How to Tow a Caravan: A Step-by-Step Guide

When you’re looking for an excuse to kick back and relax, there’s no better feeling than packing a bag, hitching up your caravan and heading to a beautiful site for some much-needed rest and relaxation.

However, if you’re new to caravanning, the thought of towing a caravan for the first time can be a bit daunting.

To make sure you’re fully prepared to take your caravan on to the open road, we’ve created a fully comprehensive guide filled with key information to help ensure your caravan holiday goes off without a hitch.

Towing licences

Unfortunately, towing a caravan isn’t as simple as hitching up and setting off. Like any motor vehicle, it’s vital that you’re fully trained to operate a caravan before setting out onto the open road. It’s against the law to tow a caravan without the correct license, so obtaining one should be your first step.

1. What licence do you need to tow a caravan?

If you received your driving licence before the end of 1996, you are legally allowed to tow a caravan with your car as long as the combined weight does not exceed 8,250 kg MAM (Maximum Authorised Mass).

Those who passed their driving test after 1st January 1997 can only tow a caravan if the combined weight of the caravan and your vehicle weigh less than 3,500 kg MAM. If you want to tow a heavier caravan, you’ll need to take a category B+E driving test, on top of your standard test (category B).

2. How to get the right license if you don’t have it

Unlike a traditional driving test, a B+E test doesn’t require you to take a theory test and you don’t need to take a minimum number of driving lessons before taking the test.

In order to pass the B+E test and obtain your licence, you’ll need to show that you know the highway code and can drive safely in a number of road and traffic conditions with a trailer.

If you need to book a test in order to tow a caravan, you can do so through the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) website.

Setting up

Once you’ve practised towing a trailer on your B+E test, you’ll understand how important it is to properly prepare for your journeys. Here you’ll find everything you need to know to set up your car and caravan to ensure you travel safely and securely.

1. Caravan weight and car power

Even if you’re experienced at towing, you’ll not get very far if your car isn’t powerful enough to pull your caravan. Thankfully, it’s very easy to figure out if your car is suitable for the job — all you need is two figures:

  1. The kerb weight of your car — You can find this in the owner’s manual. Sometimes it will also be on a plate in the door seal or on the V5 registration document.

  2. The maximum mass of your caravan — This figure is usually listed on a plate near the door frame and in the owner’s handbook. If you can’t find it, the manufacturer should be able to help you.

If the mass of the caravan is 85% or less than your car’s kerb weight, you’ll be able to easily tow it with your vehicle. If the mass is between 85% and 100%, you should only tow it if you’re an experienced caravanner. It’s strongly recommended that you don’t attempt to tow a caravan that weighs more than your car.

2. Towbars

Towbars are attached to the rear of your vehicle and are what’s used to keep the caravan connected to your car. There are two main types of towbars for you to choose from:

  1. Flange towbar

    The most common type of towbar in the UK is the flange. It’s the most versatile towbar and can be used to mount accessories like cycle carriers while towing a caravan. The tow ball is held in place with two 24mm bolts that mount it to the towbar.

  2. Swan towbar

    Swan towbars are the most popular type in Europe but are becoming more common in the UK due to its more appealing design. Its narrow shape creates a sleeker style and is less likely to trigger parking sensors. Swan towbars can also be fitted with attachments like cycle racks, however, not while you’re towing a caravan.

    Whichever type of towbar you choose, it’s important that you make sure it’s manufactured and tested to the European Standard R55. This will not only give you peace of mind that you’re choosing a safe product but it also means it will fit cleanly to all car manufacturer’s specified mounting points.

3. Breakaway cables

In the unlikely event that your caravan becomes detached from your car while you’re driving, breakaway cables ensure the caravan comes to a stop to avoid unnecessary collisions with other motorists — think of it as the emergency brakes of an elevator, which engage in the event that the cable snaps.

Breakaway cables are mandatory in UK law so it’s crucial you fit one. Some towbars have special attachment rings for breakaway cables, but most simply wrap around the towbar. If there are no obvious places to connect it to the towbar, you can loop it around the neck, just make sure there’s sufficient slack — you don’t want to tie it too tight and risk it accidentally engaging the breaks while you’re on the move.

4. Towing mirrors

Another caravan law is to ensure that you have sufficient visibility while driving. As your caravan will obscure the view from your rearview mirror, it’s very important that you install towing mirrors to allow you to see the sides of your caravan and drive safely on the roads.

There are a number of types of mirrors available that can be clamped, strapped or suctioned to your car’s wing mirrors. It doesn’t matter what type of mirror you choose, as long as it provides you with enough visibility to see the full sides of your caravan and allows you to turn and change lanes safely.

Tips for towing on the road

If you’re towing a smaller caravan that doesn’t require a B+E licence, you may not have had much practice at caravanning. To help quell any first-time nerves, here are some tips and advice for towing a caravan safely on the road:

1. Accelerating and braking

Towing a caravan is far different than how you’d usually drive your car. Even if you’re driving the same vehicle you usually would, you’ll need to adjust your driving style while towing.

The additional weight of the caravan means you’ll be moving much slower than usual. Rather than keeping your foot on the floor to speed up, accelerate gently to gradually pick up speed. The weight of the caravan will also make it more difficult to slow down, which means you need to give yourself more time to brake. A good way to remember is to drive as if it’s snowing, giving yourself plenty of time to both accelerate and decelerate.

2. Speed limits

Make sure you’re keeping an eye on your speed, too. Speed limits are reduced for towing vehicles as they’re more dangerous at higher speeds. Never exceed 50 mph on a single carriageway or 60 mph on a dual carriageway when towing a caravan. It’s also illegal to drive in the right-hand lane on a motorway, so stick to the left lane or the central lane if overtaking another motorist.

3. ‘Snaking’

Snaking refers to when a caravan begins to sway from side to side when in motion. It can be a scary situation for new caravanners and can lead to dangerous situations if handled incorrectly.

The best way to avoid snaking is simply to ensure that your vehicle is suitable for towing your intended caravan (see our advice about caravan weight above). Modern caravans are also fitted with electronic and friction stabilisers to help reduce involuntary movement.

Even with these precautions, a big gust of wind or a passing lorry can cause your caravan to snake. In this situation, take both feet off the pedals and allow your car to naturally slow down. Resist the urge to turn your steering wheel to try and correct the movement — as you slow down the snaking will ease off on its own.

4. Pitching

Pitching is a similar situation to snaking, except it’s caused by a vertical movement of the caravan rather than a horizontal one. Vertical instability can cause the front end of the caravan to bounce up and down, resulting in the rear of your car see-sawing up and down as you drive.

Just like snaking, a suitable towing vehicle will help to prevent pitching. If, however, you find this happening to you, simply follow our advice for snaking caravans.

Caravan towing and manoeuvring courses

Although some people won’t need to pass any additional driving tests to tow a caravan, it can be an intimidating situation for those towing for the first time. If you want to get some more experience under your belt before embarking on a long caravan journey, you can sign up to courses to better learn caravan towing and manoeuvring.

Which ones are best

The course you choose depends entirely on your experience and how much you’d like to learn. The Caravan and Motorhome Club and The Camping and Caravanning Club are both respected organisations that offer training courses. From beginners courses to build confidence, courses dedicated to hitching and towing or even B+E licence courses, you can find courses for all abilities.