Our guide to towing

blog / advice / new caravans / accessories / holiday / family

Towing for the first time can be extremely daunting. That’s why it’s a good idea to read up about it beforehand, making sure you know what to expect.

Learn about the process you have to go through to couple your car to your caravan and the safety checks you should complete before setting off. The more familiar it is to you, the more relaxed you’ll feel about actually doing it.

Step by step guide

1. Check your towing limits

Most cars have a maximum weight they can tow, which can be found in the handbook, online or by contacting your local dealer. Before you purchase a caravan, you will need to check that your car is able to tow a caravan and if so, what your towing weight limit is. The Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) will tell you the weight of your car, and as a novice tower it is recommended that the weight of your caravan does not exceed 85% of the weight of your car.

If you passed your driving test on or after 1 January 1997, you cannot exceed a combined weight of 3,500kg, so note down your maximum combined weight and keep this in mind when browsing possible models. For example, the weight of a Ford S-Max starts at 1,784kg, so that combined with a caravan weighing 85% of that weight would make it a legal post 1997 towing combination. Those who passed their driving test prior to 1 January 1997 are able to tow up to 8,250kg.

2. Get kitted out

There are a few towing accessories that you must have to comply with the law. The first thing you’ll need to get if you don’t already have one, is a towbar. Make sure it’s a good quality one and one that is suited to your make and model of vehicle. Towing mirrors are also essential as they extend from your wing mirrors to offer a fuller view of your caravan as you drive.

You must also fit a breakaway cable, which will activate the caravan’s braking system in the event of a detachment and is imperative for safety. By law, you must also ensure that your caravan has your car’s registration plate on the back of it so that it’s visible to other road users. Caravan stabilisers are also a good idea. Although not legally required, they offer an extra layer of safety and prevent additional swaying that may be experienced on gusty days or if you hit a pothole for example.

3. Added extras

The following items are by no means required by law, but they are definitely good to have before commencing on a caravan trip. Safety items such as a first aid kit, fire extinguisher and fire blanket are great things to have on board. For security it is worth considering investing in some wheel clamps and hitch locks to prevent your caravan from being stolen, particularly if you plan to stop for a rest break en route to your destination.

4. Get the positioning right

Having someone to help you manoeuvre your car to meet the caravan - especially on uneven ground - is preferable. Ask your helper to guide you close to where the hitch is and reverse back slowly. Before you attempt to couple your car to your caravan, ensure the car’s handbrake and the caravan’s hitch brakes are on. Use the jockey wheel to adjust the height of the caravan hitch so that it is higher than the towball before reversing the car a little more into position.

5. Coupling to the towball

Follow the manufacturer's instructions to couple your caravan to the towball. Many coupling heads have a coloured visual indicator which you must check to confirm the attachment was successful. Hitches with an integral stabiliser are now almost universal and require extra vigilance. Some require a second handle to be operated and may give an audible click on the correct location. Double check that the coupling is fully engaged over the towball, with handles correctly located.

6. Stow the jockey wheel

After double checking the coupling, make sure you retract the jockey wheel fully. Wind up the wheel forks into the slots of the outer tube. Loosen the clamp on the A-frame and lift it all up, ensuring the wheel is as high as possible, then retighten the clamp.
Do not over tighten the clamp and handle, do it by hand only - otherwise you may cause damage. Alternatively, you can opt to remove the jockey wheel from the clamp altogether and store it in your car or caravan instead.

7. Breakaway cable attachment

All newer towbars will have a breakaway attachment point near the towball. The breakaway cable will apply the caravan’s brakes if it becomes separated from its towing vehicle. Ensure there’s enough slack in the cable so that it doesn’t become taut during normal use.

8. Connecting the electrics

Newer caravans will typically use the 13-pin twist socket. Ask the dealer to show you how to locate this and how far to twist it to ensure secure connection. With the help of your partner, test and check the brake lights, both indicators, fog lights and headlights before setting off.

Top towing tips

  • Check that the tyres on both your car and caravan are in good condition - at the right pressure and ideally with 3mm tread (1.6mm is the legal limit).
  • Make sure that you distribute weight around your car and caravan evenly to increase the stability.
  • Use the same routine every time you hitch up so it becomes familiar and you are less likely to forget a step. Always double check and allow plenty of time.
  • Drive safely and more slowly than you would if you weren’t towing. When towing, a 30mph speed limit applies on all roads with street lighting (unless shown), a 50mph limit on single carriageways and a 60mph restriction on dual carriageways and motorways. Towing vehicles are not permitted to drive in the right-hand lane of a motorway with three or more lanes.
  • Keep in mind that when accelerating it will take longer to get up to speed, so allow yourself more time when overtaking or joining a motorway. Also consider your additional length before pulling away from a junction and into traffic.
  • Remember that you will need around 20 percent more distance to stop, so be sure to brake earlier!
  • At corners or on roundabouts, use your mirrors and take a wider path to enable the trailer to clear the kerb and other obstructions.
  • If you can, go to an empty car park and practise reversing before your trip - and don’t worry, it's not as hard as you think it will be!
  • Don’t drive tired, get a good night’s sleep and stop for breaks along the way.
  • If towing for the first time, don’t venture too far - build up your confidence first.
  • The Camping and Caravan Club run caravan towing courses - contact them for more information.

We’ve got the kit and the knowledge!

Our accessory shop has everything you could possibly need to safely tow your caravan! Pop into our on-site shop, or if you’re staying home right now, give us a call on 01962 714 844 to discuss your requirements. Our friendly accessory experts will be more than happy to offer advice and guidance and talk you through your options.

REMEMBER to keep an eye on our website and social media channels for news about our new online shop, which is launching any day now!

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