Caravan holidays can be so much fun. The open road, the ability to pick any destination, the caravan community. It really is a Great British pastime that has to be tried by all.
But if you're new to towing caravans, then the thought of pulling a 1000kg load down a dual carriageway can be a tad overwhelming.
No doubt you're thinking:
"Can I tow a caravan on my license?", "Where can I learn to tow a caravan?", and "What do you need to tow a caravan?".
To help you tow safely, we've put together this complete guide. Detailing what you need to know about caravan towing, this guide covers a range of caravan towing tips that will have you towing a caravan in no time.
Can I tow a caravan?
The rules on what you can tow are quite straightforward. However, there are different rules depending on when you passed your driving test.
Licences issued from 1 January 1997
If you passed your car driving test on or after 1 January 1997 you can:
- Drive a car or van up to 3,500kg maximum authorised mass (MAM)
- Tow a trailer over 750kg MAM as long as the combined weight (MAM) of the trailer and towing vehicle is no more than 3,500kg
MAM stands for 'maximum authorised mass'. This is the complete weight of the car, trailer (caravan) and the trailer contents combined.
Unfortunately, it is unlikely that your caravan and car's maximum authorised mass is less than 3500kg. In this case, you will need to pass the car and trailer driving test.
Licences issued before 1 January 1997
If you passed your car test before 1 January 1997 you can:
- Drive a vehicle and trailer combination of up to 8,250kg MAM. View your driving licence information to check
- Drive a minibus with a trailer over 750kg MAM
If you want to drive anything heavier than 8,250kg, then you will need to complete an additional test.
Car and trailer driving test
If your license was issued after 1 January 1997 and you would like to tow a caravan with a maximum authorised mass above 3,500kg, then you will need to pass additional driver training.
Fortunately, if you have been driving for a few years, then this test is quite straightforward. The test analyses the skills, knowledge and understanding you need to be a safe and responsible driver of a car and caravan. Specifically, can you:
- Prepare yourself, the vehicle, and passengers for a journey
- Guide and control the vehicle
- Use the road in accordance with The Highway Code
- Drive safely and responsibly in the traffic system
- Review and adjust driving behaviour over a lifetime
If you are worried about taking the test, then we would encourage you to take advantage of caravan day courses. Helping you drive in a straight line, these centres can usually have you up to speed in just one training course.
What can my car tow? (weight)
Making sure you can legally tow your caravan is vital. Failure to correctly match the weight of car and caravan is an easy way to end up with a large fine, points on your licence or worse... a big crash.
To figure out what your car can tow, you can either use the VIN plate method or you can use a dedicated online calculator.
VIN Plate Method
The maximum towing capacity for each vehicle is set by the vehicle manufacturer. This information can be found on the Vehicle Identification Plate (VIN plate). The VIN plate can usually be found under the bonnet or on a door pillar.
It contains 4 lines of numbers:
- 1st Line - 2500kg - Gross Vehicle Weight
- 2nd Line - 4800kg - Gross Train Weight
- 3rd Line - 1250kg - Maximum front axle load
- 4th Line - 1300kg - Maximum rear axle load
The maximum towing capacity can be calculated by subtracting the gross vehicle weight from the gross train weight.
If the weight in the 1st and 2nd line are identical or line 2 doesn't contain a value, then your towing capacity is zero kg.
This means that your car manufacturer has concluded that your car is not capable of towing.
Dedicated Tow Match Calculator
If you find that method a little complicated, you can use a dedicated caravan tow match calculator provided by a third-party service.
These calculators have a catalogue of VIN plate numbers stored in their memory, and you can easily discover your car's towing capacity in a few clicks.
However, there is a small fee for using these services and there have been reports that they are not always 100% accurate on obscure car models.
What can my car tow? (width and length)
Now you have figured out what your car can tow in weight, it's also important to consider what your car can tow in width and length.
These are the two main rules:
- The maximum towing width is 2.55 metres
- The maximum towing length is 7 metres
Unfortunately, there is no third-party service that can give you these figures. You will need to access a vehicle manual and calculate the overall width and length. Alternatively, you can perform a double check using a tape measure.
What is the legality of towing a caravan?
Alongside the obvious licencing and weight rules, you will also find that there is a variety of other laws that you must adhere to when towing a caravan. These include:
- All towbars must meet type approved EU regulations. All towbars sold by Witter Towbars are type approved and are specifically designed for your vehicle
- Do not exceed the 50mph speed limit on a single carriageway
- Do not exceed the 60mph speed limit on dual carriageways
- Never carry passengers in a caravan while driving
- Your number plate and registration number must be clearly displayed at the rear of your caravan
- Your rear lights must be working and visible. Double check all your vehicle lights before driving
- Any caravan over 750kg must have a working brake system
How do I load a caravan correctly?
Packing your caravan correctly is the key to towing as safely as possible. Failure to place heavy and light objects in the right area can lead to an unbalanced load and is one of the number one causes of snaking.
Follow these rules:
- Secure heavy loads low down and over the axles
- Do not place heavy items at the very front or rear of the caravan
- Do not drive with full water or waste tanks (the water will move when driving and can cause snaking)
Use this graphic as guidance:
Where can I learn to tow a caravan?
Towing a caravan is not difficult, but it can be quite intimidating. If you are worried about towing, then it's probably best to get at least one lesson.
You can learn the basics of manoeuvring the caravan, mirrors, preparing the caravan and the importance of electronic stabilisers. This will provide you with so much more confidence when jumping in the driving seat.
So, where can you get behind the wheel?
You will also be able to find local caravan driving instructors in your area.
Does towing a caravan affect my insurance?
Your car insurance will cover your car, but it will not cover your caravan. You will need to purchase a separate caravan insurance policy to cover any damage caused to your caravan in the event of an accident.
Please note: It is not a legal requirement to have caravan insurance. Your car insurance will still cover third-party damage to another vehicle.
It is also worth noting that fitting a towbar can also affect how your car insurance premium is calculated. Fitting a towbar is classified as a car modification so it is important that you notify your insurance provider about this change to your vehicle.