This is perhaps one of the most commonly asked questions when people are considering buying either a caravan or indeed a new car where they already own a caravan.
It would be nice to give a simple one or two sentence explanation but unfortunately, this area is slightly complex and requires a little thought. It also needs a little detailed explanation and quite a few words in order to convey the key concepts!
- The following is based on our current understanding of legislation as at January 2018, which may be liable to change.
It might help if you start by considering four categories that you’ll need to think about when trying to match a caravan and car:
- the law and what it says on the subject;
- what’s technically possible and legally permissible;
- what’s actually sensible and legally permissible;
- what you can afford.
There are two basic truths falling out of that to begin with:
- the fact that a caravan/car match is legal and that the car concerned can technically tow the caravan, doesn’t necessarily make the vehicle or caravan a sensible choice for a match;
- to choose a sensible match, you’ll need to think a little about how and where you plan to use your caravan.
Preparing the ground – practical considerations
In one sense, the answer to the question of matching is easy – buy a very big and very powerful car.
That, of course, assumes that you can afford such a thing and that you don’t have:
- a strong environmental conviction and/or;
- a reduced cost-of-ownership imperative.
Comparatively few caravan owners can say such, so if you’re looking for a sensible and cost-effective match, you’re going to need to engage in some planning and a little mathematics.
A key starting point is to think carefully about your likely usage. For example:
- are you planning to use your caravan and car regularly or perhaps only 2-3 times per year for your annual holidays?
- will you be primarily using it locally, point-to-point type trips at the start and end of a holiday or are you planning to take it on extended touring marathons around the UK and Europe?
- how many people on average will you likely have in the vehicle when towing?
- what sort of landscapes will you be using it in? Paved sites and flat roads are one thing, hauling a caravan up the Pyrenees or taking it off-road onto farm tracks is quite another.
This sort of thinking is important because it relates to the concept of “redundancy” in terms of your selected car for the match and its power delivery. We’ve all seen very small and no doubt economic-to-run cars, struggling desperately to get a caravan up a steep hill. It might be perfectly legal but it’s inconsiderate to other road users and potentially dangerous too.
The message here is select an appropriate vehicle for your probable usage. If you’re planning very long journeys on a regular basis, travelling to countryside with mountains and long steep inclines or taking the caravan off-road, don’t opt for a minimum legal compliance vehicle. Go for one that will offer you some significant surplus power and perhaps in some cases, a 4 x 4 capability.
In passing, remember to check in advance that your caravan insurance will cover you if taking your caravan off-road.
The car’s documentation might state a maximum towing weight of any vehicle (including your caravan) being towed. Your car should also and more importantly carry a VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) plate that’s under the bonnet or sometimes on the side of the driver’s door.
That VIN should specify what’s called a “Gross Train Weight” (GTW). The GTW specifies the maximum weight that your car plus any towed units must not exceed under any circumstances or you’ll be breaking the law.
The government’s official advice states that if your vehicle’s plate does not contain a GTW, it must not be used for towing at all.
If you’re stopped by the police, it is the GTW and possibly the car’s maximum towing weight figures they’ll be interested in and will use to judge whether or not you’re in trouble. Excuses such as “I didn’t know” or “my caravan must weigh more than I thought” typically will count for nothing.
How heavy is heavy?
However experienced you are, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to look at a potential car/caravan combo and say immediately, with any accuracy, how much it’ll weigh. There are just too many variables such as how much luggage you have, how many passengers, the weight of the caravan’s water and gas tanks and so on.
To be sure and to reduce your chances of ending up in a frank discussion with the police:
- use the documented un-laden weights of the car and caravan;
- add to this some estimates for variables such as those mentioned above. There are plenty of useful guides around that can help;
- don’t forget your passengers (remember, 5 large people in a car can add over half a tonne to your laden weight).
What car is right? Power considerations
The above sections are relatively simple – but things get a little more complicated in terms of what’s possible and what’s sensible.
This introduces two new concepts – the Maximum Technically Permissible Laden Mass (MTPLM) of your caravan and your potential car’s “kerb weight” or “Mass in Running Order (MIRO)”.
These are both usually specified in the caravan’s and car’s documentation. They essentially provide a stipulation of the maximum laden weight your caravan can be and still be safe and a figure for how much the car weighs without a significant load (one 75kilo driver is included).
Many of the main caravan associations recommend that the car should never try to tow a caravan if its MTPLM exceeds 85% of the car’s kerb weight or MIRO. That should be a powerful figure to use when thinking about what car to select.
Other legal considerations
A car’s tow bar (which must, in itself, be legally compliant) will have a maximum loading capacity figure. Your caravan will also have a “nose weight” figure which stipulates the maximum it can safely carry in terms of the weight passed onto the tow bar of the car.
This must not be exceeded but can sometimes be put at risk by poor caravan loading. Remember to keep heavy items stored in the caravan over the axles – not at the front of the vehicle.
Other legal issues will typically apply to any car you’re considering, including lighting plate, number plates, rear view mirrors and so on. These too are helpfully documented on the government’s site though again, they may not influence your choice of owing vehicle as such.
To try and help you focus on the key points in matching a car and caravan:
- know how you plan to use the caravan (as far as you can say in advance);
- try to select a towing vehicle that offers a comfortable margin of power/weight excess over and above the legal minima plus 4×4 in appropriate circumstances;
- be clear on the caravan’s maximum permissible laden weight;
- know the car’s kerb weight and it’s GTW from the VIN plate;
- use sites that can help you estimate the weight of your planned luggage and passengers;
- add the weights together and be sure that overall, the GTW is never exceeded or even approached;
- don’t select a car where the kerb weight is less than 15-20% higher than the caravan’s MTPLM;
- if in doubt about the GTW once everything is loaded – take your vehicle to a local weighbridge!
This review is based on our visit in December 2017 which was sadly cut a little short due to family reasons, however there is still plenty to tell you about.
Firstly, as always – access. Again, straightforward and the Caravan & Motorhome Club provide clear directions for arriving via the A1(M) as we did. It’s worth noting though that – at the time of our visit anyway – there were no brown tourist signs indicating the campsite and the turning into the site is a little set back, however start to slow down as the QE2 hospital comes into view and you shouldn’t miss it. We managed to miss the turning into Ascot Lane as you will see on our site arrival video but thanks to the roundabout a little further up it wasn’t a drama. It’s worth pointing out – as do the club – that there is no Late Night Arrivals area here.
The site has 68 pitches, 44 of which are hard standing. One toilet block serves the whole site and is the usual club offering which was kept immaculate throughout our stay. Not an easy task when the snow which greeted us on our arrival gave way to rain and mud. There are the usual club service points – water/waste/chemical loo waste/rubbish & recycling – dotted around the site along with a dedicated Motorhome point too. Check out our Site Tour for a look around the site, a plan of which you can find HERE. There is no dedicated dog walk on site but Stanborough Park is not too far away. There was a little noise from the road during the day but it was very quiet at night.
The information hut – just past reception on the left – contained not only the usual leaflets for surrounding attractions but menus and directions for local pubs, takeaways supermarkets. There was also plenty of info on the local bus services – a stop for which is just a few minutes from the site entrance – and trains from nearby Welywn-Garden-City too. This is a popular site for visitors to London, which is only around 25 minutes by train and deposits you at Kings Cross, or if you prefer north towards Cambridge and Peterborough. We didn’t get the chance to try it but you can get a bus to the station or walk it in a little over half an hour I am told. Buses will also take you to Hertford, St Albans and Hemel Hempstead.
Fitter campers would easily manage the walk into Welwyn-Garden-City but there was plenty of options for those – like us – who want to take a car and even in the busy period before Christmas we had no trouble finding a space. The shopping centre was nothing special but it’s the lovely wide open spaces that surround that are remarkable. Founded in 1920 by one Sir Ebenezer Howard with the aim of combining the benefits of the city and countryside while avoiding the disadvantages of both, Welwyn was the second Garden City to be established after nearby Letchworth and also sadly the last – in this country anyway. There are a number of examples worldwide though, quite a few of which can be found in Canada. It really was a pleasure to walk around I can only imagine how wonderful it would look in the spring – and autumn too. A short walk from the main shopping area but with it’s own parking area too can be found a John Lewis department store.
Continuing the shopping theme, just down the A1(M) is the Galleria shopping centre. Revolutionary in it’s time as it was built OVER the A1(M) to save space and shop rents were at one time based on turnover. This was in the early days of computerised tills so was quite revolutionary. Shops takings were fed back via the tills to the management company. Again, I don’t think either ideas caught on. You’ll find the usual suspects here and plenty of eateries too along with a cinema and parking. For a fee.
We made the most basic of tourist errors by not checking the opening times for the Welwyn Roman Baths so were greeted by a locked gate when we arrived. Clearly I can’t give you an opinion on them but they are within a fifteen minute drive of the site and located directly under the A1(M) – and we will try again when we go back.
Mill Green Museum is within easy walking distance of the site – even for us (though we didn’t!) – and showcases an 18th century water mill still used for milling flour for local bakeries. Our visit coincide – quite by luck – with a milling session so we were able to see the whole thing in operation, demonstrated and explained by a very enthusiastic character with a clear passion for his trade, which made for a very entertaining and informative visit.
Due to aforementioned reasons our stay at Commons Wood was cut short so we were unable to explore the surrounding area more fully. However, Stanborough Park will certainly be on our list when we we return as will Hatfield House & gardens. There are a number of National Trust locations within easy reach too including Shaw’s Corner and Morven Park.
You are not far from a shop or supermarket at Commons Wood but if you fancy grog and grub out there are plenty of options too. Probably the nearest – and easily walkable for most – is Coopers Grill House. As the name suggests, steaks and burgers dominate but there are plenty of other options including vegetarian too. We had burgers that were served promptly and went down well. Just the one real ale on offer at the time of our visit.
The Hollybush was quite close to the site too but as they didn’t offer any real ale we didn’t hang around.
A little further out was Attimore Hall . Standard pub fayre but very enjoyable and at least four real ales on offer with discounts for CAMRA members and special offers on a Monday night.
When our plans changed suddenly the wardens could not have been more helpful – cancelling onward bookings and making new ones. They made a difficult time a little easier and are a credit to the club.
Last year we at Cover4Caravans reported how more and more of us are turning to “staycations”. And this trend appears to be continuing, as the sales of caravans and motorhomes continue to soar.
Different sources place different interpretations on the driving forces behind this growth.
There is a fairly widespread agreement that the fall in value of the Pound Sterling versus the Euro is significant. The downward spiral had started before the Brexit referendum but the decline gathered pace once the result was known.
One result of that for the typical UK holidaymaker is that their holiday spending money in the Eurozone is now just not buying anything like what it would have 18 months ago. So, financially speaking, the UK is now looking increasingly attractive for holidays.
Another big influence, albeit perhaps one that’s a little hard to quantify, is the massively revised perception of UK based holidays.
For some decades the UK holiday was seen by many as being second-best to a continental or longer-haul destination. In fact, it was often said, not always jokingly, that large numbers of British holidaymakers knew France and Spain rather better than they knew their own country.
However, that’s all changed over the past 10-15 years. The UK holiday industry (this trend is much wider than just the caravanning sector) has made huge strides in improving its propositions and the results are showing. Holidaymakers are starting to appreciate just how beautiful and diverse the UK is and they’re choosing home holidays in increasing numbers to prove it.
What this means for caravan owners
While the above facts and figures are fantastic news for everyone who loves caravanning, it’s worth keeping in mind that the increased volume of people enjoying caravan holidays leads to the need to think a little about your forthcoming trip. That’s particularly true if you’re contemplating a peak season caravanning break in July or August.
So, a few reminders:
- book your site and pitch as far in advance as possible. More holidaymakers staying home and selecting caravan holidays means more competition for the best sites and locations;
- keep your touring caravan insurance up-to-date, primed and “ready to go” in case you decide to shoot off at short notice. After all, caravans exist to give you that degree of freedom. Of course, that also applies to keeping your caravan in good mechanical condition too;
- try to avoid travelling on Friday nights, Saturday mornings or Sunday afternoons/evenings. The roads can get very busy if the weather’s nice or during school holiday breaks;
- increased demand might lead to some caravan owners thinking about lending their caravan to others or letting it out. It’s a good thought but do please remember that it may affect the status of your touring caravan insurance and the type of cover you’ll need. Check the insurance issues in advance before lending or letting your caravan to someone else – even if they’re a close family member.
At the time of writing, all the forecasts appear to indicate that this great increase in the popularity of UK holidays and caravanning in particular, is set to continue through this year and possibly beyond.
So hitch up and go!