Towing Advice, Rules and Safety Information

Gary White   Author: Gary White

Spin Danger

Sometimes you will find that a caravan or trailer can sway back and forth. This can be due to a gust of wind, a steering movement, ruts or turbulance cause by overtaking. If you are not careful there is a risk that if the trailer sways too much it could cause the towing vehicle to spin. To reduce the risk of a spin, ensuring you have correctly and securely loaded the trailer and a weight of at least 75 kg is essential.

The risk of the trailer skidding and spinning increases the faster you go. Up to a speed of around 50mph this is normally fairly easy to control. An electronic stability system in the towing vehicle and / or in the caravan is recommended. If the caravan or trailer starts to swing or lurch to much you should release the accelerator immediately and brake in a steady and controlled way.

What is the 85% Rule For Towing?

To be clear, the '85% rule' isn't a legal requirment or law. This is more of a recommendation which states that the total weight of the trailer (weight of the trailer + load) should be less than 85% of the cars kerbweight. To work this out, take the cars kerbweight in KG and multiply it by 0.85. This will give you the maximum recommended weight of the trailer. For those people who tow a lot, they will tell you that if you push this limit and go up to 95% or even 100% of the cars kerbweight, then the car begins to feel a lot less stable and you end up with 'the tail wagging the dog'. You should NEVER pull a trailer that is heavier than the towing limit of the car.

Do not exceed the towing weight limit

You shouldn't just assume that your home trailer or caravan is within the towing capacity of your car. Once on the road, if your car cannot pull the trailer and there is a risk that your towing hitch could break.

This is why you need to know the official weights of your trailer before you set off. Why did I say "weights" instead of "weight"? Because there are two weights to consider: the weight of your empty trailer and the weight of the trailer once it is loaded.

Fortunately, it is pretty easy to determine the weight of your empty trailer. Your trailer manufacturer should be able to provide you with this information. Check the manufacturer's website or operating instructions if this is not possible. If you absolutely cannot find the information you need, then you can always rent a CAT scale to take your own measurements. This is an industrial scale used to measure heavy objects such as large vehicles. You can also use one of these scales to measure the weight of the trailer and truck together.

It is recommended that you fill the trailer with as much gear, equipment, passengers, and other essentials as you would if you were to go on a trip. Then weigh it. This allows you to determine the exact weight so that you do not overdo it when you connect the trailer to your car.

Do NOT use an underpowered engine

Good engine performance is essential for safe towing. If the car engine is too small performance may appear good on flat road, however on the motorway the engine will be under more strain than normal and will typically rev a little higher at around 2400 to 2900 rpm.

If you have the right size engine this is fine but if your engine is underpowered it can put a lot of strain on the system and cause a breakdown. With the right size engine you can drive safely in the mountains but a small engine will struggle with some of the hills.

Towing another car tips

Before you connect two vehicles with a tow rope or tow bar, check whether the broken down vehicle is suitable for towing. Great care should be taken with electric vehicles. By driving the wheels, the mostly directly connected electric motors act like dynamos, ie they generate electricity and can damage the sensitive on-board technology. Therefore, towing most electric cars is prohibited.

Caution is also advised on vehicles with automatic transmissions. As soon as the selector lever is set to "N", the vehicles can be towed, but as the transmission continues to work, enormous heat can develop. This is why the permissible towing distance is often limited to a few kilometers. Please have a look at the manual before towing.

Towing Capacity UK

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