The days are now longer, warmer – and sunnier. Our thoughts have turned to getting away from it all, excited at the prospect of waking to a new view somewhere else – perhaps in a friendly B&B, a local hotel, or a quaint holiday cottage, hidden down a narrow winding lane beneath the trees. There are those though who prefer roughing it in a tent, and getting truly back to nature – and there are those who prefer the luxury of a caravan, with plug in power, air conditioning and flush loo – and the added tow truck option of changing your view as often as you wish.
No-one knows exactly how many caravans there are in the UK. I do know I have followed a great many of them on their way to the beautiful New Forest; and it’s not just caravans you’ll follow, but locals moving their horses and livestock; boats of all sizes, camping trailers, and smaller trailers filled to brimming with all those essentials needed for a comfortable holiday.
With such a wide selection of towing vehicles and things to tow – and besieged with a plethora of rules and regulations – some mere common sense, the remainder based on an age of experience, all have a common and very important purpose – safety.
There appears though a great difficulty in finding the answers to many of those dictates. Anyone with a vehicle, and a means of attaching a trailer to it, can tow. Clear the accumulated rubbish from your garden – chuck it in the trailer – and head to the local tip – but when did you last check the serviceability of its mechanical components, or consider the weight you have packed behind you – or even checked if your licence is valid to tow in the first place. Well here are a few useful tips.
In researching this article I visited a local caravan and trailer dealer – posing as a potential and very enthusiastic customer. I wanted something suitable for my family holidays – perhaps quite large; four wheels at least – plenty of space to lounge about in, and a proper bathroom – I don’t do ‘slumming it’ I advised her.
She looked at my little suburban car, then back at me with a resigned look on her face – “I have a much larger one at home,” I said sheepishly. “You will have to – try towing with that and you’ll cause mayhem” – apparently this year everyone’s staying closer to home; they’re all out buying huge caravans – it’s going to be caravan gridlock out there. I have to say, she did warm to my apparent ignorance, and was an encyclopedic source of knowledge – if there is something I would like to pass on to anyone, it’s – talk to someone who knows more than you think you do. It gives you a safer margin.
Whether you are new to towing, or an old hand, rules change from time to time and it’s all too easy to fall foul of the law if you’ve not done your homework.
Towing is more than just hitching something to the back of your vehicle and hitting the road. Trailers and caravans are parked for most of the year, and often expected to be instantly roadworthy, it’s not until you look in your mirror and see plumes of smoke and shards of rubber littering the road you may realise the tyre could have done with a bit more air. Tyres will deteriorate quickly when not used and it’s important to have them checked regularly. Even the bearings inside the wheel hubs can lose their effectiveness, and brakes can seize too, so have them checked at the same time.
Speed limits whilst towing are lower than usual for obvious reasons, with a maximum of 50 mph on single carriageways and 60 mph on both dual carriageways and motorways. Also like other large vehicles on the motorway, you are restricted to using the two slower lanes.
It’s important you do not tow something heavier than your car can handle reasonably under normal driving conditions. The standard rule of thumb is 85% of the cars unladen weight, which is listed in your owners manual. Mine for example weighs a rather portly 1950 kg, therefore the largest weight towable is around 1600 kg.
Anyone who passed their car test before the 1st January 1997, is entitled to drive a vehicle and trailer combination up to 8250 kg. After this date, the maximum combined weight is 3500 kg, unless you first pass an additional test to qualify for category B+E – in both cases it’s important to note that the trailer weight must not exceed that of the towing vehicle. License regulations are quite complex – so go to dvla.gov.uk for the latest information or call them on 0115 901 2515 / 6.
If you own or are thinking of buying a modern trailer or caravan, it will be fitted with the latest 13-pin Euro socket which powers all your lighting and battery powered appliances. In the past you will probably have had a 7 or 8-pin socket, which only provided for your lighting requirements; a separate 7-pin socket was needed for your caravans 12V electrical comforts – the interior lighting, small but handy fridge and essential sockets for the travel hair dryer. It is important to check your tow vehicle is wired similarly to your trailer or caravan.
Do you have sufficient insurance, it’s important, so call your broker and find out, and do you have a TV licence for your caravan? Well providing you have one registered at your home address, you are ok.
Though towing is not difficult, it does require more attention, after all you may at least have doubled the normal length of your vehicle, so allow twice the margin of error when braking and taking bends – be alert, don’t rush, arrive safely and enjoy your well earned break.
Copyright: Simon Lawrence
Simon Lawrence is a professional writer and photographer; he also lectures in photography and photoshop skills in higher education.