How to Tow a Caravan
Towing a caravan isn't difficult or dangerous if done properly, but there are some important things to get right. If you're concerned about how to tow a caravan, consider going on a caravan towing course or trying it out at a caravan show with instructor supervision. This article covers all the things you'll need to make sure you can tow a caravan safely and legally.
1. Make sure you have the right licence
Whether or not you are legally allowed to tow a caravan or trailer depends on the kind of driving licence you have. If you tow a caravan without the correct licence, you’ll be breaking the law and your insurance won’t be valid. You could earn yourself a hefty fine.
- Drivers who passed their test before the end of 1996 can drive a vehicle/towed object (caravan or trailer) combination of up to 8250kg without any additional training or licence. Bear in mind this is the total mass of the towing vehicle and the caravan
- Drivers who passed their test after 1 January 1997 can drive a car/caravan combination weighing up to a total of 3500kg, or drive a vehicle weighing up to 3500kg while towing a trailer up to 750kg behind it
- To tow a heavier caravan, drivers who qualified after January 1997 will need to pass an additional trailer test to add the B+E towing licence category to their driving licence
- If you’re not sure how heavy a vehicle or caravan is, check its weight plates
Always double check towing rules and how they apply to you, especially if you’re looking to tow something heavier than 750kg.
2. Make sure you’re using a suitable vehicle
Using the right combination of vehicle and caravan is essential for a safe towing experience. Take a look at our guide to towing capacity for useful advice. Here are some key things to look out for:
- The vehicle’s kerb weight should always be larger than the maximum technically permitted laden mass (MTPLM) of the caravan (both can be found in the owner’s manuals) – ideally, the caravan should weigh max. 85% of the car’s weight. If the caravan is too heavy, it can be hard to control the car
- 4×4 vehicles tend to have better stability and traction, which is useful for towing
- Make sure the vehicle is powerful enough – a 2.0-litre diesel is enough for most caravans, but modern 1.6-litre turbo diesels are pretty good too
- Make sure the car has a tow bar that meets the relevant British standard and doesn’t obscure the number plate when not in use
In the market for a new car? Check out our list of the best cars for towing caravans.
3. Check that you know the rules for towing
The UK Highway Code has slightly different rules for vehicles that are towing. Make sure you’re familiar with them as they are designed to keep everyone safe on the road:
- Double-check the speed limits – the national speed limit for vehicles that are towing is 50 mph on single-lane roads and 60 mph on dual carriageways and the motorway
- You cannot use the outside lane of motorways that are three or more lanes wide
- You must always have a good rear view of your towing unit – you’ll likely need to attach extension mirrors to your vehicle.
- You must not carry passengers in the caravan while towing
- The back of the caravan must feature a number plate that matches the number plate of the towing vehicle and conforms to British Standards (no homemade ones)
- The rear light panel must be working – always check this before you set off
- The car must show that the rear indicators on the caravan are working, either with a sound or light when indicating or a warning that will show if a bulb fails
- Always make sure you have the correct license for the caravan you’re towing – you may need an additional trailer licence (see section 1 of this article)
4. Check the caravan before you go
If you’re towing a caravan on a regular basis, it’s easy to become complacent, but you should always check the following before heading out on a trip:
- Tyre pressure and tread depth
- Wheel nut torque
- Lights and indicators are working
- The coupling head of the caravan should be properly engaged, with all cables and jockey wheel safely away from the ground
- All doors, windows, vents and internal cupboards/lockers are closed
- A road-legal number plate matching the towing vehicle is fitted to the van
- All heavy objects are low to the floor and close to the axle in the middle of the caravan
- Extended towing mirrors are fitted
5. Bear in mind it will feel different to normal driving
Towing a caravan behind your car affects the normal driving experience – the car is having to work a lot harder than usual. Some key things to bear in mind when towing a caravan are:
- Everything needs a bit more time and space than usual
- You will need to brake earlier than when not towing, as there is more to slow down
- Acceleration takes much longer
- You’ll need to take corners more widely so that the caravan wheels don’t clip the kerb or cut the corner
- Traffic may build up behind you – if you safely can, pull over in a lay-by to let it pass
- Park carefully where you won’t cause an obstruction
For difficult manoeuvres such as parking or tight turns, you may want to ask someone else to watch and let you know if the caravan gets close to anything it shouldn’t.
6. If the caravan becomes unstable while you’re driving
There are two main ways a caravan can become unstable while driving:
- Pitching is the vertical (up and down) movement of the caravan. The front end of the caravan will naturally move up and down a little, but if it gets out of control it can start to move the back of the car around
- Snaking (yawing) is the swaying motion of the caravan from side to side. If this motion builds up too much and gets out of control, it can move the back of the car and cause the driver to lose control
There are some easy ways to reduce the risk of a caravan getting out of control:
- Make sure the caravan and car are well-matched
- Place any heavy objects inside the caravan so that they are low to the floor and close to the axle. Secure them so that they cannot move or roll around the caravan
If you do feel pitching or snaking while towing a caravan:
- Take both feet off the pedals so that the car slows down naturally – do not brake
- Steer in a straight line, as changing direction can make the problem worse
There are some important things to remember when towing a caravan. Make sure you’re set up to do it safely and legally, and you’ll have a great trip. Always double-check that your vehicle and driving licence are suitable and the caravan is safe to tow before setting off.