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Towing the line

By raccars Published

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That good old fashioned British pastime, the caravan holiday, is undergoing a resurgence in popularity. You may think it sounds easy enough - attach a tow-bar to the car and off you go, but in fact, car drivers have quite a lot to consider before investing. There's no point investing in a beautiful new caravan only to find out you can't move it...

Probably the first step is to make sure your car is suitable for towing duties. You need a certain power to weight ratio to be able to pull a caravan - in other words the weight and power of your towing car need to be able to cope with the weight of the caravan attached to it. Heavy, powerful cars shouldn't have a problem but modern, economical, lightweight cars are not always substantial enough. A quick look at the Caravan Club's website should give you some information about suitable vehicles or you can work it out for yourself.

You are aiming for a fully loaded caravan weight that's no more than 85% of the kerb weight of your car, to avoid swaying and snaking issues while towing. You can calculate this by multiplying your caravan's ALW (loaded weight) by 1.2, to establish the minimum weight of car that you need.

In power terms, you need to consider how many brake horsepower per tonne you can offer. You are looking for a minimum train weight of 40bhp per tonne - the train weight being the total load the engine will be bearing, so the sum of the fully laden car and caravan. Consider also how your car's gearing and torque levels will affect performance. Diesels are known for their better torque availability than petrol engines, making them a favourite with caravan towers, while automatics with torque converters are great at handling the strains of towing.

Past wisdom had it that front wheel drive cars struggled with towing but most modern vehicles should be able to cope, as long as the nose-weight and rear axle limits set by the manufacturer are adhered to. A front wheel drive car without traction control could struggle with hill starts or on soggy earth but otherwise there shouldn't be a problem.

Similarly, if you have a car with a long overhang at the rear you may need to consider adding rear suspension aids to combat the dip caused by the weight of the caravan at the back.

Having established your car's suitability as a towing tool, you can start looking at tow-bars.

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