January 30th, 2020 at 4:38 pm
Before you even contemplate the array of towing possibilities available to you, list out carefully what your key requirements are.
In addition to towing, do you require a vehicle which offers you a lot of carrying capacity? If you are towing a caravan with everything securely stashed inside then you may not have as much of a requirement for space compared to towing a trailer with two horses when you will need to carry saddlery, equipment and feed. That is one of the reasons why 4x4s are so popular with equestrians. Another key point to consider is where you are going. If you are going off-road in potentially wet conditions then 4×4 capability is essential. This might mean a 4×4 for a horsey family but summer touring with a caravan may only require this as an added extra rather than a ‘must-have.’
The key factor is to choose a vehicle which is the correct weight in relation to the weight of what you are towing – the ordinary family car may just not be enough.
The weight of the towing vehicle is the first thing to consider therefore and this is sometimes called, the matching ratio. The Camping and Caravanning Club have loads of useful information on their website and they recommend towing a caravan which weighs no more than 85% of the car’s kerbweight. Kerbweight is defined as the vehicle with the correct levels of oil, brake fluid and coolant and a full tank of fuel plus one person – the driver – at a weight of no greater than 75kg. This is the standard testing used for new vehicles and you should be able to find your car’s kerbweight either in the handbook or online. This information should also tell you the legal limit that a particular car can tow and if it is not contained in either of these locations then check out the sales brochure or the VIN plate. The Vehicle Identification Plate can usually be found on the driver’s door pillar or under the car’s bonnet. The handbook should direct you to the exact location on your particular vehicle.
Consider then a car with five occupants and luggage all ready for the family caravanning holiday, a heavier prospect altogether. Many people do not factor in the weight of the people and goods they carry when it comes to assessing the matching ratio. It would be sensible to look for a car with an appropriate kerbweight plus some extra capacity to reflect the people and goods you may be carrying. Interestingly, what is known as, ‘the 85% rule’ is not a legal requirement but it is certainly not something to ignore as anyone who has towed a caravan down a steep hill with a car insufficient to do the job will testify. But there is more to it than just the weight of your car.
The distance between the front and the rear axle can also influence how well (or not) a car can tow a second vehicle, the control levels within the car are another factor and also whether the car has self-levelling suspension. Organisations like ‘WhatCar’ have useful surveys of towing vehicles which cover the whole gamut of towing situations and not just caravans.
In these days of advanced electronics, you can be sure that there are devices on some vehicles designed to assist the driver with towing safely. Generically, these are called electronic stability systems and they go under different names according to the manufacturer. Look out for Trailer Sway Control, Trailer Stability Programme and Trailer Stability Assist – these are just some of the different features on offer and work along the lines of standard artificial intelligence systems in that they automatically intervene when they sense something isn’t quite right. These electronic programmes can detect instability between the towing vehicle and the trailer or caravan and gently apply the car’s brakes or reduce acceleration to prevent instability or ‘snaking’ which is when the trailer moves violently from side to side. These features are very useful if you tow regularly and should be on your ‘essentials’ list when it comes to looking for a towing vehicle.
Engine capacity is important particularly if you are towing something heavy such as a large fully equipped caravan or a trailer with two big horses on it. This is a real strain on a car that doesn’t have a sufficiently big engine capacity so check out the torque of the vehicle carefully. Torque in simple terms is the force of the car and your car will need enough of it to both pull your caravan or trailer and also stop it. This is especially important if you live in a hilly area or you intend to tow in one.
Diesel engines traditionally have been favoured for towing because of their good torque and they also tend to be heavier vehicles which carry in their favour. As diesel decline in the marketplace, you should review the petrol options carefully and make sure they have enough poke for the job you want them to do.
Four-wheel-drive makes towing so much easier and not just in wet, muddy conditions. Four-wheel-drive distributes torque to all four wheels of the vehicle at the same time so it is easy to see why this would provide a safer and more stable tow than the average front-wheel-drive car. You don’t have to buy a 4×4 but having the option to engage four-wheel-drive in certain driving conditions will make your life much easier. And 4x4s do tend to be heavier which also helps. Once you have chosen your towing vehicle, familiarise yourself with the speed regulations which will apply to you. Reversing is a challenge to be conquered and there is plenty of online advice about this particular problem. Remember, some people need to take a separate trailer towing test. If you passed your driving test after the 1st January 1997 then you can tow a trailer of up to 750kg MAM which means Maximum Authorised Mass and, over 750kg providing the total weight of the trailer and vehicle combined do not exceed 3,500kg.