Top 10 Tips for Towing a Caravan for the First Time
You’ve taken the plunge and bought yourself your first caravan, but now it’s time to hit the road. Towing a caravan for the first time can feel like a bit of a daunting prospect, but once you know what you’re doing it becomes second nature. Most drivers can become confident behind the wheel of a car and caravan towing outfit relatively quickly when they’re properly packed and prepared. In this blog we have gathered 10 top tips to help you prepare for towing your caravan for the first time so you too can feel confident when you hit the road.
By the end of this blog you will know how to load your caravan correctly through to what to do if your caravan starts snaking or pitching.
Tips For Towing A Caravan
1. Ensure you have the correct driver's licence
Before you get behind the wheel of any towing outfit, it’s important to make sure you’re legally entitled to do so.
If you passed your driving test before January 1997 your licence should allow you to tow up 8,250kg. However, if you passed your driving test after 1st January 1997 you are only allowed to tow up to 3,500kg. This weight is the towing vehicle and caravan combined Maximum Authorised Mass (MAM) weight. Find out more about the new caravan towing rules that came into effect in 2021.
2. Fill up with petrol BEFORE you hitch your caravan
This may seem like a small one, but it can be tricky to manoeuvre a car and caravan into the right position at a fuel pump even for an experienced caravan tower. Try and remember to fill your car up before you hitch up and set off. This will save you a potentially stressful situation at a busy petrol station, especially if you are new to towing.
3. Load your caravan correctly
Loading your caravan in the correct way can help with stability whilst you’re on the road, so it’s important to get it right. Get your heaviest items loaded into your caravan first, load them low down and close to the axle. Next, load on your medium weight items, these should also be loaded as low down as you can get them but these can be a little more spread out than the heavier items. Your lightest items can be loaded into your caravan last, light items are the only things that should be stored in the overhead lockers whilst you’re driving. It’s important to make sure that everything in the caravan is secure and that nothing will be sliding around while you’re on the road.
4. Check the weight of your caravan
While loading your caravan, you’ll need to make sure that you haven’t exceeded the weight restrictions. Check your caravan’s specifications list for the maximum load weight and, if you can, aim to load it under this. You might need to weigh the items you’re loading as you go, which sounds like a bit of a chore the first time you do it. But you’ll only need to weigh the items that’ll come with you on every trip once, just make a note of their weight for next time. Life can be made a little easier if you have a public weighbridge nearby, make use of this.
5. Make sure you have good visibility
Your car’s wing mirrors alone will not offer a good enough view of the full length of your towing vehicle. It’s a legal requirement to ensure you have a good view to the rear of your towing unit, and it’ll make your journey much easier - especially if you’ll be driving on dual carriageways and motorways. So you will need to invest in and fit extension mirrors to your wing mirrors before you set off on your first trip. Extension mirrors are readily available and are very easy to fit and to remove quickly when you are not towing. Check out our caravan accessory shop for our range of extension mirrors.
6. Time your first towing trip when the roads are quieter
When you’re heading out on your first few trips towing your caravan, it’s a good idea to wait until the roads are quieter to head off on your journey. This will allow you the time and space to gain your confidence in towing your caravan, without the pressure of lots of other road users around you. You’ll want to avoid rush hour traffic when people are in a hurry to get to work or to drop the kids off at school. You’ll also want to avoid bank holidays and the days over the Easter and Christmas breaks when people tend to be travelling on the road.
If you don’t have a choice and will have to travel during a busy time, head out and get some practice in when the roads are quieter. This will help you remain calm and confident in your driving even when traffic is heavy.
7. Take it slowly
Now you’re on the road and feeling good. But make sure you take it slow and steady and don’t feel pressured by other drivers to go at a speed out of your comfort zone. If you find that traffic is building up behind you, find a safe spot to pull over and let the traffic pass. Have plenty of breaks, stopping more often than you would if you were just driving your car and for longer. You’ll be concentrating harder than you would be usually, so be wary of how tired you’re feeling. If you’re on a long trip, share the driving if possible or consider stopping for the night at a campsite halfway to your destination. After all, you won’t need to think about accommodation.
8. Take extra care at junctions
When towing a long vehicle, such as a caravan, you need to take corners a little more widely than you would in just your car due to the extra length of your towing outfit. Failing to do so could result in you clipping the kerb with your caravan’s wheels, which could throw you off balance. Or you could end up bumping the side of your caravan on a sign or wall close to the corner. Take it slowly, it might mean a little wait until there’s no traffic coming from either direction.
9. Know what to do if your caravan begins snaking or pitching
Caravan snaking is when the caravan sways laterally behind a car. This can become violent enough to drag the rear of the tow car with it and the driver can lose control in extreme cases. Pitching is when the from of the caravan moves up and down. This can also pull the rear of the tow car around. You’ll want to avoid both of these things from happening if possible. The best way to do this is to have a well-matched towing outfit and to load your caravan correctly. Many modern caravans have stabilisers fitted which will help as long as your caravan and tow car are well-matched. However, even if you take precautions, snaking and pitching can still happen. For example, you might find yourself in a particularly strong crosswind or the turbulence caused by a passing lorry might catch your caravan and cause it to snake or pitch.
If this does happen, avoid the instinct to brake or to steer out of it which can make the snaking or pitching worse. Keep steering in a straight line and take your feet off the pedals.
10. Go on a course
If you’re feeling very nervous about the prospect of towing a caravan for the first time, there are courses available to help build your confidence. For example, the Camping and Caravanning Club offer a range of courses that cover everything from hitching up to maneuvering around tricky corners to reversing. Some of the big caravan shows sometimes offer the opportunity to try towing with an instructor on hand to advise.
While towing a caravan might seem a little scary at first, there’s lots you can do to make the experience easier and to build your confidence behind the wheel. Make sure your towing outfit is well-matched, get a bit of practice in, load your caravan correctly and take it steady. As with most things, the better prepared you are, the easier it will be. Follow the tips above and you’ll be comfortable towing a caravan in no time.