A Guide to Caravan Towing

There are a lot of benefits to owning a caravan and the freedom it gives you is something that keeps people caravanning for many years. Before you start towing your caravan, however, it is important that you take into consideration a number of different things, from how to load your caravan to the best type of car to tow with.

How to load your caravan for safer towing

One of the great things about a caravan holiday is the ability to take all of your creature comforts with you. However, when packing up for a holiday there are a few important things to keep in mind.

Caravan weight

Reducing the weight of the contents of your caravan can improve the handling and stability as well as potentially improving your fuel consumption, which can save you money.

The total weight of your baggage should not exceed your caravan’s stated maximum user payload. Exceeding this is against the law and will therefore invalidate your insurance. It may also impact your towing performance, such as accelerating uphill and general stability.

Loading your caravan

When loading your caravan it is important to keep the centre of gravity as low and as close to the caravan’s axles as possible during transit. This is particularly important for heavy items, such as awning poles, folding chairs and cooking implements. Of course, you can always store heavy items in the boot of your car.

Reducing your payload

If you’re close to your payload limit it’s worth trying to reduce this any way you can. One method is to tow with empty water tanks as they can easily be filled up once you arrive at your destination and this can help to reduce the payload significantly.

What driving license is needed to tow a caravan?

Does my standard driving license allow me to tow a caravan?

If you passed your standard driving test before 1 January 1997, then you have a Category C licence. This means that if your car and caravan have a combined weight of under 8.25t you can legally tow your caravan.

If you passed your test after 1 January 1997, then you most likely hold a Category B licence. In this case, the limit for the car and caravan combined (also known as the Maximum Authorised Mass or MAM) is 3.5t.

The exception to this rule is if your caravan weighs less than 750kg, in which case your car can weigh up to 3.5t, raising the MAM to 4.25t. For more information on weighing your vehicle and tow vehicle read our guide to weighing your caravan.

The trailer license test

If you want to tow a caravan which is heavier than the allowance stated by your licence category as mentioned above, then it is possible to take a practical test known as the B+E licence.

This is a car and trailer test which takes around one hour and is carried out at a normal testing centre. The inspector will examine your ability to tow a trailer around the local area, which can include motorway or one-way system driving.

You will also be asked to perform a series of manoeuvres, including hitching up, reversing and unhitching. You will then be asked to identify various parts of the tow vehicle and complete an eyesight test. There is usually no training in reversing around a corner, emergency stop or three-point turns, but should you wish to hone these skills there are other courses available.

Just as with a standard driving test, 14 minor faults are allowed before you fail, while your caravan has to fulfil several criteria, including weighing at least 1,000kg and having adequate brakes. See a more detailed list of criteria.

How to choose a suitable tow car

When looking at a car you plan to tow with it is important that you check the towing capacity of the vehicle as the weight of our caravan cannot exceed this.

Choosing a car to tow a caravan

It is crucial that you look at the amount of storage space, fuel efficiency and the chassis. These aspects of a car can have a significant impact on their towing suitability. For example, cars with a higher miles per gallon (mpg) figure will typically make towing more affordable, while it is considered that 4WD vehicles are generally better for towing as they offer more grip and stability.

Are diesel cars the best for towing?

The pulling power, or torque, is a measure of engine performance and good torque at low speeds allows for easy pulling away and minimal gear-changing. Diesel cars are generally considered good tow cars due to their low-down torque: for many years they have been popular with people looking to tow caravans, horseboxes and trailers.

However, hybrid vehicles are becoming more popular and their combination engines are ideal for towing. The additional torque provided by the electric motor is useful for towing, and combined with the excellent fuel economy and lower emissions these cars can provide a great towing vehicle with the bonus of lower fuel and tax bills.

Manual vs automatic when towing

Automatic cars are ideally suited to caravan towing as they enable drivers to crawl at a low speed without the clutch slipping and wearing. This is particularly useful when hitching up and also when performing a hill start.

It is worth noting that on some models the towing limit can be lower on the automatic version than the standard manual so it is worth checking with the manufacturer before purchasing to ensure that you will not exceed the weight limit when towing.

4X4s for towing

Many people choose 4X4s as their tow cars as they typically allow for a wider selection of caravans to be towed due to their higher weight limit. They also tend to offer greater traction and are therefore better equipped for hitching up on wet pitches and general driving in adverse conditions.

It's worth bearing in mind that some of the more compact models cannot tow much more than a standard saloon so it's worthwhile checking with the manufacturer before you purchase.

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