Thinking about towing with a hatchback? 6 things you need to know
Caravanning offers you the freedom to couple up your home-away-from-home with your family hatchback and head off to your destination of choice. If you're about to hitch up and head off for the first time though, what should you be thinking about? It pays to be prepared, so read on to ensure you and your hatchback are fully geared up for the holiday ahead.
1. Ensuring your hatchback and caravan are matched
The weight of caravans vary considerably. As an example, the MTPLM (Maximum Technically Permitted Laden Mass) of the single-axle Bailey Pursuit is 1090 kg. For larger, European-style caravans, it can be as much as 2,500 kg. Your aim is to make sure your car will tow your unit comfortably, and our guide to matching your car and caravan should be able to help you establish this.
For smaller hatchbacks, such as the Ford Fiesta, you'll find that virtually all modern touring caravans will exceed the car's maximum towable mass. As such, the way forward for a camping holiday could be found with a trailer tent or folding campers - which are much lighter units than conventional caravans.
With larger hatchbacks, much depends on the engine size, fuel type, and gearbox choice. With the Ford Focus, for instance, the maximum braked towable mass varies from 400 to 1500 kg, and for the Vauxhall Insignia, the range is between 1250 and 1800 kg. Always check the towable mass figure for your particular model before making any decisions on which car or caravan to purchase. For this reason, we'd recommend working within the kerbweight of the tow car. As a rough guideline, 85% of kerbweight for beginners and up to 100% for experienced towers.
Once you're satisfied that your hatchback and caravan are safely matched, it's time to focus on ensuring a safe and enjoyable journey.
2. Select the right type of towbar
Fixed flange type towballs are the most popular type of towbar in the UK. With these, the towball is bolted to the towbar with two bolts. If you're new to the whole process of hitching up a caravan (especially on bumpy ground), this type of towbar offers the benefit of being able to fit a protective plate to your rear bumper, thereby removing the risk of denting your hatchback in the process.
Swan neck towballs are popular on the continent because they generally need less of a cut out of the rear bumper - they look neater as a result. The towball is fixed on the end of a slender neck; hence the name.
Removable towballs tend to be more expensive than fixed versions and are selected for maintaining the appearance of the tow car when not towing, or to prevent conflict with a number plate. Investing in one means you can detach and replace the ball assembly at your leisure and requirement.
Make sure you get a towbar that's compatible with your hatchback though, either by purchasing from your car's manufacturer, or by consulting a specialist such as Tow-Trust, where you can browse for suitable products according to the make and model of your car.
3. Choose a towing mirror you are comfortable with
By law, your mirrors must provide you with a clear view of an area 4 metres wide from each side of the caravan, and 20 metres behind the caravan. Because your caravan is significantly wider than your hatchback, you're not going to be able to comply with the law without fitting towing mirrors. If you are pulled over and found to be in breach of this requirement, the penalty is 3 points on your licence and a fine of up to £1000 for each violation (i.e. for each missing mirror).
If you have a long journey ahead of you, you should look for a mirror that you are comfortable with; one that's easy to adjust but that isn't going to annoy you by vibrating when you're travelling at speed. Some car manufacturers offer model-specific towing mirrors, but these can be expensive. Clamp-mirrors (as opposed to strap-fitting or suction mirrors) are worth close attention: they fit onto your existing mirror housing, they tend to be resistant to vibration on the open road, and are easy to adjust.
4. Load your caravan for safe, efficient towing
Family hatchbacks are designed with both safety and efficiency in mind. With the extra weight of a caravan in tow, that efficiency will be reduced. The controls can feel different too: especially in strong side winds or where your car is overtaken by a high-sided vehicle.
Snaking, for example, (side to side movement) is not unusual. Modern stabilisers can help in this situation, but they generally won't improve an unstable caravan. However, distributing your items to give the caravan a more adequate nose-weight, as well as securing heavier items over the axle, can reduce this snaking effect and improve stability. Remember, caravans have low payload limits so check how much your kit weighs and whether you need it with you.
5. Adjust your driving
UK speed limits when towing are 60 mph on dual carriageways and motorways, and 50 mph on other roads unless otherwise stated. The rules across the channel differ from country to country, so check the limits for the areas you intend to drive through.
Allowing enough space for everything including taking corners and reversing because these are just a few of the areas where having a caravan behind you can make a big difference. To polish your skills, it's worth considering a manoeuvring course from The Camping and Caravanning Club.
6. Have the right insurance in place
It helps to have an insurer on your side who understands the needs of caravanners. If a dispute arises with another driver for instance, an insurer familiar with this type of claim is in a stronger position to resolve matters in your favour. Club Care has been providing car insurance to Camping and Caravanning Club members for many years, offering a range of great features, such as unlimited windscreen cover and up to 240 days European use cover is ideal for European trips.