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Tips on towing

Towing for the first time can be an intimidating prospect.

Our experts give practical pointers on essential towing topics.

From tow bars to tyres, rear view to reversing...

First, make sure you have a tow bar that is up to the job! If you can afford it, it's worth paying for a professional installation. Make sure you're familiar with any laws that apply, especially if you are travelling abroad. In particular, make sure you know the speed limits. In some countries you need a separate warning light fitted in the car to show that the caravan direction indicator lights are working.

Before starting a journey:

  • Coping with the load - are the engine, brakes, tyres and suspension up to the job?
  • Trailer or tow bar weights - check your car's handbook for the maximum weights allowed.
  • Rear view - make sure you can see behind the caravan using the car's mirrors. Extending side mirrors can be fitted to most cars.
  • Check tyre pressures - unless you are towing a light, unladen trailer, the car tyres should be inflated to full load pressures (check your car's handbook). Check the caravan tyre pressures are correct too.
  • Headlight set up - check the aim with the caravan attached, and have it adjusted if necessary. Many cars these days have an adjuster on the dashboard.
  • Caravan lights - the extra load on the flasher circuit may cause the indicators to flash too slowly, so you may need a heavy duty flasher unit. Check brake, side and number plate lights.
  • Loading the caravan - refer to the manufacturer's recommendations. As a general rule, distribute the weight with the heaviest items as near as possible to the caravan axle. Secure all heavy items so they can't move. Car manufacturers usually specify an optimum noseweight for a caravan when loaded. If necessary, move the load to get as close as possible to the recommended noseweight and do not exceed it.
  • Engine - don't put unnecessary strain on the engine by trying to tow an unsuitably heavy load. The extra load on an engine when towing may mean that the cooling system is no longer adequate - you may be able to have modified cooling system components (a larger radiator, etc.) fitted to cope with this problem if you tow regularly.
  • Suspension - Towing puts extra strain on a car's suspension components and can affect the handling of a car. Heavy duty rear suspension components are available for most cars to enable to cope with towing.

Reversing a caravan or a trailer is another skill that might seem difficult to master but, with practice, it becomes perfectly straightforward...

There are some very simple rules to follow. It may seem a difficult concept to grasp at first, but instead of being able to turn your car steering wheel in the direction that you want your trailer/caravan to go, you must turn it in the opposite direction.It might take a little time to master this technique, especially when reversing round a corner. When reversing in a straight line, the easiest way to remember what to do is to steer towards the towing mirror in which the trailer or caravan appears.

Step 1

It's a good idea for a passenger to step out of the car and stand in a communicating position to the rear and side of the caravan. Then look for objects such as low posts, walls, children's bicycles and so on, which may be in your way and which you cannot see. Start reversing as you would normally, with your steering wheel straight.

Step 2

Check each extension mirror in turn. If you see the back end of the caravan appearing in one of them, this means that the caravan is starting to veer, and you need to correct it to stop it going further in that direction. Here, the caravan has appeared in the left-hand extension mirror. To straighten up, steer smoothly towards the mirror in which the caravan appears (left), very slightly, and it will disappear.

Step 3

Now start checking each mirror in turn once again and you will probably find that, however carefully you undertook your correction, the caravan has appeared in the other mirror. Here the caravan is in the right-hand mirror and so the steering wheel is being turned very slightly to the right to correct the movement. Remember to keep your steering movements smooth and gentle.

Step 4

If you've corrected properly, you should now be reversing in a straight line. Once you have practised reversing in this way a few times you will know when and how to correct the slightest movement. If you need to build up your confidence, go to a large open area such as an empty supermarket car park, and practise. Remember, take your time, look carefully in the mirrors and make your corrections smoothly and in plenty of time.