Important Safety Checks to Make Before Towing Your Caravan

In Towsure Outdoors Blog 0 comment

Caravanning is a fantastic way to explore the country and enjoy a wonderful vacation. However, it's crucial to ensure that your caravan is safe and legal to tow before embarking on your journey. In this blog post, we'll discuss the important safety checks you should conduct before towing your caravan. These safety checks include verifying the vehicle towing capacity, checking off the safety checklist when towing a caravan, and meeting the legal requirements for safe and legal towing.

A car towing a caravan past a field of oil seed rape

Vehicle Towing Capacity

When planning to set off towing a caravan, it's crucial to understand your vehicle's towing capacity and load rating to ensure safe and legal driving. Perform thorough safety checks before departure on the tyres, coupling head, braking system, lighting and overall condition of your caravan. Additionally, check all brakes and lighting on the tow car, ensure all tyres are correctly inflated, and that all fluids are at their correct levels. A properly prepared outfit can avoid disappointing or dangerous breakdowns, avoid fines and ensure a successful journey.

Understanding How Much Weight a Vehicle Can Tow Safely

Going on a caravanning holiday is an exciting experience, but it's important to take the time to understand how much weight your vehicle can tow safely. Before towing your caravan, there are some important safety checks you should make to ensure that you remain safe and legal on the road.

The first step is identifying the towing capacity of your vehicle. This rating will tell you how much weight your car can safely tow (including any load carried in the caravan). Make sure not to exceed this limit, or you risk damaging other parts of the car, as well as potentially causing a collision.

How to Find Your Vehicle's Towing Capacity

Going on a caravanning holiday is an exciting experience, but it's important to take the time to understand how much weight your vehicle can tow safely. Before towing your caravan, there are some important safety checks you should make to ensure that you remain safe and legal on the road.

The first step is identifying the towing capacity of your vehicle. This rating will tell you how much weight your car can safely tow (including any load carried in the caravan). Make sure not to exceed this limit, or you risk damaging other parts of the car, as well as potentially causing a collision.

How to Find Your Vehicle's Towing Capacity

The towing capacity for your specific vehicle can be found by checking your car's VIN plate (Vehicle Identification Number Plate). This is usually found under the car's bonnet or on a door pillar visible with the door opened and is usually a metal plate affixed to the bodywork. Your vehicle handbook should show you the location of the VIN plate. This is the most reliable figure for your specific vehicle, as different models and specifications may have different weight capacities - for this reason, don't rely on websites, internet forums and word of mouth, especially not of the type "My friend Fred towed X caravan with Y car for years and never had any bother". If authorities have any reason to check your outfit, the VIN plate figure is what they will use to verify that you are towing within safe and legal limits.

The VIN plate will have 3 or 4 rows of weights in kg printed or stamped on it.

  • The first number is the Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) - This is the maximum weight of your vehicle, fully laden, including driver & passengers, load and fuel.
  • The second number is the Gross Vehicle Train Weight (GTW) - This is the combined maximum allowable mass of the laden vehicle plus the laden caravan or trailer being towed

To establish the towing capacity of your car, subtract the top line (GVW) from the second line (GTW) - this figure gives the maximum allowable weight that your caravan or trailer - INCLUDING LOAD - can be. The caravan, when loaded, MUST NOT exceed this figure - to do so is illegal and can be highly dangerous.

Kerbweight & The 85% Rule

A widely accepted, unofficial, rule is the "85% rule". For those new to caravanning, it is generally recommended to keep the weight of the laden caravan within a maximum of 85% of the car's maximum capacity. This makes the outfit easier to handle. A vehicle's "Kerbweight" is not a plated weight found on your VIN plate, but is a phrase used to describe the vehicle with all fluids and fuel, but without any load or passengers. For the 85% rule, the "Mass In Service" figure given on the car's V5 registration document, is an accurate enough guide.

As long as your caravan, when laden, is equal to or lower than 85% of the "Mass In Service" figure, then your car should tow it without difficulty. If the weight of your caravan is between 85% and 100% of the Mass In Service figure, then it this outfit is recommended only for experienced caravanners.

Remember, though, that the 85% rule is a general recommendation - accepted wisdom based upon a history of caravan towing, and it is not based in law nor legally enforceable. If the towing capacity based upon plated weights, as calculated above, is lower than the kerb weight, or lower than 85% of the kerb weight, then that MUST NOT be exceeded


The other figure to watch is the nose weight of the caravan. This is the vertical load on the towball from the caravan's hitch, measured in kg. The maximum permissible nose weight can be found in your vehicle's manual - sometimes called the towing "S-Value". The S-value of your towbar can also be found on the manufacturer's information plate of your towbar - however, because vehicle specifications can change, the value on the towbar may be greater or smaller than that given in your vehicle's handbook. Check both figures - the LOWEST of the two values is the maximum nose weight allowable on your car and towbar.

You can check the nose weight of your laden caravan, by using an upright block of wood and some bathroom scales. Rest the caravan's hitch on the block of wood, upon the platform of the scales, then raise the jockey wheel slowly, until the caravan is fully resting on the wooden block, and read the weight on the scales. Alternatively, a calibrated nose weight gauge as sold by Towsure, is a more compact and easily portable method of measuring the nose weight.

IMPORTANT! If the nose weight of your caravan is too heavy for your car, do not attempt to compensate for this by loading heavy items to the rear of the caravan. This both places undue stress on your caravan chassis and causes serious instability. When underway, the caravan can start to pitch forwards and backwards, bouncing the rear of the car up and down - imagine towing a see-saw down the road

Understanding how much weight your vehicle can tow safely is key for staying safe out there – check the VIN plate or consult with a professional mechanic to determine its capacity before heading out in order to ensure you arrive safely at your destination!

Safety Checklist When Towing a Caravan

When caravanning, safety is paramount. Before towing your caravan, it is essential to make sure that you are operating within the law and that your vehicle and caravan are safe for the road. To help you out, we have created a comprehensive checklist of all the important safety checks you should make before towing your caravan.

A man checks the tyre pressure of his caravan tyre

Checks Before Hitching Up

Before attaching your caravan to the car, you should inspect the vehicle and the caravan

- Wheels & Tyres

First things first, check the tyres on both the car and caravan to ensure they have adequate tread depth and pressure levels. Check the caravan tyre sidewalls (not forgetting to check the inside walls) for signs of cracking, especially if the caravan has been sitting on them for some time. Check your tyre pressures, inflating your car's tyres if needed to the pressure recommended for towing. Check the caravan wheel nuts, ensuring that they are to the correct torque

- Vehicle Oils & Fluids

Check your tow car's oil levels, radiator expansion tank, power steering fluid, brake fluid and windscreen washer fluid, and top up if necessary. Remember that your vehicle will be working harder so it is vital to ensure that fluid levels are at their optimum.

- Vehicle Towball

Ensure that the vehicle's tow ball is securely affixed to the car, taking particular care with detachable tow balls to make sure that the tow ball neck is properly secured, according to the instructions which accompany your towbar. If your caravan has a stabiliser hitch, as most modern caravans do, ensure that the towing ball is clean of any grease and dirt which may otherwise contaminate the caravan hitch friction pads. If you are unsure at all as to the security of your towbar or towing ball, consult a towbar specialist before using it.

- Caravan Hitch

Visually inspect the caravan hitch for signs of wear. For stabiliser hitches, make sure that the caravan stabiliser friction pads have adequate friction material, replacing them if they are badly worn or contaminated with grease. It is a good idea, especially if your caravan has been standing for a period of time, to remove any glazing of the pads with fine wet-and-dry glasspaper.

- Caravan Brake Check

After a period in storage, the caravan brake shoes may have seized to the caravan drums. Release the handbrake and check that the wheels turn freely without resistance. Binding brakes can overheat and cause a tyre blowout, so it is important to ensure that the brakes release fully.

- Vehicle Lights

Check all vehicle lights for correct operation before attaching the caravan. This eliminates any problems with the car lighting from causing issues on the caravan lighting when you come to check that after hitching up.

- Plugs and Sockets

Water or corrosion in the towbar socket and/or caravan plug/s can cause problems. With the vehicle and lights switched off, clean up the sockets and plugs to remove any green patina from the pins. A squirt of a water-displacer such as WD-40 can help with this, and allow the plugs and sockets to dry off before connecting the plugs and sockets.

Checks After Hitching Up

Once you are happy with the above checks, hitch up the caravan to the car and plug in the electrics.

Examining the caravan stabiliser hitch before attaching it to the car

- Ride Height / Level

Parked on a flat, horizontal surface, check that the caravan is sitting level, or slightly nose-down. Whilst you can use a spirit level to check, it is not necessary to be 100% level - ideally, the nose of the caravan should be pointed slightly down, but not to such an extent that the raised jockey wheel rides close to the floor.

- Caravan Lighting

Check the operation of all the caravan's running lights. Have an assistant help by observing the caravan lights whilst you operate them from the driver's seat. Don't forget the fog lights and reversing lights, as well as sidelights, brake lights, direction indicators, number plate lamps and any marker lights.

- Towing Mirrors

You will normally need to attach towing mirrors to your car. If your caravan is wider than the towing vehicle - which most are, even with a large 4x4 vehicle - you will need to attach towing mirrors to gain a clear view down both sides of the caravan, with a view of at least 4 metres width each side from 20 metres behind the driver's position. Ensure that the mirrors are securely attached and have an assistant help you adjust the mirrors and check the field of view from the driver's seat.

- Breakaway Cable

The caravan's breakaway cable should be securely attached to the towbar, to a designated attachment point where one exists or looped around the neck of the tow ball with a single loop.

- Number Plate

Ensure that the number plate attached to the caravan is clean and legible and that it matches that on the towing vehicle. The number plate must be a professionally made plate compliant with the same regulations as those governing the plates on the vehicle. The stick-on yellow plates with stick-on letters do not meet legal requirements and can attract a fine - as can pieces of cardboard with hand-drawn numbers, which should certainly not be used on a public road!

Before Setting Off

Before heading off on your caravan journey, there are just a few more checks before getting underway.

- Gas

Make sure all gas cylinder taps are turned off - the caravan should not be towed with a live gas supply.

- Electrical Systems

Isolate mains electrics and set your caravan fridge to 12-volt operation. Ensure that your caravan plug is secure in its socket, and that the cable is not trailing on or close to the ground; and also not so taut that it would become stretched or pulled when turning tightly.

- Water System

Drain the caravan water tank and toilet flush tank. Not only does this reduce unnecessary weight in the caravan, it prevents the water from sloshing around as the caravan moves which can otherwise add to any instability.

- Secure Loads

Finally, double-check that all loads in both car and van are safely secured. Use straps, nets or cargo bars if needed, and fasten luggage items & loose objects securely.

Utilising the Correct Towing Supplies for Safety

Caravanning is a popular and leisurely way to enjoy the great outdoors. However, it is important to ensure that you are doing it safely and legally. Before towing your caravan, in addition to the important safety checks that you need to make, it is essential to have the correct tow supplies to ensure a safe and legal journey.

Prepare a safety kit with tools in case of emergencies on the road. This should include spare bulbs for lights and fuses for brakes/indicators/stop lamps. If you are heading into remoter areas, as your fuel consumption whilst towing is greater, a full fuel can of the correct and approved type is a good idea in case you find yourself running low on fuel some miles from a filling station. Make sure that fuel carriers and safety kits are held securely in place as well, so nothing gets loose while driving down roads at speed.

With these steps taken beforehand by following careful planning processes along with utilizing appropriate equipment can help ensure an enjoyable experience while travelling safely and legally - Arrive Alive!

A twin axle caravan being towed along a UK motorway

Additional Tips for Towing a Caravan Safely

  • Be aware of your surroundings. When you're towing a caravan, it's important to be extra aware of your surroundings. This includes being aware of other vehicles, pedestrians, and cyclists.
  • Try to Anticipate. Starting and stopping is harder work on you and your car. Looking ahead and anticipating things occuring in front helps make your journey smoother - and saves fuel!
  • Give yourself plenty of space. When you're braking or turning, give yourself plenty of space to stop or make the turn safely.
  • Don't overload your caravan. Overloading your caravan can make it difficult to control and can increase the risk of an accident.
  • Be prepared for the unexpected. Things don't always go according to plan when you're towing a caravan, so it's a good idea to be prepared for the unexpected. This includes having a first-aid kit, food, water, and a spare tire on hand.
  • Don't Forget About the Caravan! It sounds obvious but a common error once you begin to settle in to towing, is to forget momentarily that you have a long load to the rear. Keep focus, even put a reminder where it is not distracting to, or obscuring, your view, to remember not to pull in too early after overtaking slower vehicles

By following these tips, you can help ensure that your caravanning holiday is a safe and enjoyable one.

Alan Hood

Staff Writer for Towsure. When not in the office, Alan enjoys exploring the Peak District and blogging walking routes. An occasional dog walker and slave to cats.

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