Towing a caravan may seem simple, but before you hit the road it’s important to properly prepare your car and van.
A vehicle that isn’t suited to tow a heavy caravan, uneven weight distribution and incorrect driving techniques can all be barriers to safe towing.
However, with well matched and properly prepared vehicles, you’ll be able to make the most of your fuel efficiency and stay safe on the road, even in changing conditions.
Your Motor Vehicle
Ideally your towing vehicle’s weight will be heavier than your caravan and have enough horsepower to quickly speed up and overtake when necessary, allowing for safer passing manoeuvres.
It’s often assumed that four-wheel drives are necessary, but if recommended towing guidelines are met, any modern two-wheel drive passenger vehicle can do the job. A four-wheel drive is only necessary if you’re planning to venture off-road.
Automatic gear systems are usually preferred for towing vehicles, as they make reversing easier and free the driver’s concentration to focus more closely on road conditions.
It’s recommended that your towing vehicle have a load distribution hitch fitted to help counteract weight imbalance at the back of your car. This measure is essential for vehicles with self-levelling suspension as towing heavy weights could result in suspension damage.
Your vehicle’s towbar should also be checked for its weight capacity and quality. Factory fitted towbars may only be suited to smaller trailers and not fully loaded caravans. Your towbar should be able to handle the fully loaded weight of your van.
The design of your caravan can impact wind resistance and towing difficulty. The smaller the front, the less wind resistance it will generate and the easier it should be to tow.
The weight of your caravan should also be considered. Your caravan’s Aggregate Trailer Mass (ATM) is its total weight when fully loaded and should always be less than your vehicle’s listed towing capacity. As a guide, water, gas and other contents normally add at least 300KG to the weight of an empty van.
If you’re new to towing, it’s recommended not to tow an ATM caravan weight higher than the empty weight of your vehicle.
Weight distribution is a crucial factor in preserving fuel, reducing strain on your engine and maintaining safety on the road.
When towing at a constant speed on a level road, your caravan’s weight won’t be a major factor, however, if travelling across hilly terrain your engine’s power will be impacted by the weight.
This can also occur if the weight from the front of your vehicle to the back of your caravan is unbalanced. Incorrect distribution can impact engine power and reduce the effectiveness of steering and braking.
Weight to the front of your caravan can strain your car’s suspension and tow hitch, while weight to the back of your van can make it unstable while being towed. It’s important that weight between your vehicle and caravan is distributed as evenly as possible.
The weight across vehicles can be impacted by incorrect tow-ball positioning. If your caravan is not level when stationary you may need to reposition your vehicle’s tow-ball.
Rearranging heavier items in your van can also help to achieve a more even distribution. When possible, the best location for heavier items is usually over the axles.
If other measures aren’t effective in balancing your towing weight, a weight distribution hitch can help to adjust weight to the front of your vehicle.
The side to side motion of a towed caravan is often referred to as sway or snaking. Swaying can be dangerous and lead to loss of control on the road. Some causes of sway include:
- Poor caravan design
- Incorrect ball height
- Forward axle location
- Deflated tyres
- Poor weight distribution
Safe driving techniques can help to reduce sway but should not be relied on to compensate for an unbalanced or ill-suited caravan.
If your van starts to sway, begin to gently apply the caravan’s electric brakes and slowly deaccelerate until the swaying stops. As soon as possible, pull over to check and adjust your weight distribution.
Driving just under the recommended speed limit for an area can help to reduce fuel consumption and will give you more time to anticipate approaching road conditions. If your vehicle has a manual gear box, you can use gear shifting to reduce vehicle speed and prevent wear on your brakes.
When attempting to overtake other vehicles, remember to give yourself adequate time and space, as towing will increase your vehicle’s length and weight, and reduce its speed and acceleration. Turning with a wider arc than normal is also recommended to ensure your caravan has enough space to safely follow your vehicle.
If you have concerns about towing a van, talk to an expert who works with caravans for advice. Towing calmly and with the right preparations in place can improve your safety and help you avoid issues on the road.