Practical information about towing cars

Choosing the right car to tow your caravan is key so that your towing experience is fun, but also safe and legal. To sum it up, your tow car will need to be heavier than the fully-laden caravan. And have enough power to maintain steady progress on gradients of up to 12.5%. We’ll elaborate on that later, so keep reading.

Do I need a special license to tow a caravan?

Depending on when you passed your driving test and got your driving license you may be able to tow some form of caravan.

You’ll need to look at the MAM, which stands for ‘Maximum Authorised Mass’ and describes the weight of the vehicle once it’s loaded. It can also be called GTW or ‘Gross Train Weight’.

  • Passed your test before 1 January 1997 – You can drive a car and trailer with a combined weight of up to 8,250kg
  • Passed your test from 1 January 1997 onwards – You can tow a vehicle of up to 3,500 kilos MAM and a trailer of up to 750 kilos. Or tow a trailer of more than 750 kilos if the combined MAM of the trailer and vehicle doesn’t exceed 3,500 kilos MAM. If you want to drive a car and tow a caravan heavier than 3,500kg, then you’ll need to take an additional B+E towing test.

The Caravan Club has a really helpful tool that helps you match your car and caravan. If you’re thinking about buying a new tow car it will come in handy.

What is a good towing vehicle?

A good tow car is the one that allows you to travel comfortably and safely while towing your caravan wherever you want. The exact make and model will depend on how big and heavy your caravan is, but also on your needs and wants.

Traditionally, estate cars, 4x4s and SUVs are popular with caravan owners because of their torque and power. To give you some examples, the Land Rover Discovery, Volkswagen Tiguan and Ford Mondeo are a safe bet.

Below, we’ll explain all the things you should look into if you’re buying a tow car. One at a time and with everything you need to know.

Advice for buying a Tow Car

You’ve got a caravan and are ready to buy a towing car. It may seem daunting but we’re going to make it easy for you. Here are all the things you should consider before making a decision. So that, in the end, you find exactly what you need.


In short, you should aim for a heavier car pulling a lighter caravan. As a rule of thumb, the major caravanning clubs in the UK agree that the total weight of your caravan – including all its contents – shouldn’t be more than 85% of your car’s kerb weight. That is because if your caravan is heavier than your car you could end up having some issues on the road – like a snaking or swaying caravan.

It may seem complicated but it’s not. First of all, you need to know how much what you’ll be towing will weigh when fully loaded (for example, 1,200 kg). If we take ‘the 85% rule’ that means you need to take the caravan’s weight, divide by 85 and multiply by 100. The final number is 1,412 kg. This means you’ll need a car that weighs at least that or more.

If you’re not sure how much your car can tow, check online or with your manufacturer as they always publish towing capacity for each model. The same applies to car weight. It’s usually on the manufacturer’s website.

Type of car

Down below we’ve put together a quick shortlist of some great cars for towing a caravan or a trailer. But, to summarise it, SUVs, 4x4s, estate cars and hatchbacks tend to be quite popular thanks to their weight, torque and power.

According to a useful guide from consumer watchdog Which?, here are some quick tips to choosing a tow car:

In any case, always check that the weight of the car is enough for towing the caravan/trailer. And that your car has enough torque to tow the caravan once it’s fully loaded.


Torque, also called pulling power, is a measure of engine performance. Good torque at low engine speeds makes pulling away easier and towing with minimal gear changes. Because you’ll be towing a heavy load, buying a tow car with decent torque is essential.

You can find that information by checking with your car’s manufacturer or doing a quick search on Google.

Nose weight

Nose weight is the amount of weight from the caravan or trailer that is bearing down on the car’s tow ball. It’s quite important to know when you’re fitting a tow ball. Finding out the nose weight of your caravan is as easy as asking the manufacturer or using an inexpensive nose weight scale.

Diesel, petrol, hybrid or electric

Traditionally, diesel cars have been better towers because of their pulling power or torque. However, there are plenty of petrol cars that also do a good towing job.

But if you’re looking for a tow car with greener credentials there is a good selection of hybrid and plug-in hybrid cars that will fit the bill. For maximum hybrid towing power, look for a PHEV, rather than a full hybrid one, like the latest BMW X5 Plug-in hybrid (2,700kg towing), the Volvo XC90 PHEV (2,400kg maximum towing capacity) or the Volkswagen Passat GTE estate (maximum 1,600kg towing).

Manual vs. automatic

The Caravan Club claims that automatic cars are better suited for towing a caravan. That’s because their torque converter allows for a better crawling pace where a manual clutch would slip and wear. Plus, overheating shouldn’t be an issue as long as you match your tow car and trailer sensibly in terms of weight.

On the other hand, some drivers prefer the control that a manual gearbox gives you over gear selection.

We explored this in our Manual vs. Automatic guide and, in the end, this is very much down to personal preferences. Unless there’s a very significant change in towing capacity between the manual and automatic versions of the same model, pick what you feel more comfortable with. But do your research, as sometimes the difference can be as much as 500kg.

Photo by Peter Pryharski on Unsplash

FWD vs RWD vs 4X4

While 4×4 may be the obvious choice for towing, the truth is that rear-wheel-drive (RWD) and front-wheel-drive (FWD) cars can also tow. If you tow all year round and need to carry your load across off-road surfaces, then 4×4 or All-wheel-drive cars are perfect.

However, if you only caravan during late spring and summer and will always be towing on gravel or tarmac, then an FWD or RWD car with the necessary torque will do the job.

After all, it all depends on your needs and your budget.

Towing vs. Daily Driving

You may be looking into buying a car for towing but chances are you’re not going to take your caravan with you everywhere you go. That’s why the car you pick also needs to suit your everyday life. Something that handles the school run and commuting, as well as taking you and your caravan on holidays – or wherever you want to go.

With that in mind, always prioritise towing ability. Make a list of cars that can tow your caravan or trailer. And then figure out which one of those would also handle your everyday driving requirements.

Tow Bar or Ball

From 1st August 1998 most new cars must be fitted with a tower, which means that if you’re in the market for a used tow car that’s one less thing to worry about. If you’re buying an older car, check that the tow bar was tested to the British (BS AU114) or International Standard (ISO3853).

Getting a tow ball and electricals fitted by a professional would cost you £500 or more. For that reason, finding a tow car already fitted with towing gear in good condition could save you some cash.

If you’re buying a used car for towing, just make sure you check the vehicle’s legal towing limit and the weight it has been towing. If the caravan is within the legal minimum you shouldn’t have any concerns.

Another good piece of advice when looking for a tow car is to test drive the car and listen out for any signs of a slipping clutch, as well as checking any service records regarding any work done on the clutch and gearbox.

Tips for towing a caravan

  • Add extended mirrors. They will help with visibility and extend the range of your regular rear-view mirrors.
  • Learn to load the caravan properly – vital if you don’t want things moving when you’re driving it from A to B.
  • Drive below the speed limits – 30mph in built-up areas, 50mph on single carriageways, 60mph on dual carriageways, and 60mph on motorways if you’ve got the caravan attached.

pick up truck and paraglider

Best cars for towing caravans

Although this is something we covered with plenty of detail in our Best cars for Towing Caravans guide, here’s a quick shortlist. Remember to check out the previous link if you want to dig a bit deeper:

  1. Land Rover Discovery
  2. Nissan Qashqai
  3. Volvo XC60 D5 PowerPulse AWD R-Design
  4. Volkswagen Tiguan
  5. SsangYong Turismo
  6. Skoda Octavia Scout
  7. Audi A6 Allroad
  8. Ford Mondeo Estate
  9. Jaguar F-Pace
  10. Mercedes Benz E350d Estate
  11. Skoda Kodiaq
  12. Volvo XC90
  13. Vauxhall Insignia
  14. Dacia Duster
  15. Tesla Model X

Keep in mind that buying a tow car is, in the end, no different than buying a regular car. You’ll still need to check all the paperwork, do all due diligence and go through all the legal steps. For that reason, our complete guide to Car Buying will be your best friend.

Remember that the key thing when buying a tow car is to prioritise what you need to tow and where you’ll be towing before making a decision. Make a shortlist of models. Narrow it down. Check everything. And off you go.