Towing a caravan
Towing a caravan can be a daunting experience whether it is your first time or just the first trip of a new season, so we've collated the key information and broken it down into different areas to make it digestible.
Towing driving courses
It is important to check your driving licence to see if you are legally allowed to tow any specific caravan. If you have taken your driving test after 1997 is it likely that you will need to sit an additional towing driving test. You may even want to sit one of these driving tests even if your driving licence permits you to tow the caravan as you will gain invaluable knowledge and experience.
Courses are available all over the UK by independent companies. The course will give you confidence whilst you gain invaluable experience manoeuvring your caravan. You will also gain knowledge into the practicalities of owning a caravan and learn about the law of towing a caravan. You don't need to bring your own caravan to most of the courses so it is ideal to attend a course before you actually buy your caravan to gain the experience that you require to tow the caravan. You will be given help and advice on reversing, hitching and unhitching your caravan, loading and the laws and techniques associated with towing your caravan. You will be presented with a certificate at the end of the course (some of these courses are only a day long) and you will no doubt feel much more confident at the end of the course.
Know the Law
Even if you think that you know the law with regards to driving it is worth double checking because when you tow a caravan you need to be aware of a few more rules and regulations. Before setting off on your journey you may want to have an annual safety check carried out on your car and caravan by a specially trained mechanic. The main areas to check are the road safety equipment (be aware that this may be different if you are travelling abroad - for more information see Hints & Tips: Safety checklist whilst on holiday). It is the drivers legal responsibility to ensure that both the vehicle and caravan are roadworthy.
- Check your lights - when your caravan is hitched onto your car, ask your passenger/partner/friend to stand behind the caravan to check that the brake lights, side lights, full lights and indicators are all fully operational. If you don't have someone to check for you, pull up in front of a garage and you will be able to see in your wing mirrors if the correct lights are working as they will light up the garage/window/wall. It is advisable to pack a spare set of bulbs in case your lights fail whilst you are on your holiday.
- Wing mirror extensions - By law you have to be able to see a minimum of 20 metres behind your caravan on both sides. Extension mirrors are not to extend further than 250mm past the widest part of the caravan and you must remove them when you are not towing.
- Know speed limits - the speed limit when towing a caravan differs slightly to if you were just driving your car. Roads that are 20, 40 or 50mph all remain the same speed limit whether you are towing or not. However when you are on a national speed limit road or a motorway then the speed limit decreases by 10mph if you are towing. For instance, a national speed limit road becomes 50mph and a motorway becomes 60mph. Please consult The Highways Code for further information.
Manoeuvring your caravan
- Stay aware - it is extremely important to always be aware of your caravan. It is easy to forget that you are towing but it is a heavy, long vehicle and you must take care especially when overtaking, manoeuvring and when going around corners especially tight bends.
- Take a wide berth - give yourself extra room when going around corners and take your time as rushing may cause errors and you will have less time to react.
- Reverse slowly - when reversing take your time and remember to turn your wheel in the opposite direction to the way in which you want to go.
- You don't have to reverse correctly first time - don't be afraid to stop and start again.
- Smooth turns - if you turn your caravan sharply then there is the risk of jack-knifing the caravan.
- Practice - there's nothing like experience so you may want to find an appropriate location and practice, practice, practice!
Loading your caravan safely
It is imperative not to overload your caravan as it can lead to serious and dangerous consequences. Check that you know the following points:
- Total weight of your caravan - this should include all your contents that you would keep in your caravan.
- Maximum towing weight of your car - this is normally calculated at 85% of your car's kerb weight (weight with no luggage or passengers)
- Nose weight - this is normally between 5%-7% of the weight of the caravan. If your nose weight is exceeded then your insurance may become invalid - see our Touring Caravan Insurance page for details on insurance policies offered by www.insurance4mycaravan.co.uk.
- Remember that every time you change your caravan or car you need to check the above points.
Using a stabiliser
Using a stabiliser is not a substitution for loading your caravan incorrectly rather it is can just help reduce the chance of your caravan snaking across the road in adverse weather conditions. If you have a new model caravan then you are likely to have a stabiliser already fitted however if your model is older then you may want to consider purchasing a stabiliser to protect you and your caravan. Safety matters, stay safe!
There are two variations of caravan stabilisers:
- Leaf Spring/Blade Stabilisers - This is a traditional stabiliser - the leaf spring is a tensioned bar that fixes to both the caravan and your car and will dramatically reduce side to side movements and up and down movements hence reducing the risk of snaking.
- Tow Ball Stabiliser - This is increasingly becoming more popular with caravan owners. It is permanently attached to the caravan and hence you have less faffing around to do. It can simply be hitched and unhitched to your car. By increasing the turning friction on the tow ball, the up and down and side to side movements are reduced. A special tow bar often provided with a stabiliser will be needed in order to avoid damage to the stabiliser and to maintain safe coupling.