Towing Code

To a new caravanner, towing can be a very daunting concept. Vintage caravans have the advantage of being slightly narrower and lighter than modern caravans, so relax, don't worry, read through this step-by-step guide to hitching up and towing to put your mind at rest. A little practice and confidence goes a long way.

Loading is essential to the characteristics of the caravan whilst towing. Where you place the weight in a caravan can depend on how stable it is on the road. Poor loading can lead to instability, poor high speed performance and even snaking. Snaking in a phenomenon that occurs with vehicles towing high sided trailers (such as caravans). It is where the caravan starts to dictate the direction of travel, think of it as the 'tail wagging the dog'. The caravan sways from side to side and causes the car to do the same. Should you ever experience this, take your foot off the accelerator, hold the steering wheel lightly and allow the outfit to slow down gradually. Snaking occurs most when passing lorries, driving too fast and over-taking downhill. It can be prevented by correct loading.
When loading your caravan, always place the heaviest items (awning, bikes, chairs etc...) over the axle. Keep weight low down and distribute evenly, see the loading diagrams below:
[Click on the images to Enlarge]

Once loaded correctly, you can check the noseweight of the caravan. The noseweight is the weight what the caravan exerts onto the back of the car. Both your car's manufacturer and caravan's manufacturer will have recommended noseweights, if you have two figures, go for the lowest. Most modern cars recommend 75kgs, most classic caravans vary greatly. It is down to the force which the tow hitch can take. If you don't have a noseweight figure for your caravan use these: for caravans with a total weight (MTPLM, see Glossary) of less than 750kgs, stick to 50kgs for the noseweight. All caravans over 750kgs, use 75kgs as your noseweight. An old rule is that your noseweight is 7% of the caravans' total weight. This is not strictly accurate, but can be used should you not be able to find the actual noseweight. You can buy specialist noseweight gauges for around £15 from caravan dealerships but you can use your bathroom scales too: 

Park your caravan on level ground. Level the caravan front to back and measure the distance between the bottom of the tow hitch and the ground. Cut a piece of wood this length, minus the height of your bathroom scales. With the scales in place, raise the nose of the caravan using the jockey wheel, and slot the wood into place. Lower the caravan tow hitch onto the wood until the jockey wheel lifts off the ground slightly. It is vital that whilst doing this, the handbrake is in the fully engaged position. You should then get a reading on the scales, this is your noseweight. If it is below your recommended figure, then try to get it as close to the figure as possible for greater stability by moving objects inside the caravan around. If it is over the limit, then move objects around until the ideal weight is achieved.
Before you move your caravan, all items inside must be secured and the corner steadies must be fully raised:
You should also check the torque settings of the wheel nuts with a torque wrench. For steel wheels the torque should be 120nm and for alloys it should be 85nm. Also, check the pressure of the caravan's tyres and inflate to the correct pressure. Every caravan is different, the pressure should be stated on the wheel arch or in the manufacturers' guide book.
It is also worth checking if the car's rear tyres need inflating to a higher pressure than usual to cope with the extra load. See your car's handbook for advice. Tyre pressures are often shown in the door sill of the driver's side.
You should also have a pair of towing mirrors to attach to your cars wing mirrors. These are an extension of the wing mirror and allow you to see around the side of the caravan. You should adjust them accordingly so that you can see down the side of the caravan. Towing mirrors are a legal requirement in the UK, the law states that you must be able to see around your vehicle. Towing mirrors are an absolute must have and cost between £10 for a good pair and £40 for a really decent pair.

Now you've loaded your caravan correctly and checked the noseweight, you can then hitch it up. Manoeuvre the caravan itself or your car so that the hitch of the caravan is next to the tow ball of the car and to the left of it slightly. You may need some help to do this to get the tow hitch in the right place. Now, releasing the caravan handbrake carefully, pull the caravan to the right slightly to position the tow hitch directly over the tow ball. You can pull on the tow hitch itself, jockey wheel or use the designated grab handles. With the tow hitch directly over the tow ball, use the jockey wheel to lower the caravan onto the ball, at the same time lifting the hitch handle up:

Once the hitch is engaged, the handle should 'click' into place and on some hitches a small marker will push up and show green:

If your hitch doesn't have this feature, wind the jockey wheel down again slightly until you can see the back of the car being lifted up. You now know that the caravan is safely attached to the car. Once hitched, re-apply the caravan's handbrake incase the car's handbrake is not capable of holding both the car and the caravan. Now wind the jockey wheel all the way up until it will wind up no more - watching not to catch the A-Frame fairing as these damage easily. Then loosen the screw holding the jockey wheel and raise the entire jockey wheel as high as it will go. Re-tighten the screw.
Next, you need to attach the breakaway cable. This small cable located under the tow hitch is a safety device. Should the caravan detach from the car (very unlikely) the breakaway cable is attached to the bottom of the handbrake and will apply the caravan's brakes should it drop off. If you have a designated place on your towbar for the cable to hook onto, use this, otherwise wrap it around the towball as shown:
[Click on the images to Enlarge]

Once you have done this, you can connect the 12N and the 12S (if applicable) sockets. These are the black and grey sockets which plug into the respective black and grey sockets on the towbar. The black socket (12N) controls the caravan's road lights and the grey socket (12S) controls the 12v system, charging the battery whilst towing and keeping the fridge cool. 

Once the 12N socket is connected, check that the caravan's road lights all work with the car's lights. You may need someone to help you with this.
Finally, check that all windows and doors are closed and secure, you can now release the caravan handbrake:

Set off slowly, don't rush. Take a few minutes to get acquainted with the extra length. Remember to take extra wide berths when pulling around cars and over-taking. When pulling out of junctions remember that you have to pull out much further into the middle of the road to allow the caravan to clear the corner.

The speed limit for towing caravans is the same as solo cars in built up areas, 50mph on Dual Carriageways and 60mph on Motorways.

Go easy on the clutch, changing gears slowly and smoothly. Build up speed by working slowly through the gears and not changing up as quickly as you would normally do - building up revs to double what you would normally rev the engine to. With the extra weight of the caravan, keep an eye on the oil temperature of the car and the engine temperature. Ease off the accelerator if necessary.

When it comes to braking, brake slowly and progressively in plenty of time. If possible, use the engine to assist braking but remember that the caravan has its own brakes and, providing that they have been recently adjusted and correctly maintained, will assist the braking of the car in any conditions.

This section covers some of the many towing accessories available. These are all optional but will all make towing and touring easier and less stressful.

1. Milenco Aero Towing Mirror                                                                      COST:  £35
These mirrors are different to most other towing mirrors. A small 'holder' screws to the wing mirror which the towing mirror attaches to. The advantage to this is that you can leave the holder in place whilst you are on holiday and just unscrew the mirror and store it.
This system means that the mirror can be adjusted in four different ways. The Aero towing mirror is much more streamlined than conventional towing mirrors, so the mirrors reduce drag and reduce the risk of the mirrors folding in mid-journey. The mirror size is also decent enough to allow full view of the side of the caravan.

2. Al-Ko Manoeuvring Handle                                                                       COST £10
Al-Ko introduced this product around 10 years ago. The handle screws to the jockey wheel tube and make hitching up much easier.
This makes positioning the hitch over the towball a doddle, especially by yourself. Check out the Al-Ko website for details.

3. Al-Ko Soft Dock                                                                                   COST £10
Have you ever walked into the tow hitch whilst walking around your caravan? Ever damaged the back of your car by letting the caravan hitch roll into the bumper? The Al-Ko Soft Dock slides over the end of the hitch, solving both of these problems. The Soft Dock fits all standard Al-Ko hitches from 1980-present with the exception of the stabiliser hitches. Unfortunately, the Sort Dock does not fit tow hitches from other manufacturers.

4. Bulldog Stabiliser Bar and Bracket                                                         COST £60
Bulldog have been manufacturing caravan related products for nearly 40 years now. One of their first accessories was the stabiliser bar, Bulldog 100Q. The A-Frame mounting bracket (green bracket in the image) clips over the A-Frame. The metal plate mounts on the towbar on the car. Both of these remain in situ and the bar itself is removable. Stabiliser bars are proven to improve stability dramatically and also reduce noseweight due to the negative uplift forces they exert.
There are all kinds of alternative stabiliser bars from different manufacturers. They all do the same job, just slightly differently. The Bulldog model has been around the longest and is one of the most popular makes among caravanners.


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