If you've never caravanned before
then you may be surprised just how much there is to learn. Help is
always available through this website or by e-mail. Here are some
of the most common items I get asked about. If you think I've missed
something important then please let me know!
How do I know which
caravans I can safely tow?
|This is the single most
common question I am asked by potential newcomers. The answer is normally
straightforward and it's all down to weight. Basically the caravan should
NEVER be heavier than the towcar and beginners should observe a limit
of 85%. This means the weight of the caravan, including all the items
you put on board should not exceed 85% of the weight of the towcar.
As you become more experienced at towing you can move nearer to the
100% limit but you will need to exercise extra care as the outfit will
be less stable.
other than the weight of the towcar and caravan apply. This is where
the towcar or its tow bracket cannot take the likely noseweight of the
caravan (see item below).
|To calculate the weight
of your caravan start with its mass in running order (MRO), which you
should be able to get from the handbook, and add to it the weight of
everything you have put on board. When loading your van never exceed
the van's maximum authorised weight (MAW) or from 1999, the technically
permissible laden mass (MTPLM). This is the maximum weight the van's
suspension is designed to cope with. It is illegal to exceed it. If
you have any doubts about the weight of your outfit then pop along to
your nearest public weighbridge and check it out properly.
To help you through the maze of statistics
most caravan dealers subscribe to the Towsafe scheme. This is a computer
database containing details of thousands of car and caravan weights
which can quickly tell you whether a particular outfit is a good match
or not. The scheme is also open to readers of Practical Caravan Magazine
who were one of the original sponsors.
What is nose weight,
and how important is it?
|A caravan's noseweight is the down
force exerted on the caravan hitch by the weight of the caravan. It
is important for two reasons. Firstly your towcar' towing bracket and
rear suspension have to be able to handle it, and secondly most caravans
tow best with a nose weight of about 7% of the caravan's laden weight.
In practice this means a noseweight which is generally between 50 and
Your car's handbook should give information
on maximum nose weights and provided the figure equates to 7% or more
of the caravan's laden weight there should not be a problem. Beware
that some early Land Rover Discoveries had noseweight limits of just
50 kg - a very low figure for a vehicle of this type. Caravan manufacturers
often quote a noseweight limit too - check this is compatible with
the 7% recommendation.
The simplest way to check the nose
weight of your caravan is to use bathroom scales. All you need to
do is to level the van and insert one end of a piece of wood into
the hitch with the other end resting on a flat piece of wood to spread
its weight on the scales. Make sure that the van is level and that
the steadies are clear of the ground then read off the noseweight
on the scales. If the noseweight is excessive then consider what heavy
items you have loaded forward of the axle. Normal culprits are gas
bottles, spare wheels, second batteries and full water tanks (where
fitted). Gas bottles and spare batteries can be carried upright in
the towcar, whilst spare wheels can be carried on a special carrier
behind the axle of the caravan. You should never travel with a full
Do not be tempted to reduce noseweight
by placing heavy objects at the rear of your caravan. To do so would
give rise to a pendulum effect which would destabilise the outfit
and make any snaking very difficult to control. How high should my
tow hitch be when towing?
The golden rule here is that the caravan
should be either level or slightly nose down. It should never be nose
high as this will lead to instability. In practice this means a height
of around 350 - 420mm (13.8 - 16.6") to the centre of the ball
when laden. Tow brackets are designed such that the towball should
fall within these limits.
If the noseweight of your outfit is
fine but the towcar's rear suspension is low when towing you may be
able to fit some form of spring assister. Caravan dealers often stock
How do I choose
a towing bracket?
|There are two basic designs of tow
bracket. Firstly there are those designed to take a standard British
bolt-on towball. These have the advantage that you can also bolt on
other items such a a plate for a stabiliser or a bike rack bracket.
Secondly there are the continental 'swan neck' types. These can look
much neater and quite often the 'swan neck' is quickly detachable to
smarten the look of the tow vehicle when not towing. You can purchase
stabiliser brackets for 'swan neck' brackets but the resulting effect
can look quite messy.
Because modern cars are made with
special front and rear crumple zones there are only a few points strong
enough to take the mounting of a towbar. For this reason the design
of the towbar is critical. Indeed cars registered from 1st August
1998 must, by law, only be fitted with tow bars which have been tested
to the EU 94/20 Directive.
If you decide to fit a towbar yourself
then purchase only a reputable make and follow the instructions meticulously.
If your car was registered after 1st August 1998 make sure the towbar
has the necessary type approval rating. For cars registered before
this date the British Standard BS AU 1 14b is acceptable.
If you decide to have your tow bracket
professionally fitted then look for a company that's a member of the
National Trailer and Towing Association's (NTTA's) new Quality Secured
scheme. These companies are subject to independent checks and have
to conform to the NTTA's code of practice. To find out more about
the scheme and view a list of current members log on to http://www.ntta.co.uk/
As a general rule tow brackets supplied
by car manufacturers tend to be much more expensive than those supplied
by independent manufacturers such as Witter or Dixon Bate.
Do I need a stabiliser?
|If you always have a well matched and
balanced outfit and always drive sensibly then the strict answer is
no. Having said that I would still recommend the fitting of a stabiliser
especially for those new to towing. There are two basic reasons for
this. The first is that if you do get into a situation where you have
to swerve to avoid a collision then the presence of a stabiliser will
reduce the tendency for you to lose control of the outfit. Secondly
in normal towing, particularly on motorways, the outfit will be less
susceptible to the bow waves of overtaking vehicles.
There is a bewildering array of stabilisers
available for aftermarket fitting. The most popular type in the Club
is the blade type. They are relatively inexpensive to buy and perform
well in most conditions provided they are correctly adjusted. An article
on stabilisers is planned for the future.
How often should
I change my caravan tyres?
|The generally accepted maximum is every
five years. If the tyres do not spend extensive periods carrying the
weight of the van without rotating and are removed for the winter months,
then this period may be extended up to an absolute maximum of seven
What are Tyron
|Tyron bands are steel
bands which fit inside the well in a vehicle wheel. They are designed
to provide increased safety and a limited run-on capability in the event
of a tyre deflation. Basically the Tyron band ensures that the tyre
remains on the wheel rim. This prevents tyre flail and stops the rim
coming into contact with the road. The overall effect is to confer a
greater degree of stability to the vehicle and to give the driver the
opportunity to stop in a controlled way and at a place suitable for
changing the wheel.
If Tyron bands have been fitted to
your caravan or towcar you should find an advisory sticker near to
the tyre valve. In the event of you needing a new tyre the Tyron band
has to be removed by the tyre fitter to allow the tyre to be changed.
This is a simple process involving the use of a long handled Allen
key which is normally supplied with the bands.
Do I need a repeater
device in the car to tell me the caravan flashers are working OK?
In a word yes, this is a legal requirement.
The device can be either a warning buzzer or a repeater light clearly
visible to the driver. Towbar wiring kits normally contain suitable
devices. The lamps should flash 60-120 times per minute. If yours
seem a little slow or dim try starting the towcar's engine. The extra
voltage supplied by the car's alternator can make a big difference
Can I tow with
|Cars fitted with automatic
transmission can make superb towcars. The torque multiplying effect
of the torque converter helps to give smooth takeoffs especially when
starting on hills or in muddy conditions. Also automatic gear changes
reduce the stress on both the driver and the towcar. There are a couple
of points to bear in mind though. The first is that you will need an
oil cooler for the gearbox oil. Some vehicles, particularly 4x4's, have
them fitted as standard anyway. The second point is that the power loss
in the gearbox will be more noticeable when towing.