Towing a caravan (trailer) for the first time is a daunting task.
However, it doesn’t need to be if you use common sense, be vigilant in checking and double-checking, get some practice, and being a patient driver.
It is also important to understand your towing capacity, ensuring it is correct.
Let’s not forget about being considerate to other road users, by not blocking up the road or taking unnecessary risks by overtaking other road users.
From my experience and speaking with other experience campers, here are the top tips for towing a caravan (for beginners)
Tips for Towing a Caravan (for Beginners)
Lock Everything Down
In the days before your trip, create a checklist of all the things you need to tick off. Below will give you some ideas.
When departing check off the list with your partner.
The caravanning motto is the check, then check again and again.
Overlooking something minor can lead to major problems.
Make sure that all windows, hatches are (and bathroom entry and shower doors) in your caravan are secured before you head off.
Also check all draws, cupboards, the fridge is closed and locked. Don’t forget to put the tv aerial.
If you have a TV ensure TV bracket is locked into the retracted position (or better still, the TV stored away),
I often forget to put away things leaving them out on benchtops – they don’t stay there very long once you’re on the move.
Turn off gas bottles.
Double Check Everything is Connected
The items below should also be added to your checklist.
Make sure the trailer plug is securely connected and plugin, and that the coupling pin handle is securely locked in the down position.
Check breakaway wire (for caravans or trailers with electric brakes) are all securely connected.
The next step is to make sure the trailer handbrake is disengaged, the jockey wheel is securely tucked away.
The jockey wheel clamp should be tightened back up and secured.
From here is to lower the stabilizer legs just to get the trailer lowered onto the tow ball.
Once complete perform a final check to see that they’re locked securely in place for travel.
If you’re using a weight-distribution hitch, check that it is properly connected and the safety pins are fitted to the A-frame clamps.
Walk around the caravan scanning its van’s body, a final check to see that all windows, latches, hatches, and the entry door are securely fastened, and the awning winder is set to the ‘closed’ position and awning arms secured.
Remove the wheel chocks, take a final look around on the ground around the trailer in case you’ve left items behind, such as the awning pull rod or stabilizer leg winder handle.
The next step, with your partner, performs an indicator, and brake light check.
The final step, before you depart check you haven’t left anything behind, like wheel chocks, awning winders, etc.
Check the Towing Capacity
It’s important to get this bit right. You are legally responsible for operating your vehicle at the correct towing capacity.
Vehicle Towing Capacity
Check your vehicle’s towing capacity. This can be found in your vehicle’s manual.
Also, check the gross weight of the caravan you are weighing.
If you are placing items within the caravan this weight needs to be factored in.
Don’t overload the caravan. if you want extra bits put them in the vehicle or don’t take them, leaving them at home.
If you are placing items in your caravan, place heavy items on the floor, lighter items in the cupboards above.
Tow Ball Capacity
If you are unsure of the tow ball capacity, highly recommend you check with the manufacturer, but first, make sure that is within the maximum tow ball weight allowance of the tow ball/tow vehicle manufacturer.
Tow ball capacity you should go over 10-12% of your vans total weight on the tow ball to avoid sway and disaster. for instance, if your caravan weighs 5900 your ball weight should be 590 Ibs.
Get some Practice
If you have time book into a Caravan towing course.
Towing course will greatly increase your confidence and reduce the chances of having an accident.
Many course prices include two people. Which is handy if you’re planning a long trip and wanting to share the driving.
Alternatively, gain practice by taking the caravan around some vacant carparks or quiet streets.
Practice cornering, giving everything a wide birth and reversing.
Some argue that you can’t do forward until you have mastered reversing a caravan.
Because you never know when you might get stuck somewhere and you have no option but to reverse.
And if you can’t reverse you may find yourself in a world of pain,
Use your Mirrors
To see well behind the caravan you are hauling, the mirror needs to extend beyond the width of your trailer.
If not there will be large blind spots that could create problems when changing lanes or making turns.
If the tow vehicle doesn’t have wide enough mirrors, you can buy extended mirrors.
Some even attach to existing vehicle mirrors.
Keep Clear of Big Trucks
If you find yourself behind a truck, remember to be patient, and remember you can’t overtake cars and trucks like you normally would.
Try and avoid overtaking but if you’re going to do it, allow plenty of time and room on the road in which to achieve a safe and smooth move.
Take it Easy
Keep calm, enjoy the ride, don’t make heft swerving turns, and keep to the correct side of the road.
Tune out to elderly people judging you while you reverse.
Where possible stick to the smooth parts of the road and not the rough bits, keep an eye on the caravan.
Smooth driving is safer, more fuel-efficient and it results in less cumulative wear and tears on your vehicle and the caravan.
Look well ahead of your position for natural (tree branches) or man-made hazards (other vehicles, traffic posts) that may impede you as you attempt to pass through.
When going around a corner, take the widest line you can through it because the trailer will cut the corner.
So focus on riding the centerline as closely as is safely possible and take the corner as late and as wide as you can.
On roundabouts, turn as late as you can so the trailer gets safely around.
When driving up hills, try to allow a little more speed on approach rather than too little.
That is, ensure you’re at your safe maximum touring speed or the maximum posted speed limit (whichever is lower) as you approach the hill.
When driving down hills, rather than ride the brakes, use your gears so that your vehicle’s engine braking will safely slow your progress.
Don’t overcorrect too hard or fast, otherwise, you will find yourself snaking and getting yourself into a dangerous position.
Concentrate and take Regular Breaks
Stop often to check the caravan. Check lights, connection, and tyres. Feel for extra hot hubs, wheels if searing hot get them checked by a mechanic.
Do some stretching and if needed have a sleep in the caravan. It doesn’t need to be an 8-hour snooze, but have a rest will make you feel refreshed and dramatically reduce the chances of having an accident.
How to Reverse
Practice reversing a lot and do it in a non-stressful environment – the empty carpark of a sports ground or similar.
Reverse a caravan repeatedly and get comfortable with the process.
When it comes time to reverse your caravan, first up, get out and check the area you’re about to reverse out of or into and make sure it is clear of hazards (low-hanging tree branches, taps), obstacles (children’s bikes), taps and people.
The next step is not to rush. Rushing and not check what’s behind you never ends well when towing.
If you hurry to back your trailer out of a spot or into a campsite, caravan park site, or your boat and trailer onto a boat ramp, then you’re adding undue stress to the situation, risking damage to trailer and vehicle, and possibly injury to people nearby.
If possible, have someone stand outside, at a safe distance where you can see them, and communicate directions to you via agreed-on hand signals or hand-held radio.
A slow, steady speed is crucial when backing up – it gives you ample time to correct the trailer’s direction – and in the main, it’s best to use only small moves of the steering wheel to adjust the trailer’s path.
When reversing, remember it’s counter-intuitive: turn your steering wheel in the opposite direction to how you actually want the trailer to go, i.e. turn your wheel to the right if you want the trailer to go left.
Use those Breaks
When you’re towing, you’ll need to give yourself more time and space for everything.
It’s best to brake earlier than normal and you’ll probably accelerate more slowly with a caravan on the back.
Whether accelerating, braking, or cornering, the key to successful towing is to drive smoothly, which will minimize vehicle wear, reduce your fuel consumption, and generally result in a safer and more relaxed trip.
Don’t Block the Roads
Try and stay off the main roads and keep to the speed limit.
Keep an eye out for traffic build-up behind you. If you are back up the traffic, pull over and let them pass.
Don’t bother trying to overtake trucks inching past it in the overtaking lane.
Try not to park in a designated truck rest areas, you are not a truck.
Safely Towing a caravan can easily be achieved by using common sense, checking, and re-checking pre-departure checks.
It’s also important to have the correct towing capacity for your tow ball and vehicle.
The other key factors are being patient, taking regular breaks, and practicing in quiet streets or vacant carparks.
Another good idea is to attend lessons on towing caravans.
Finally, successfully towing a vehicle involves being a considerate road user.
This means being a consistent, predictable driver (with no sudden moves or acceleration) that does not block the road or back up traffic.
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