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Weights and Measures

Matching a car to a caravan may look daunting, but follow these few simple guidelines and you'll have that match made in heaven.

At the risk of stating the obvious, weight is a big factor in making a successful match between car and caravan. Yes, the towcar's power and torque are important, but here we will concentrate on weight.

First off, you could be forgiven for being confused. For example, it's not uncommon for car manufacturers to set different towing limits for the same car, based on gradients: 1900kgs on hills up to 8 per cent (1 - in - 12) and 1700kg for gradients up to 12 per cent (1-in-8). Different figures are quoted for manual and automatic transmissions.

Another important factor is a car's designated gross train weight (GTW) - the combined laden weight of the outfit. Disregarding the towing limit would result in an invalidated warranty on a new car, but exceeding the caravan's maximum laden weight or the outfit's GTW may result in prosecution. Both could also compromise your insurance so check the weight in your car handbook.

The best outfit would be the heaviest, most powerful car towing the lightest caravan; the reverse would create the worst. The aim is to achieve the best power-to-weight ratio so you can get the most pleasure from your caravan and maximum economy from your car.

"When it comes to outfit matching, you want the best
power-to-weight ratio that is possible"

Pressures on car makers have resulted in cars becoming lighter. This chipping away at towcar weight has put pressure on outfit matching. Traditionally, the method of matching a car to a caravan has been to compare the car's kerbweight and the caravan's maximum gross weight. The latter has now been redefined as the maximum technically permissible laden mass (MTPLM) by EC law. The load margin is now split up into three areas: Essential Habitation Equipment Payload, Personal Effects Payload and Optional Equipment Payload.

The 85% guideline is generally recommended for beginners. This industry recommendation restricts the laden weight of the caravan to 85% of the towcar's kerbweight. For the more experienced tower the industry recommendation is that the laden weight of the caravan does not exceed 100% of the car's kerbweight. This is not the law but it is good advice. Outfits in which the caravan outweighs the car are definitely not recommended.

These guidelines to outfit matching are based on the caravan having its own overrun braking system, working in tandem with the towcar's brakes. It's taken for granted now but, if you're buying secondhand, check that the van is "braked". The weight limit for towing an unbraked trailer is 750kg fully laden, or 50 per cent of the towcar's kerbweight - whichever is less. Manufacturers' limits may also apply.

If in doubt visit Out and About Live to use their Towmatch Guide and to find out more about towing safely.