With some uncertainty around whether foreign holidays will be allowed this summer, many of us will be looking at a break in the UK this year.
And if you want to get out and about to different locations, a caravanning holiday could be ideal, allowing flexibility to bring your ‘home’ with you.
But it’s not just as simple as hitching a caravan up to your car and getting on your way. Here are the things you need to know.
Having the right licence
One of the first things you need to make sure is that your driving licence covers you to tow a caravan, as depending on when you passed your test, different rules apply.
It’s all based on weight, so let’s split it down into two dates.
For those who passed a category B driving test (a typical car driving test) since January 1, 1997, you can:
- Drive a car or van up to 3,500kg maximum authorised mass (MAM) towing a trailer of up to 750kg MAM
- Tow a trailer over 750kg MAM as long as the combined MAM of the trailer and towing vehicle is no more than 3,500kg
Providing you don’t have a car or caravan that’s too heavy (a smaller caravan typically weighs between 800kg and 1,300kg), you’ll likely be fine on your standard licence, but given the heaviest caravans can weigh up to 2,000kg, you’ll likely need a different licence. You must check this before getting behind the wheel.
The rules are more generous if you passed your test before January 1, 1997, when you’re generally allowed to tow a trailer and vehicle combination up to 8.25 tonnes, though you’ll need to double check beforehand.
What if my caravan and vehicle combination exceeds 3.5 tonnes?
A public weigh bridge could be used to work out the combined weight, and you also need to take into account the caravan’s weight once packed, rather than empty. But If you passed your driving test in 1997 or after and your caravan and car weigh more than 3,500kg combined, you’ll need to pass a car and trailer test, which is sometimes known as a ‘B+E test’.
No theory test is required, but you’ll need to show you can ‘drive safely in different road and traffic conditions’ and ‘show that you know the Highway Code by the way you drive’ in order to pass.
Though not mandatory, it’s advisable to have lessons before you take your test. There are dedicated driving schools for this. You’ll also take the test at an HGV test centre, rather than a car one.
Even if you don’t need an additional licence to tow your caravan, it could be worth at least having one lesson to master the basics.
Having the right car for the job
Just because your car or van has a tow bar, it doesn’t automatically mean you can hitch up a caravan and be on your way. No, you must have a suitable tow car – something especially important if you have a bigger caravan.
Cars and vans have a maximum weight they can tow, which is usually listed in the handbook on the manufacturer’s website. It’s important to not exceed this weight, or the gross train weight, which is the total weight of the car, its occupants and any trailers.
If you’re considering or already own a larger caravan, which is close to your vehicle’s towing limit, it could be worth considering an upgrade to something more suitable.
Not every car is also rated for towing, either, so that’s another thing to check too.
Do I need to make any modifications to my car to tow?
Other than the obvious tow bar, which must be ‘type approved’ and meet EU regulations, there are a number of other things to consider.
The first is towing mirrors, which stick out further than traditional mirrors to give you a better view of the road behind you. These must be fitted if your caravan is wider than the rear of the car, and you could be fined £1,000 and receive three penalty points if you don’t have them.
If your caravan weighs more than 750kg, which just about all do, it needs to have a working brake system, as well as a breakaway cable in case the caravan becomes detached from your vehicle. A number plate matching that of your vehicle must also be fitted to the rear of the caravan.
Anything else I need to know?
Once you’ve passed your trailer test (if required), made sure your car is suitable and made any suitable modifications, you need to be aware of speed limits for a car and caravan. On single carriageways 50mph is the limit, while on dual carriageways and motorways you shouldn’t exceed 60mph.
The maximum width of a caravan cannot exceed 2.55m, either, while the maximum towing length is seven metres.
You should also adjust your driving style to reflect the fact you have a tow vehicle, being lighter on the controls and giving yourself more time and space for everything. If loading your caravan, do so in a way that won’t lead to any breakages, while remembering that no passengers can travel in the caravan, they must be in the car.
When loading a caravan, secure all heavy loads as close to the floor as possible, and preferably over the caravan axles. Heavy items should not be placed at the front of the caravan, either.
Wanting to find the best vehicles for towing a caravan? Here are our top picks.