caravan towing tips

The Ultimate List Of Caravan Towing Tips

Friday, August 18th, 2017

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Posted by: Milner

Are You Aware Of Towing Limits? Do You Hold The Correct License To Tow? Are You Breaking The Law? This Guide Is Here To Clear Things Up

How To Tow a Caravan Safely & Legally

There’s no denying that few nations do caravanning as well as the Brits.

Jeremy Clarkson and Ray Mears may be amongst some high profile detractors, but on the whole caravans have become incredibly popular in the UK over the years, with more than a million of them now spread across the country.

Every year as summer gets into full swing and the school holidays approach you can be sure that motorways will be full of holiday makers towing their caravans, and campsites from Land’s End to John O’Groats will fill to the brim. (That’s Northern and Southern UK to our none British friends).

For all the fun that awaits upon arrival though, preparing to go on a caravan holiday can be incredibly stressful.

Is everything packed? Are the kids in the car? Is the caravan safely attached? Have any of the kids escaped from the car?

However, there’s another significant question that most people fail to ask themselves.

Something that they REALLY should be.

Am I Towing Legally?

The truth is, towing a caravan isn’t as straight forward as hooking it up to the tow bar and driving away.

There are a range of legal and safety measures that need to be adhered too to ensure that you and your family get to your destination in one piece – and without being pulled over by the police.

This list of requirements can be quite daunting and confusing to anyone who is towing for the first time, or those who were previously unaware of them.

So, we want to help.

We’ve used all of our knowledge, along with input from experienced caravan towers, to put together this ultimate list of caravan towing tips, so that you can always stay safe and legal on the roads.

Contents:

  • Licence For Towing A Caravan: What Do You Need?
  • Do You Need Special Insurance For Towing a Caravan?
  • What Tyre Pressure When Towing a Caravan?
  • How To Hitch A Caravan For Towing?
  • Towing Speed Limit
  • Towing a Caravan in Windy Conditions
  • Other Caravan Towing FAQ’s

Licence For Towing A Caravan: What Do You Need?

One of the most commonly asked questions in this area is “Do I need a licence to tow a caravan?” and the answer for this is – yes, but it may be a licence that you already have.

If you hold a UK driving licence (and you really should if you’re planning on towing a caravan) then you may be legally able to tow already. It all depends on when you passed your test.

The official Government ruling on this is as follows:

If you passed your car driving test on or after 1 January 1997 you can:

Drive a car or van up to 3,500kg maximum authorised mass (MAM) towing a trailer of up to 750kg MAM
Tow a trailer over 750kg MAM as long as the combined MAM of the trailer and towing vehicle is no more than 3,500kg
(MAM is the limit on how much the vehicle can weigh when it’s loaded)
You have to pass the car and trailer driving test if you want to tow anything heavier.

Licences issued before 1 January 1997
If you passed your car test before 1 January 1997 you’re usually allowed to drive a vehicle and trailer combination up to 8,250kg MAM. View your driving licence information to check.

You’re also allowed to drive a minibus with a trailer over 750kg MAM.

Towing Heavier Combinations

If you wish to tow anything heavier, such as a static caravan or lorry and trailer combination, then the following will need to be done before you can tow legally.

Apply for provisional licence for a medium-sized lorry and trailer (category C1+E).
Pass the lorry theory test.
Pass the C1+E driving test.
You need to take extra Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC) tests if driving the medium-sized lorry is the main part of your job.
Once you’ve done this you can drive vehicles and trailers with a combined weight of up to 12,000kg MAM.

 

Do You Need Special Insurance For Towing a Caravan?

We all know that car insurance is a legal requirement for driving a vehicle on the road, but how does towing a caravan effect this?

Well, as a general rule, insurance for a touring caravan that is being towed is NOT required.

But this isn’t always the case.

Not every car insurance policy covers towing, and even those that do can sometimes place restrictions on the weight or size of the caravan that you’re towing.

Simply put, it’s always best to give your car insurance provider a quick phone call before you tow for the first time to ensure that towing is covered in your policy. The likelihood is that it will be fine and you won’t have to pay anything any extra, but it’s always best to be sure so you don’t end up breaking the law.

Of course, you may choose to insure your caravan additionally to cover in the event of theft or accidental damage, in which case you should always look for the following in a policy.

  • Family & Friends Cover
  • European Travel Cover
  • Cover For Contents and Awning
  • Storm Damage Cover
  • Accidental Damage Cover.

What Tyre Pressure When Towing a Caravan?

Before you even think about hooking the caravan up to your tow vehicle, first you need to run some safety checks.

One of the most important safety aspects of towing is having the correct tyres fitted to your caravan, and ensuring that those tyres are inflated to the correct pressure.

Whilst most cars or 4×4’s will have a sticker somewhere within telling you the ideal tyre PSI, this is often not the case with caravans.

Even if it were, the weight of a caravan can change so dramatically depending what you have in it, that there is no set tyre pressure that is going to work best at all times.

However, there is a way in which you can figure out the best, most efficient and safest tyre pressure for your caravan on each journey.

This simple calculation comes from Caravan Chronicles and is a fantastic, quick and easy way to find the correct PSI for your tyres to ensure you’re towing safely.

Caravan Tyre PSI Calculation

The first thing to do when calculating your tyre PSI is to look at the tyre itself. On the wall of the tyres you should see a code that looks similar to the one below

205/65 R 15 94 H

These numbers and letters, as you may know, signify a range of different aspects of the tyre, but the one that we’re interested in for this equation is the second to last digit – in this example, 94.

This number is known as the “Load Rating” and specifies how much weight an individual tyre can safely take.

The load index rating ranges from 60 to 128, and each one translates into a real world KG weight load, which can be figured out by using the image below (again, from Caravan Chronicles).

caravan towing weight guide

 

Once you have your real world KG weight load – in this case, 670kg as that is what 94 converts into – you now know the maximum weight that each of your tyres is designed to take (although it is recommended to never exceed 90% of this value for safety reasons).

Once you have these numbers, you then need to return to the tyre and look for another important marking.

Somewhere on the tyre, near to where the original code was printed, it should give a maximum tyre pressure, saying something similar to “Maximum Pressure 52 PSI”.

Finally, you will need to know the weight of your caravan, which can usually be found by simply searching the model name online, or speaking with the manufacturers. Once this is done you’re ready to do the calculation to find out the correct, safe PSI to pump your tyres to ready for towing.

The Calculation

The calculation to find the correct PSI for your caravan tyres is as follows:

Maximum PSI divided by Load Index Number, then times the result by the weight of your caravan, and then divide that number by 2 for a single axle van, or 4 for a double axle van.

so, in our case as an example:

52 PSI/670 load index = 0.077 x 2000kg caravan weight = 155/4 = 38 PSI for each tyre.

Pump each of your tyres to the given PSI after your own calculations, and you’re ready to hook your caravan up and get on your way.

Summary:

  1. Get tyre load index value
  2. Find maximum PSI allowed in each tyre
  3. Find weight of caravan
  4. Max PSI/Load Index = Y x Caravan Weight = X/2 or 4 = PSI for towing

 

How To Hitch A Caravan For Towing

It goes without saying that hooking a caravan up to the towing vehicle is one of the most crucial parts of the towing process.

Failure to hitch the caravan properly can lead to a whole range of disasters – not to mention the fines for unsafe towing which go into the thousands of pounds.

The first and arguably most important part of hooking up a caravan for towing is ensuring that you have a well fitted and strong enough tow bar on your tow vehicle – see our tow bar buying guide for more information on this.

To safely hitch your caravan to the towing vehicle, follow the steps below:

  1. Engage the handbrake on the caravan and place chocks in front of the wheels to prevent rolling.
  2. Raise the corner steadies on the caravan.
  3. Use the jockey wheel to raise the hitch up above the height of the tow bar.
  4. Reverse the tow vehicle (car or 4×4) up to the caravan.
  5. Engage the handbrake of the tow vehicle and fully release the caravan handbrake
  6. Move the hitch over the tow ball.
  7. Hook up the breakaway cable, which will activate the vans handbrake should it become detached from the towing vehicle.
  8. Lower the hitch head onto the tow ball until it clicks into position.
  9. Press down on the hitch head stabiliser to enable it – this activates the two pads on the tow ball and stabilises the caravan for towing.
  10. Ensure that the towball is sitting in place securely – this is a vital step and should not be ignored.
  11. Double check that the hitch has been successful by winding the jockey wheel back down, if it is attached correctly then the rear of the car should rise with the caravan.
  12.  Wind the jockey wheel back up until it is in travelling position, and clamp it into position with the locking lever.
  13. Connect the caravan electrics up to the car socket – ensure that the cable does not hang to low, and NEVER wrap it around the caravan handbrake as this can prevent it from working.
  14. Check all lights and indicators are working on both the towing vehicle and the caravan.
  15. Release the caravan hand brake, rechecking the coupling and all connections are still in place.
  16. Remove any chocks and prepare for departure!

 

To help you out whilst hooking up your caravan, see this helpful caravan hitching video from Caravan TV.

Towing Speed Limit

If you’re going to be towing your caravan on major roads, it’s vital that you are aware that different speed limits may apply to you than what you’re used to.

The speed limit rules surrounding towing a caravan mean that just because it says a certain speed on the signs, it doesn’t mean that the speed applies to you – it may in fact be much lower.

The speed restrictions for vehicles towing caravans within 7.5 tonnes can be seen below.

  • Motorways – 60mph
  • Dual Carriageways – 60mph
  • Single Carriageway National Speed Limit Roads – 50mph

50mph, 40mph and 30mph speed limits apply as normal, but it’s always worth remembering that the maximum for any dual carriageway road is 60mph and any single carriageway road is 50mph.

It should also be noted that while towing a caravan you are not allowed to use the right hand lane of the motorway.

Towing a Caravan in Windy Conditions

One of the potential situations that can strike fear into any novice caravan tower is the thought of a gust of wind catching the caravan and causing it to wobble, snake, and even drag the towing vehicle off of the road.

Now, mother nature cannot be controlled, and the risk of wind can never be completely eliminated, however there are some top tips that you can follow to ensure that your car and caravan remain stable when travelling in windy conditions.

Decide Whether It’s Safe To Tow

First and foremost, whenever you’re planning to tow, it’s always best to assess the weather forecast and see if there are any precarious conditions expected that may effect your ability to tow safely. High winds, heavy rain and snow are worth looking out for in particular – if it seems like things may be bad, simply don’t tow.

Batten Down Awnings & Any Attachments

Many caravans have awnings on them to extend them when pitched at a site, however whilst travelling they can become extremely hazardous.

Awnings are incredibly susceptible to any sort of strong winds, as their shape and weight means that they catch a lot of wind, which can in turn drag or even lift the caravan from the road.

Preventing this is imperative, so ensure that you invest in storm straps or even an awning bag to protect it from the window and give the caravan extra stability.

Avoid Highways

Motorways and dual carriageways are particularly risk places to tow in difficult conditions, as they are often very exposed to the elements, meaning you will get the full force of any windy conditions.

Therefore, it’s best to avoid motorways whenever possible and stick to the back roads, which are often more sheltered, and have lower speeds meaning that you are less prone to snaking, or being battered by the wind.

What To Do If Your Caravan Starts Snaking

For all the precautions in the world, sometimes snaking just cannot be prevented, so it’s incredibly important to know what to do if this happens.

Your reaction to snaking can be the difference between preventing disaster, or exacerbating it.

If your caravan starts to wobble or “snake” around when being towed, the most important thing to do is to remain calm and remove both feet from your car peddles.

The temptation can often be to either accelerate to straighten the van out, or slam the brakes on to kill speed – neither of these are a good idea.

The best way to deal with this scenario is to let the car and caravan slowly, naturally decelerate. Remove both feet from the pedals completely and focus on keeping the car in a smooth, straight path, avoiding any sharp turning – even attempting to correct the swinging can make it worse.

As the car slows down it is advisable to turn on the hazard lights to let others know of your situation and that you’re slowing down.

Once the caravan becomes more stable and back into a proper path behind the car, it is then always best to pull over somewhere safe and ensure that all couplings are still secure and that no damage has been done.

Other Caraving Towing FAQ’s

Is it legal to tow a caravan with passengers in it?

No. This is illegal and also incredibly unsafe. The weight balance of a caravan is extremely important, and any unexpected shift from someone moving around could cause a very dangerous accident.

Is it legal to tow a caravan with pets in it?

Officially, there are no laws against towing a caravan with pets in it – however we would highly discourage this. Something as minor as a dog moving around could upset the balance of a caravan and lead to an accident. It can also be extremely stressful for a pet to be in a caravan on it’s own whilst being towed, so we would always recommend that they come in the tow vehicle with you.

Can I park my caravan on the road?

It is legal to park a caravan on the road, however there are certain rules you need to abide by to avoid getting into trouble. Firstly, you need to ensure that the caravan is not causing an obstruction in any way, so don’t block drives, walkways, or park to far away from the kerb. Caravans also MUST be lit up if parked on the road at night, with the nearside facing the pavement and the lights facing toward approaching traffic. Failure to stick to these rules could lead to legal action being taken against you. Caravans are not allowed to be parked in parking metre bays.

Do I need extension mirror when towing?

If you wish to tow safely, then extension mirrors are highly recommend as they will help you get a better view of what is behind the caravan. However, it’s worth remembering that it is illegal to use extension mirrors when NOT towing, so ensure you remove them once the caravan is unhitched.

Do caravans need a number plate?

Yes, if your caravan is going out on the road then it needs to display the number plate of the towing vehicle. It must also confirm to all relevant British standards, and be illuminated at night – meaning no sticking a piece of marker pen covered cardboard in the window!

Happy, Safe Towing!

There’s no doubt that for caravanners, getting out on the open road with the family, and enjoying trips to the countryside or coast is one of life’s great pleasures, and we hope that this guide will prove helpful in letting you have a safe and fantastic time next time you head out.

We love caravans, however of course there may be some awesome tips that we’ve missed out, so if you’ve got any useful nuggets of gold to share that you’ve picked up over the years, then please do share them with us in the comments below and we’ll update the post including the best – with credit to you of course.

Enjoy!

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