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Guide to buying the right tow car

There are many factors to consider when buying your first caravan – the choice of manufacturer, the choice of model, the number of berths etc. However, one of the main considerations facing any first time caravan buyer is whether their current car is up to the job of towing their exciting new purchase. After all, nobody wants to spend thousands on their dream caravan, only to realise they need to buy a new car as well.

Every car has a maximum towing weight; a weight that the vehicle can competently pull based on its mechanical capability. It’s important that the total weight of your caravan does not exceed this value as you will be towing illegally and risk a fine, points on your license and invalid insurance – not to mention a nasty accident!

Making sure your caravan is the right weight is vital to ensuring you can tow it safely. If the caravan is too heavy your car may physically be unable to pull it and the combination could be dangerously unstable particularly when driving at high speeds or in high winds along a motorway. It may also become dangerous if you’re driving uphill; even if the caravan is only slightly over the recommended weight you could find hill starts become impossible.

A caravan’s weight is the most vital of its statistics – perhaps the first thing to look out for.

Size matters - tow the line when choosing a tow car

Most organisations recommend you apply the 85% rule to tow safely (see our special guide to towing a caravan feature). However, those who barely scraped through maths at school and are already breaking into a sweat with visions of complex weight ratio equations can relax. All good caravan dealers will have a computerised matching system to take away the pain. You can also use websites such as www.uktow.com and www.whattowcar.com that enable you to view the towing capability of most cars on the market and to matchmake your current vehicle with your preferred caravan manufacturer to find a list of suitable candidates.

Many people who are new to the world of caravanning assume you need a huge vehicle to get started, but thankfully this is not the case. Many caravan manufacturers, such as Elddis, Swift, Lunar and Coachman, are making a move towards reducing the weight of their caravans without compromising on the quality or durability in a bid to make caravanning more economical and environmentally friendly.  You’re not even restricted if you’ve only got a small car as there are a wealth of slim line or folding caravans on the market to choose from which do the job nicely.

If, on the other hand, you are thinking ‘big’ and drive a Range Rover, Defender, or Mitsubishi with a class leading towing capacity then you need to brush up on the legal limits for towing caravans in the UK.  The law states that a touring caravan with a laden weight of 3,500kg measuring 7 metres long is the biggest thing you’re allowed to tow, even behind a vehicle with a greater towing capability. Thankfully, this is approaching dimensions usually only found in static parks, in this country at least, and most are not likely to want something that size for their first touring caravan.

The final consideration, and this is one you may not even have thought about, is whether you’ve got the right driving license to tow a caravan. The short answer is ‘it depends when you passed your test’. If you got your license before the start of 1997, you’re allowed to drive a combined vehicle plus trailer weight of up to 8,250kg, which is more than enough for most combinations of cars and caravans.If you’re fortunate enough to be so fantastically young that the date on your license is anything later than 1 January 1997…you may have to pass another test. This additional test will entitle you to drive weightier vehicle combinations. For detailed advice visit the Direct Gov website.

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