Whether a kind and understanding friend has lent you theirs for a weekend’s trial or whether you have taken the plunge and already decided to buy your own touring caravan, sooner or later you are going to be faced with the challenge of towing it from one place to another.
Initially, it might seem a daunting prospect. In most instances, however, drivers soon pick up the particular skills necessary for towing a caravan behind the car they are driving.
The National Caravan Council – in cooperation with the Caravan Club and the Camping and Caravanning Club – has published what is probably the definitive guide to towing a caravan. By distilling the contents of that 32-page document, however, we present the following more basic guide.
Before getting behind the wheel, you first need to think about some of the paperwork required for towing a caravan.
Naturally, you need to be qualified to drive the car vehicle that is towing a caravan.
The particular driving licence you require depends on the weight and size of the caravan and the date when you passed your driving test.
Changes to the rules have made the situation quite complicated, but the Caravan Club’s website has a handy tool and a guide which explains that:
- if you passed your driving test before 1997, you may tow a caravan of up to 8.25 tonnes;
- if you passed your driving test after 1997, your category B driving licence allows you to tow a trailer (including a caravan) of up to 750 kg or a car and trailer combination with a maximum authorised mass (MAM) of up to 3.5 tonnes;
- if you passed your driving test after the 1st of January 1997, and the combined MAM of car and trailer exceeds 3.5 tonnes, you need to hold a licence which allows you to tow such a trailer – a so-called B+E category driving licence – for which you need to pass an additional driving test.
In addition to the relevant category of driving licence, you also need to check on the status of any insurance for the caravan you are towing. The law requires that you have a minimum of third-party cover and many insurers limit their policies to just that minimum for the caravan too.
Therefore, you might want to contact us here at Cover4Caravans to arrange comprehensive caravan insurance for any trailer you are planning to tow.
Further practical considerations with respect to weights and loading also need to be taken before towing your caravan.
One of the most critical aspects of towing a caravan is getting right the weight ratio between the trailer and the car that is towing it.
This may be quite a challenging and complicated business, requiring a knowledge of some of the esoteric terms used by both car and caravan manufacturers.
The key terms are:
- Gross Train Weight (GTW) – the maximum permitted weight as defined by the car manufacturer of the car and the caravan combined;
- Maximum Permissible Towing Mass (MPTM) – again defined by the car manufacturer as the maximum weight of any trailer the car may tow;
- Maximum Authorised Mass (MAM) – the weight of the car combined with the weight of is driver and passengers, luggage and the nose weight of the caravan it is towing:
- Mass of vehicle in running order (MRO) – perhaps one of the most critical measurements, also known as the kerbside weight or kerb weight, which is the weight of the car as defined by the manufacturer;
- caravan MRO – the caravan also has an MRO which is defined by the manufacturer and refers to the unladen weight of the trailer; and
- Maximum Technically Permissible Laden Mass (MTPLM) – is the maximum weight of the caravan and everything you pack within it, including water, gas cylinders, and personal kit, a total weight that must not be exceeded for legal use on the road.
Your caravan and the vehicle needed to tow it
Armed with this bewildering array of technical terms, it is possible to begin to match the caravan you want to tow and the car that is needed to tow it.
The equation boils down to a ratio expressed by the fully-laden weight of the caravan as a proportion of the kerb weight (MRO) of the car – in other words, the fully laden weight of the caravan times 100, divided by the car’s MRO.
It is generally recommended that this ratio should not be greater than 85% for someone learning to tow a caravan, up to 100% for the most experienced such drivers, and never more than 100%.
Getting these ratios right and ensuring that you do not exceed any of the weight limits is important for staying within the law and also helps determine what size vehicle you need to tow the caravan.
Matching caravan to car – and vice versa – may, therefore, prove a mathematical headache. It might be welcome news, therefore, that the website WhatTowcar has a useful online calculator to help you make the right match.
Generally speaking, of course, the heavier the caravan you want to tow, the heavier and more powerful the car you need to tow it.
It is not only the laden weight of your caravan that matters but also how it is loaded. Heavy items need to be stowed on the floor, as closely as possible to the trailer’s axle and in a way that does not adversely affect the nose weight which the car is designed to bear.
Finally, when towing, don’t underestimate the importance of having the most appropriate mirrors. Since the caravan you are towing may be wider than the car itself, you may need to fix special extendable wing mirrors to ensure that good rearward vision is maintained.
There are both safety and legal implications, so check out our Guide to Towing Caravan Mirrors for more information.
Taking to the road
There are several simple things to bear in mind when it comes to the actual practice of hitching up and towing a caravan:
- the first step, of course, is to hitch the caravan to the car that is going to be towing it – although the hitch ball arrangement, with its lock and safety chain, makes this fairly straight forward, beware that as you are manhandling the caravan into position even the slightest change in the level of the pavement may send the trailer scooting forward at a suddenly alarming rate;
- on the road, you obviously need to exercise rather more caution and to drive well within the prescribed speed limits;
- you might need to take corners wider than you otherwise do, to avoid the caravan’s wheel’s hitting the kerb or other roadside obstructions;
- once you have mastered the art of driving forward with your caravan, at some stage you may need to reverse it whilst it is still hitched to your car – this is likely to prove a whole new experience, which you might wish to leave ‘til a later date.
Although towing a caravan poses no intrinsically difficult skills, it is important to ensure that you are properly licensed and insured and that you exercise due caution when taking to the open road for the first time.
Finally, if you want to gain more confidence when towing, the Caravan Club offers caravan towing courses.