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Buying a Used Car to Tow a Caravan

By: Scott McBride - Updated: 14 Jun 2010 | comments*Discuss
Tow Caravan Used Car Towing Limit

Not every car is suitable for towing a caravan, and even those that are will have a towing capacity. It is important that those buying a used car to tow a caravan pick one that is up to the job. Ensure that the engine is powerful enough to cope with the extra weight, that the brakes are strong enough to stop both the car and caravan safely, and that the gross caravan weight does not exceed the towing capacity of the car.

Pulling a caravan will have a serious effect on a car’s performance. Starting can be much more laboured, especially on hills, and stopping distances are longer. Extra care is needed to corner and negotiate sharp bends.

When selecting a used car, be sure to check the manufacturer’s recommended towing limit. This can be found in the car manufacturer’s handbook and on the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) plate. The VIN plate is usually located under the car’s bonnet, but can sometimes be found elsewhere, such as near the driver’s door.

Towing Limit

For safety and stability, The Caravan Club suggests that you should not tow a caravan that weighs more than 85 per cent of the towing car’s kerb weight. Of course, this is assuming that 85 per cent doesn't exceed the car manufacturer’s recommended towing limit. The kerb weight is the car's weight with a full tank of petrol and an extra 75 kilograms for the driver and luggage.

Police use the manufacturer’s recommended towing limit as their guide, and the car’s gross train weight should never be exceeded. The maximum you can tow with an unbraked trailer is 750kg, and in this instance the towing car must have a kerbside weight at least twice the maximum weight of the trailer.

Unless a manufacturer has authorised the towing of a trailer, you should not fit a coupling device or tow a trailer. For instance, the Ford KA has no declared train weight, and no mounting points for a tow bar. There are a number of other cars which do not have a declared train weight and are not able to tow a trailer.

Wide Load

Weight is not the only restriction when towing a caravan – there are also limitations on width and length. If the towing car has a maximum weight of 3,500kg or less, the maximum width allowed for a trailer is 2.3metres and the maximum length – excluding the coupling and drawbar – is 7m. For towing cars over 3,500kg, the maximum width is 2.55m and the maximum length – again excluding the coupling and drawbar – is 12m.

If buying a used car that has already been used for towing, it may come with a tow bar fitted. Don’t assume that the tow bar fitted is the right one for the job. It is vitally important to ensure a type-approved tow bar has been fitted otherwise you could face prosecution and invalidate your insurance. The car manufacturer, a specialist dealer or an accessory retailer should be able to recommend approved tow bars suitable for your car.

Remember that towing puts a lot of extra strain on a car, so make sure it is in good condition and be extra vigilant about maintenance. Always check the car over thoroughly, and check all tyres, including those on the caravan, before a trip.

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