If you’re about to hit the holiday trail with a caravan, it’s essential to know how to stay safe and legal.
The first thing you need to know is whether your driving licence will allow you to tow. If you passed your test after 1 January 1997, there are restrictions on the weight of trailer you can tow.
This means you can tow a trailer or caravan with a maximum weight of 750kg including all cargo. To tow heavier trailers, you will need to pass a secondary test.
Weight is extremely important when towing a caravan. When loading up, you must not put too much in the caravan, or the car, so it stays within the legal permitted maximum towing capacity for your car. Check the owner’s handbook to find out what this is.
Towing experts recommend the maximum weight of a loaded caravan should not exceed 85% of the car’s kerb weight, which you can also check in the handbook. This means matching your car to the right caravan is essential as a small car will struggle to pull a large caravan and could be dangerous.
When you’re happy with all of these technical details, you need to make sure the towbar on your car is strong and legal. Look for a towbar with British or European standard markings and have it fitted by a professional.
Some cars cannot have towbars fitted as they are too light and some may not have towbar mounting points as a result. To check what towbar you need and find an approved fitter, consult the National Trailer and Towing Association.
Once you’re on the road, there are some simple driving challenges to check. Make sure all of the electrics work and the caravan’s rear lights match what is happening on the car’s. Also be sure you can see the road behind you using the car’s door mirrors. If not, you will need extended mirrors to stay safe when driving.
When driving, speed limits in 30-, 40- and 50mph zones are the same for cars with caravans as without. However, in 60mph areas, cars towing a caravan are restricted to 50mph, while on the motorway the maximum for a car and caravan is 60mph. Any vehicle towing a trailer is not allowed into the third lane of a motorway.
It sounds obvious, but you must also allow for the extra length and width of your outfit when towing a caravan. This is especially true when negotiating tighter corners or reversing.
In corners, you need to let the car move out further to compensate for the caravan wanting to cut the corner. When reversing, the caravan will want to go in the opposite direction to the car because of the articulation of the towbar.
If you’re not experienced at towing, there are courses where you can learn these vital basics to stay safe, legal and make sure you enjoy your holiday.