk damaging your car if you put it under excessive strain but worse, your risk of getting into an accident will increase as you won’t have adequate control over the caravan. The weight of both car and towable trailer need to be considered.

It’s also very wise to plan your route ahead of time. We may not have giant behemoths that can sleep 10 people in this country like they do in North America, but that’s because our roads aren’t built for them. That means that even our smaller caravans can still be too big for some of our road networks. If you’re towing your caravan for the first time, the last thing you want is to get jammed down a little country lane or stuck around a tight bend in a quaint village. Give yourself space the whole way to your destination.

Time is also something you should pay attention to. Checking the length of time a journey will take via an app on your phone will, by default, give you the duration based on travelling at the speed limit along each road. You will need to take into account the fact that you’re going to be travelling at least 10 mph under that limit for a lot of the trip.

Tips To Ensure You Are Towing A Caravan Safely

  • Choose the right tow bar – Your tow bar must be ‘type approved’ if the car was first used from 1st August 1998 onwards. Of course, it must also fit your car properly. Don’t try to fit a bar that’s not designed for your vehicle.
  • Take it easy – Like we mentioned above, don’t rush. Especially for your first few trips, you might find driving while towing a caravan a little bit daunting and unnatural. Take a bit more care with every manoeuvre until you get used to it.
  • Everybody in the car – Don’t tow your caravan with passengers inside it… as tempting as it might be for them to sleep away the hours.
  • Check the condition – Make sure tyres and lights are all in working order, on both your car and the caravan. Also ensure that your number plate is attached properly, clean and visible.
  • Brake system – Don’t pull a trailer that’s over 750kg when loaded if it doesn’t have a working brake system.
  • Make it bottom heavy – Try to keep the contents of the trailer or caravan down low, forcing the centre of gravity lower to the road surface and closer to the axles.
  • Prevent snaking – Worried about wobbling your caravan at high speeds? Use a stabiliser to help keep things steady.

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