How To Tow A Caravan
Knowing how to tow your caravan is essential for your own safety and that of other road users. In this indispensable guide we explain how you can ensure you’re towing correctly and complying with all touring caravan laws and regulations.
Caravan towing guide for owners
We want you to have everything you need to know about towing a touring caravan at your fingertips, so that you can enjoy your holidays stress-free. Before we get into the detail, here’s a quick summary of what we cover in this guide. Simply read on or click on a topic below to get straight to the information you need.
1) TOWING A CARAVAN RULES
Do you need a different licence to tow a caravan?
No, you do not. Your standard UK driving licence allows you to tow a trailer. How much you are allowed to tow is however, dictated by when you passed your driving test.
If you passed your driving test on or after 1st January 1997, you are now permitted to tow a trailer weighing up to 3500kg. The weight of your trailer must not exceed the weight of your car.
If you passed your test before that date, you’re legally able to drive a car and trailer with a total weight of up to 8500kg.
Do you need to take a test to tow a caravan?
No, the law no longer requires you to take a test to tow a caravan. However, passing a car and trailer driving test could reduce your caravan insurance premiums.
A Caravan Club Towing Course, Practical Caravanning Course or Manoeuvring Course could be a good place to start if you want to build your confidence. Some caravan shows and dealerships may also offer you a ‘test tow’, so that you can decide whether towing is for you before you buy a touring caravan.
2) CARAVAN WEIGHT GUIDE
Why is weight so important when towing a caravan?
Weight is crucial to towing a caravan safely, which is why it should always be your primary concern.
Before towing your touring caravan, you must take into account:
- The weight of your car (with and without passengers and gear)
- The weight of your caravan (with and without equipment)
- Weight distribution (more on this later)
If you get the relative weight of your car and caravan wrong, it could make it dangerous to tow your caravan and if you exceed the legal weight limits you could also risk invalidating your caravan insurance.
How much weight should you tow?
How much weight you can tow will depend on your car’s weight and towing capacity. You should be able to find these in your vehicle handbook.
Although not set by law, it’s widely recommended that the weight of your fully laden caravan should not exceed 85% of your car’s kerb weight (i.e. what your car weighs with a full tank of petrol and all standard equipment on board, but no passengers or cargo). Go heavier and you could endanger not only those in your car, but also other road users, especially if you lack experience towing a caravan.
Alternatively, you can conduct a tow check online on websites such as Towsafe. It's cheap and will confirm you are legally allowed to tow your caravan.
How can you work out your car’s towing capacity?
You can usually find your car’s towing capacity in the vehicle handbook, but it can also be easily worked out from its VIN plate. To calculate your vehicle’s towing limit all you have to do is subtract the number on the first line (the maximum allowable mass, or MAM) from the number in the second line (the maximum train mass).
How to ensure your caravan is a safe weight
To avoid overloading your caravan, you need to know your caravan’s unladen weight. This can usually be found in your user manual or on a plate near the door frame.
It is also worth knowing what your caravan’s nose weight should be. This is the weight that your caravan exerts on the towbar. Too much and the towbar could snap or raise the front of your car; too little and your caravan can become unbalanced and lift the back of your car.
Nose weight is sometimes displayed on an exterior plate on the caravan, but it can also be found in your user manual or online.
As for weight distribution, it is usually best to put your heaviest cargo over the caravan’s axle(s). Distributing weight unevenly or putting your heaviest items at either end of the caravan can make it more likely to snake behind you, which could cause you to lose control.
What happens if your caravan is too heavy?
Towing a caravan that’s too heavy can impact your ability to control your vehicle and will also put your chassis and running gear under stress, meaning they wear down faster.
Your touring caravan has a maximum technically permitted laden mass (MTPLM). This is the maximum weight your caravan should be including all cargo and it’s illegal to exceed it. You will be able to find this in your handbook.
If you’re caught towing a caravan that’s too heavy, your warranty and insurance could be invalidated. If you’re involved in an accident while towing an overweight caravan, your insurance company may not pay out even if you weren’t at fault.
If in doubt, you can use the government’s website to locate a public weighbridge and check your laden caravan’s weight.
3) HITCHING UP CHECKLIST
How to hitch up your caravan safely
Securely hitching your caravan to your car is another important part of towing safely. Here are some of the things you should check when hitching up.
- Before hitching up, always check that your caravan is loaded properly, with your possessions secured and their weight evenly distributed so that they do not move or get damaged in transit
- Check the gas is turned off so it doesn’t leak
- Lock all windows, doors and exterior lockers to prevent damage to your possessions
- Check your caravan’s tyre pressure and nose weight with a gauge or set of scales to avoid snaking
- Ensure your breakaway cable is properly attached – in the unlikely event your caravan detaches from your car, this cable will engage the caravan’s brakes and snap, bringing it to a halt
- Make sure that the caravan’s rear brake and indicator lights are working – you could be penalised for towing a caravan without functioning rear lights
- Fit towing mirrors to your car to help eliminate most of your blind spots, allowing for safer towing
- Check the caravan handbrake is off – if your caravan hasn’t been used for a while it can rust or seize up. Accidentally leaving it on causes obvious danger to everyone on the road
For a comprehensive list of safety checks to perform before towing, read GOV.UK’s how to tow a trailer or caravan guide.
4) TIPS FOR TOWING YOUR TOURING CARAVAN
Tips for driving safely with your touring caravan in tow
- Give yourself space, brake earlier and take corners widely - remember your car and caravan is longer, wider and heavier than you’re used to
- Don’t brake when turning - brake when driving straight to reduce the risk of jack-knifing
- Be considerate when parking - make sure you don’t cause a blockage or get in anyone’s way
- Don’t tow in the outside lane of the motorway - it’s illegal
- Adjust your speed to the lower limits for towing vehicles - 50mph on a single carriageway, 60mph on a dual carriageway or motorway
- Apply your brakes and slow down steadily if your caravan starts to snake – do not counter-steer as you could make it worse
- Use towing mirrors to increase your line of sight
- Never tow with passengers in your caravan – it’s extremely dangerous
- Ensure your caravan’s number plate is the same as your car’s - and its displayed on legal, legible plates
Tips for reversing a touring caravan
Reversing will get easier with practice but until it does, here are three tips:
- Take it slowly and don’t rush – get accustomed to your caravan’s length and width and ease yourself in
- Positioning is key – if reversing straight, make sure your car and caravan are lined up and don’t be afraid to reposition
- Make sure you have a clear view – use your towing mirrors and if there’s a blind spot, ask someone to guide you in
Reversing with a caravan in tow may be daunting for a new owner but it doesn’t have to be. Generally speaking, the shorter the distance between your caravan’s axle and your car’s tow ball, the more sensitive your trailer will be to your steering.
With a twin axle caravan it’s usually easier to reverse and simpler to correct course because they have a second set of wheels. Single axle caravans will be more nimble and able to make tighter manoeuvres, but you will have to be quicker with your course corrections.
5) TOURING CARAVAN INSURANCE
Do you need caravan insurance to tow?
No, according to the law you don’t need touring caravan insurance, but it’s the only way to fully protect your caravan. Even the most experienced tower who follows all the rules and advice can be involved in an accident or make a simple but costly mistake.
Without specialist insurance, you could end up out of pocket if your caravan gets damaged or stolen, as most car insurance policies only cover third-party liability when your caravan is being towed by your car.
We work with a wide range of insurance providers to find you the best cover for your touring caravan and so you have total peace of mind on and off the road – get a free quote today.