How to Tow a Caravan | Beginners Guide to Towing
Towing a caravan for the first time may seem a scary prospect, but it needn’t be.
If the thought of towing is preventing you from buying a caravan, there are places where you can have a go before you buy a unit.
Some of the larger caravan shows have opportunities to try towing a caravan, under the watchful eye of a professional instructor.
Your local caravan dealer may also be prepared to let you take a caravan on the road – especially if it helps him secure a sale.
The Camping and Caravanning Club runs Manoeuvring Courses to help increase your confidence when towing.
Before you tow: getting the right driving licence
Your ability to legally tow a caravan or trailer will depend on the driving licence you hold, whilst the category entitlement on your driving licence will determine the type of trailer you can tow. It’s paramount you’re fully covered by your driving licence for towing your caravan, as your caravan insurance can be invalidated if you are not.
If you obtained your car driving licence before January 1, 1997, then you will retain your entitlement to drive a vehicle and trailer combination of up to 8,250 kg MAM (Maximum Authorised Mass), until that licence expires. When you reach your 70th birthday, however, new rules apply if you’d like to keep towing.
If you obtained your licence after January 1997, you’re able to drive a vehicle up to 3,500 kg, and tow a trailer up to 750 kg behind. Again, be sure to check what you can and can’t do before you drive, particularly if you’re looking to tow something heavier than 750kg.
To be able to tow a heavier caravan, you’ll need to pass an additional driving test. The Camping and Caravanning Club runs courses to help people reach the required standard, or local training organisations can be found through the DVLA.
On the road
When you’re towing, you’ll need to give yourself more time and space for everything. It’s best to brake earlier than normal and you’ll probably accelerate more slowly with a caravan on the back.
The extra length of your outfit means you will need to take corners more widely than normal so the back of the caravan doesn’t clip the kerb or cut the corner.
Remember the legal speed limits are often lower when you’re towing. Don’t exceed 50mph on single carriageways or 60mph on dual carriageways.
You may not tow in the furthest right (‘outside’) lane of a three-or-more lane motorway unless instructed to do so.
Always make sure you have a good view to the rear of your unit, which will probably mean using extension mirrors. And don’t forget to take them off when you’re not towing – it’s illegal to drive with them on if you don’t need them.
Never carry passengers in the caravan when you’re towing it. It’s theoretically legal to transport animals inside a caravan, but it’s definitely not recommended.
Your number plate must show your car’s registration number, conform to the relevant British Standard and be illuminated at night. This means no felt-pen on cardboard!
Your rear light panel must always be working. Remember to check before driving off and keep an eye out for anything that changes during your journey. Your car must show that the indicators are working while you are driving. This might be done positively (by a special light flashing or buzzer sounding when the indicators are on) or negatively (by giving a warning if a bulb fails).
If you find traffic is building up behind you, pull over at a layby or other suitable place and let the other vehicles pass.
Park carefully where you won’t cause an obstruction. Caravans must not be parked in parking meter bays.
Snaking and pitching
The word ‘snake’ can strike terror into the heart of a prospective caravanner, but with a little care before your journey - and an awareness of what to do if a snake occurs - it shouldn’t prevent you taking to the road.
Snaking is when the lateral swaying movement (technically known as the ‘yaw’) of the caravan behind a car becomes excessive. In extreme cases, the caravan swings ever more violently from side to side, eventually dragging the back of the car with it so the driver loses control.
‘Pitching’ describes vertical instability – when the caravan’s front end moves up and down, pulling the rear of the car around like a seesaw.
The best way to avoid snaking and pitching is to have a well-matched car and caravan and to load your unit carefully. See data sheets that relate to these subjects.
Electronic and friction stabilisers are fitted to many caravans, which can also reduce the problem.
But even with all these precautions, you might find the back of your car being pulled by your caravan because of the air turbulence caused by a passing lorry or coach.
If it does, take both feet off the pedals to bring down your speed using your car’s engine braking. Avoid the instinct to brake, but keep steering in a straight line. Trying to steer out of the sway can make the problem worse.
Learning to tow your caravan
If you feel some professional towing tuition would be useful, the Club runs a number of one day courses up and down the country.
They will take you through all the basic information you need from hitching up your caravan and car to reversing. We’ll add some important advice on safe caravanning too.
You’ll be taught at the wheel of your own familiar car but towing a special Club caravan, and have the instruction of professional tutors in small groups.
Find out more about Manoeuvring Courses offered by the Club.
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