How to Tow a Caravan: The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide

Towing a caravan may seem a little scary if it’s your first time. With careful planning and an understanding of the towing processes however, it’s doesn’t have to be that way.

In this guide, we’ll cover:

  • What your driving licence allows you to tow
  • Whether you need special insurance to tow a caravan
  • How to safely hitch your caravan
  • Tips on driving with a caravan attached

Does your licence allow you to tow your caravan?

A close up of a EU driver's licence

If you hold a valid UK driver’s licence then you are able to tow some kind of caravan trailer. The size and weight of which however, will depend on when you passed your test.

If you passed your test after 19th January 2013 and hold a category B (car and small vehicle) licence, you are able to tow a small trailer weighing no more than 750 kg. You can tow a trailer over 750 kg as long as the trailer and vehicle weigh no more than 3,500 kg combined.

Similarly, if you passed your test between 19th January 2013 and 1st January 1997 and hold a category B (car) licence you may drive a vehicle up to 3,500 kg and tow a trailer up to 750 kg. You can tow a trailer over 750 kg as long as the trailer and vehicle weight no more than 3,500 kg combined.

If you passed your test before 1st January 1997, you can tow any vehicle and trailer combination up to 8,250 kg Maximum Authorised Mass (MAM). However, it’s always worth checking the government website to be sure.

If you want to tow anything heavier than what your licence allows, you must take a special ‘B+E test’ and get a special trailer licence.

Do you need special insurance?

A caravan by the beach

Since touring caravans aren’t powered vehicles themselves, they don’t require their own road insurance. It’s important, however, to double check what your insurance policy says about towing.

First, additions like tow bars and roof racks are vehicle modifications and need to be declared on your policy. Not all car insurance will allow you to tow a caravan. Even if yours does, it may impose certain limits on what you can tow. It’s important to check this before setting out, else risk facing problems should an accident occur.

It’s also worth noting that car insurance won’t cover damage to your trailer. Nor will it cover break-ins or any other loss. To protect yourself against such things, you’ll need to buy bespoke caravan insurance.

Safely hitching your caravan

A man hitching a caravan to his car

You can’t tow a caravan before you hitch it! You could even argue that properly hitching is the most important part of towing. To make sure you get the perfect connection each time, follow our steps below.

Before hitching

Before starting the hitching process, make sure you turn off all gas appliances and that you‘ve disconnected the caravan’s 240V hookup. You also need to make sure you’ve raised the caravan’s corner steadies and remove the caravan’s chocks unless you’re on a sloped or uneven surface. Finally, before backing up the towing vehicle, raise the hitch using the jockey wheel until it rests just above the height of the towball.

Backing up the tow vehicle

This is best done with two people, one to drive and one to direct. Before reversing, always make sure the driver’s side window is open for easy communication. Once the towing vehicle is lined up, back it up slowly so that the tow bar and the hitch align and are in proximity.

Connecting the caravan

To connect the caravan, first lower the jockey wheel so the coupling locks to the towball. Some caravans have an automatic lock, but others will need the coupling to be locked manually. If your coupling includes a visual locking indicator, be sure to check this to ensure the coupling was successful. If your caravan comes with a hitch stabiliser this should be engaged at this point. You can check the final coupling is secure by attempting to lift the drawbar away from the towball.

Stowing the jockey wheel

Once the weight of the trailer is being supported by the tow coupling, it’s time to stow the jockey wheel. Newer caravans allow you to simply raise the jockey wheel, keeping it out of the way when driving. Older models require the removal of the jockey wheel for storage elsewhere.

Connecting the breakaway cable

Always be sure to connect your breakaway cable if you have one. This will apply the brakes on the caravan should the coupling become disconnected and is an essential safety feature for larger trailers. If your tow bar has a suitable loop, you can use this to connect the cable. If not, loop the cable around the tow bar and clip it to itself. The cable should not be taut during normal driving as this may cause the brakes to trigger while you’re on the road.

Hooking up the electrics

Finally, connect the car electrics to the caravan and ensure they are working. This is a vital final step as, without this electrical connection you won’t have any brake lights, fog lights or indicators, which is illegal.

Modern caravans use a 13-pin twist socket which provides a secure connection between the car and the caravan, though some older models may still use the older 12N and 12S 7-pin double socket configuration.

In both cases, fit the cable to the electrical socket near the tow bar. You should then ask someone to check that your brake lights, both indicators, fog lights and reversing lights are all functioning correctly.

Caravan Hand brake

With everything fully connected, release the trailer handbrake and remove any remaining chocks. You’re now good to go!

Tips for driving when towing a caravan

A car towing a caravan

Towing mirrors

No matter what make or model vehicle, chances are you’ll need to fit towing mirrors. It’s a legal requirement that you can see an area four metres from the side of your caravan 20 metres behind you. When towing, standard car mirrors will have substantial blind spots, making it illegal for you to drive.

There are several types of towing mirrors available on the market, so when buying your towing mirrors, it’s important to look for the “e” marking. This means that the mirrors meet European (EEC 2003/97) or international (UNECE 46.01 or 46.02) regulations.

These mirrors shouldn’t extend over 25 cm beyond the widest part of your towing outfit (that’s your caravan and car combined). For a secure fit, we recommend mirrors that use multiple clamps. Increasing the distance between the two clamps will increase the stability of your mirrors at speed.

Towing speed limits

When towing, you must adhere to special speed limits which differ from those on road signs. These reduced speeds are there to safeguard you and protect other road users.

These towing speed limits are as follows:

  • Motorway – 60 mph instead of 70 mph
  • Dual-Carriageway – 60 mph instead of 70 mph
  • Single-Carriageway – 50 mph instead of 60 mph

Where speed limits under 50 mph apply for normal road users, these also apply to towing vehicles. It also goes without saying that if speed limits have been lowered on faster roads because of an accident or roadworks, then these changes apply to towing vehicles too.

Take a wider driving line on corners

Due to your vehicle’s increased length, you’ll need to take corners a little differently to normal driving. Approach each corner slowly and always give yourself plenty of extra space when turning. This will ensure your caravan stays clear of the curb or any other obstacle it may clip when turning around a corner – especially tight bends.

Give more time when braking and avoid sudden braking

Just as with turning, approach braking slowly and cautiously. Due to the added weight attached to your vehicle, braking will take longer and so give ample time when slowing down. Be sure not to brake too sharply or suddenly.

Snaking and pitching

Snaking and pitching are two of the most feared words in all of caravanning. Snaking is a left and right wobbling of your trailer which, in extreme cases, can drag the towing vehicle around and cause a loss of control. Pitching is where the front of the car moves up and down – causing a seesaw effect. While these may sound scary, they are easy to overcome with careful driving.

The best way to avoid snaking and pitching is to make sure your caravan and towing vehicle are well balanced in terms of weight. If either should occur because of air turbulence due to passing vehicles or crosswinds however, it’s important not to panic. To regain control, take your feet off both pedals and keep steering in a straight line. Don’t apply the brakes or attempt to steer out of the movement as this will only make it worse.

If you’re looking for somewhere great to bring your caravan this year, then why not consider Hardwick Parks? Located just outside the Oxfordshire town of Witney on the edge of the beautiful Cotswolds, Hardwick Parks has onsite fishing, watersports, a clubhouse and more. To learn more, you can visit the Hardwick Parks website by clicking here or by calling 01865 300 501.

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