Is towing a caravan dangerous?

Car towing a caravan

Towing a caravan can have its difficulties, especially if you haven’t done it before. Like anything, the more you do it the easier it becomes but there are things you can do to help reduce the risks.

Can you tow a caravan?

Firstly, you must establish if you are legally permitted to tow. 

If you passed your car driving test on or after 1 January 1997 you can:

  • drive a car or van up to 3,500kg MAM towing a trailer of up to 750kg MAM
  • tow a trailer over 750kg MAM as long as the combined MAM of the trailer and towing vehicle is no more than 3,500kg

Maximum authorised mass (MAM) is the limit on how much the vehicle can weigh when it’s loaded. If you wish to tow anything heavier, you must pass the car and trailer driving test.

If you passed your car test before 1 January 1997 you’re usually allowed to drive a vehicle and trailer combination up to 8,250kg MAM.

What weight can a car tow?

A car’s towing capacity is the maximum weight they can tow. It’s usually listed in places such as the handbook, doorsill or V5 registration document. Towing capacity is the maximum weight a car can tow safely and you should check with your manufacturer.

To try and work out the towing capacity yourself, you need to know two figures: the kerbweight of the car and the maximum mass of the caravan (called ‘maximum technically permissible laden mass’, or MTPLM).

As long as the mass of the caravan is 85% or less of the car’s kerbweight, the car should tow it with no difficulty. However, if the weight of the caravan is between 85% and 100%, caution should be taken, and only people who are experienced with towing should proceed.

If the caravan is heavier than the car, that car should not be used as a towing vehicle. 

What size of caravan can you tow safely?

The maximum width of the caravan (for a standard towing vehicle) is 2.55m, and the maximum length for a trailer towed by a vehicle weighing up to 3,500kg is 7 metres.

Do you have the right tow bar?

If your car does not have an integrated tow bar, you will need to have one fitted.

This needs to be ‘type-approved’, in other words it has to meet EU regulations and be designed for your car.

  • Type-approved tow bars have a label with an approval number and details of the vehicles it’s approved for.
  • If your car was first used before 1 August 1998, your tow bar doesn’t need to be type-approved.

Do you need to use towing mirrors?

You must have clear view of the road behind you when towing a caravan or trailer.

If your caravan is wider than the rear of your car, you should fit suitable towing mirrors, this is a legal requirement.

Have you checked your caravan brakes?

Your caravan must have a working brake system if it weighs over 750kg after it’s been loaded, and brakes must be kept in good working order.

You must also use a breakaway cable or secondary coupling in case the caravan becomes detached from your car.

Driving risks and how to avoid them?

Weight distribution plays an important role in the stability of your caravan.  If you fail to load your caravan correctly, it may cause it to sway or yaw. 

It is recommended to load the heavier items directly over the axle, with the medium to lighter items at the front and back of the caravan.

Loss of control could be caused by driving on uneven terrain, wind, overload or imbalanced loading.

Before you set-off

When you leave home or a campsite, it is important to remember to:

  1. Turn off the gas at the cylinder;
  2. Empty the fresh and waste-water containers;
  3. Check the caravan’s windows and roof lights are closed;
  4. Internal doors and cupboards are closed;
  5. Loads are safely secured and the external door is locked;
  6. Test indicators, break lights are fully functioning and so on.

These are just a few tips to overcome the dangers of towing a caravan but proper planning and preparing is essential to make your journey easier, safer and stress free.