| Health and Lifestyle
Exploring with a caravan offers you the freedom to travel anywhere, at any time, and you can even take your home comforts right along with you.
However, as seasoned caravaners will know, there’s a lot more to towing a caravan than you may think. If you’re considering investing in a caravan to enjoy some more time on the open road or want to pick up a few pointers for your next trip away, our guide on how to tow a caravan has everything you need to know about packing, preparing and towing a caravan or trailer safely and legally.
Depending on when you passed your driving test and the size of your caravan or trailer, you may already have the correct licence:
|If you passed your test before 1st January 1997, you’re generally allowed to drive a car and trailer with a combined Maximum Authorised Mass (MAM)* of up to 8250 kg.||
If you passed your test from 1st January 1997, you will be able to tow caravans and trailers with a MAM* of up to 3500 kg. This policy change came into place on 16th December 2021 and means you’ll get category B+E automatically added to your driving licence when you next apply for a new one.
If you want to tow a heavier caravan or trailer, you’ll need to apply for a provisional licence for a medium-sized lorry and trailer category (C1+E), then pass the lorry theory test and the C1+E practical driving test. You can find out more about car and trailer licences on the GOV.UK website.
Once you reach the age of 70, your driving licence will expire and you will need to renew your licence every three years if you want to continue driving. However, if you already hold the B+E licence category prior to your licence expiry, you will retain the entitlement when your licence is renewed.
It’s important to find out whether your car is up to the task of towing. If the caravan or trailer is over a certain weight – relative to the weight of the towing car – it won’t be safe, or legal, to tow.
To calculate your car’s towing capacity, you’ll need to know the car’s kerb weight, the total weight of the car minus passengers, fuel and any cargo, and the caravan or trailer’s Maximum Technically Possible Laden Mass (MTPLM), the maximum weight it can be loaded to before it becomes unsafe to tow. Both can be found in the car and caravan’s registration documents.
It’s recommended that the MTPLM should not be more than 85% of the kerb weight, otherwise it will be difficult to tow. Only drivers that are experienced in towing should attempt to tow caravans or trailers with an MTPLM of between 85% and 100% of the kerb weight of the car, as heavier caravans and trailers are much harder to control on the roads. If the towing caravan or trailer is heavier than the car, then it shouldn’t be used as a towing vehicle.
When packing your caravan for your upcoming trip, it’s important to load it carefully. To ensure your caravan is as stable as possible, you’ll need to ensure the weight is centred around the axel, with the heaviest items placed lower down in the centre of the caravan and lighter items towards the front and back.
Packing your caravan correctly will provide you with better control of your vehicle while out on the roads. In fact, if your towing car and caravan are not well-matched in terms of weight, or are not loaded properly, you may experience snaking or pitching: terms used to describe the movements caused by the imbalanced weight of the caravan and the car.
When the swaying of the caravan becomes too excessive, and the weight of the caravan begins to drag the tow car, this is known as ‘snaking’, while ‘pitching’, is when the front of the caravan moves up and down and causes the rear of the tow car to pull around like a seesaw.
While air turbulence from an HGV can sometimes cause the caravan to drag the tow car, the best way to avoid snaking and pitching is to pack your caravan correctly and ensure the weight is properly balanced.
Here are a few handy tips to remember:
There are car weight allowances for both cars and caravans, and calculating how much your vehicles can carry will determine how much luggage you can load into your caravan and towing car before they become unroadworthy.
MAM* is the maximum amount of weight a car can carry without damaging the car’s suspension or compromising the effectiveness of the brakes or handing. You can find the MAM for your car in your V5C registration document along with your car’s kerb weight.
You can calculate how much luggage you can load into your tow car using the following:
Maximum Authorised Mass (MAM) - kerb weight = car weight allowance
The Maximum Technically Possible Laden Mass (MTPLM) is the maximum weight your caravan be loaded to, this will be provided by your caravan manufacturer.
The best way to find out how much weight you can load in your caravan is by weighing your caravan at a public weighbridge. You can then calculate the maximum amount you can load in your caravan using the following:
Maximum Technically Possible Laden Mass (MTPLM) – caravan’s weighbridge weight = caravan weight allowance
Quick tips for reducing your caravan's weight
If you're finding that your caravan is a little on the heavy side, here are some top tips for keeping the weight down:
To ensure your caravan is stable and safe to tow, it’s important to know how to calculate your caravan’s nose weight. You will also need to know how to adjust the nose weight if you need to.
The nose weight is the force exerted on your car’s tow ball, and if the nose weight is too much, it can weigh down the car’s rear suspension. Putting too much pressure on the towing car’s rear tyres will mean there is not enough grip on the front tyres, and it could cause the car’s headlights to become angled upwards and above the legal height.
On the other hand, if the downwards weight is too little, there won’t be enough grip on the car’s tyres and the weight of the caravan could even elevate the rear of the car when travelling uphill.
Your caravan’s nose weight should be approximately 7% of its laden weight. This means that a caravan with a laden weight of 1400kg will have a recommended nose weight of 98kg.
You can measure your caravan’s nose weight using a spring-loaded or electronic nose weight gauge, which can be attached directly onto the tow ball of the towing car, or by using a set of bathroom scales. If you’re using bathroom scales, you should lay a length of wood across the scales to spread the weight.
Next, place a short length of broomstick under the hitch head and onto the plank before winding the jockey wheel up so that the weight of the hitch is fully on the scales. It’s important to ensure the hitch is level on the scales, as if your caravan is tilted forwards or backwards, you may end up with an inaccurate nose weight reading.
If your nose weight is too light or too heavy, you’ll need to rearrange some of the weight in the caravan, move some items into the towing car or leave anything which you don’t need at home.
Recommended types of tow car based on average caravan nose weights
Different types of car are more suitable for towing caravans with heavier nose weights. Here are the recommended car types based on average nose weights:
If you’re travelling outside the UK, you’ll also need to ensure you have travel insurance. If you’re a regular caravaner, it may be worth taking out an annual multi-trip policy.
If you’re new to towing a caravan or trailer, or just want to pick up a few pointers for your next road trip, here are our top tips for driving safely and confidently when you’re out on the roads:
There’s a lot more to towing a caravan or trailer than you may think. Hopefully, we’ve provided you with a few useful tips for preparing for your next trip away.
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