KNOW YOUR VEHICLE
Recent brochure (January 2008) from Volvo covering towing with the current range of Volvo cars. CLICK HERE
A glance at the side profile of a car gives a clue to its potential as a towcar. If it has a relatively long wheelbase and the all important rear overhang is short (the distance between the centre of the rear wheels to the towball) then it looks promising. Below are listed some important but easy to understand calculations that should enable you to set up both vehicles for better towing.
Actual Laden Weight
The total weight of the caravan/trailer and its contents when being towed.
The weight of the towing vehicle as defined by the vehicle manufacturer (we suggest that you consult your vehicle's manual for this).
Caravan or Trailer /Towing Vehicle Weight Ratio
The actual laden weight of the caravan expressed as a percentage of the kerb weight of the towing vehicle, ie: actual laden weight of caravan, divided by kerb weight of towing vehicle, multiplied by 100.
Most importantly, make sure that your towing vehicle and trailer or caravan are serviced regularly. Remember, you put not only yourself at risk but your family and other road users at risk if you do not heed these warnings.
EC 94/20 REGULATIONS
This European Directive relates to mechanical coupling devices of motor vehicles, their trailers, and attachments to those vehicles. Type Approved towbars ensure peace of mind for all concerned.
The European Directive was published on 29th July 1994 and in conjunction with EC Whole Vehicle Type Approval 53/20, the aim is to allow free trading of vehicles throughout the EC once Type Approval is granted in one member State. Therefore, after 1st August 1998 new models of vehicles which the manufacturer indicates as suitable for towing, should only be fitted with towbars which have undergone Type Approval to the requirements of Directive 94/20/EC. Similarly, existing designs of all vehicles, both old and new which are registered after 1st August 1998 will require Type Approved towbars from that date.
The main points
1. A towbar must fit to all the vehicle manufacturer's recommended fitting points.
2. The towbar must successfully pass the new higher Euronorm Standard (20% higher than previous UK/European levels).
3. The towbar must not obscure the number plate when not in use (a detachable system such as the Brinkmatic overcomes any problems).
How it affects you
The new Regulations, once implemented, mean that towbars must be manufactured to a higher European Standard. Ultimately this has to improve the towing enthusiast's peace of mind that he has a 'coupling' that is designed and made to the highest of quality levels. Alternatively, it will be illegal to fit a non 94/20 EC towbar to a vehicle that has Type Approval as it would jeopardise human safety and insurance cover and may invalidate vehicle warranty.
The nose weight can be defined as the downforce which a trailer exerts on the towball. While the loaded trailer should be a little nose heavy, and point down slightly at the front, it is essential from a safety aspect that this is not too great
Where to start
The nose weight referred to in the vehicle handbook should be followed, but as a general guideline the recommended nose weight is around 7% of the laden weight of the trailer. Too light or too heavy a nose weight will result in poor towing stability and, in the case of a heavy nose weight, may mean that headlights project a potentially dangerous, high beam of light, dazzling other drivers. Checking tyre pressures on a regular basis is very important. Underinflated tyres are unstable at the best of times, but can cause untold problems when towing.
How to check
The easiest way of establishing nose weight is to place a set of bathroom scales directly under the caravan/trailer coupling (first, place a piece of wood or suitable packer between scales and coupling for protection), gradually wind up the jockey wheel until it is just clear of the ground. The alternative is to purchase a proprietary nose weight indicator - a wise investment for the regular towing enthusiast. Overloading the towing vehicle may also result in damaged suspension. Remember, you should aim for perfect harmony between both vehicles.
Drivers who are towing for the first time are well advised to practice coupling and uncoupling a trailer before they start. There are, of course, many more aspects to be aware of and failure to adhere to the following information may result in prosecution or lead to an accident.
From 1 January 1997, new drivers may drive a vehicle up to 3.5 tonnes gross vehicle weight (GVW) with a 750kgs GVW trailer. Towing under a provisional licence is NOT acceptable. If in doubt, contact the DVLA Swansea. Tel: 01792 772151.
Most vehicle insurance policies will cover Third Party liabilities when towing, but it is your responsibility to check your own policy carefully and if you are in any doubt about towing, consult your insurance company at once. Most trailer/caravan hire companies hold the hirer personally liable for the value of the trailer hired.
The maximum speed that a car with a trailer etc. can be driven 60mph on UK motorways and dual carriageways and 50mph other types of roads (providing no lower speed limit is in force), and that the gross weight of the trailer and vehicle is less than 7.5 tonnes. Maximum speeds vary across Europe. NOTE: vehicles are not allowed to use the right-hand (overtaking) lane of a three lane carriageway whilst towing.
The maximum gross (fully laden) weight of an unbraked trailer is 750kg, or half the kerb weight of the vehicle - whichever is less. The gross weight of a braked trailer should generally not exceed 85% of the tow car's kerb weight. Refer to your tow car manufacturer's manual for the kerb weight.
Size of trailer
Assuming that an ordinary car (not a goods vehicle) is the tow vehicle, then the overall length of the trailer, caravan etc. must not exceed 7m, excluding A-frame and hitch (regs 7 & 8 of Road Vehicles Construction and Use Regulations - 1986). The maximum width of the trailer should not exceed 2.3 m.
It makes sense to check certain features before you set out: set tyre pressures on trailer and tow car, secure all items inside the trailer, close all windows, roof vents and doors, make sure caravan corner steadies are raised, test all lights and adjust mirrors as necessary.
Tyres and number plates
Wheels and tyres must be capable of carrying the maximum laden weight of the caravan at the maximum speed limit (this varies throughout Europe). CHECK TYRE PRESSURES REGULARLY. ALL trailers, caravans etc. must be fitted with an approved style number plate.
Lights and reflectors
All trailers on the road during darkness must have the following;
- Two red side lights at the rear
- Brake lights
- Direction indicators
- Number plate light
- At least one rear fog light (if the trailer is more than 1.3m wide)
- Two red triangular reflectors
All lights must be in proper working order, and correctly fitted to your car's electrics.
It is vital that the towing vehicle's rear suspension is not deflected excessively by nose weight on the towball. If it is excessive, steering, stability and headlight alignment will be affected.
This is not currently required for trailers and caravans. However, good practice dictates that regular servicing and maintenance should be carried out as an unroadworthy trailer may invalidate your insurance. A caravan is a road vehicle and therefore requires regular servicing. The braking system, wheels, tyres and lights in particular, all need scrupulous attention.
It is STRICTLY ILLEGAL to allow passengers to travel inside the trailer, caravan etc. While it is permitted to carry animals in a caravan, this is not recommended.
FITTING A TOWBAR
A towbar can be fitted by both the professional and the competent enthusiast alike. If fitting it yourself, please ensure that all instructions are read and understood before starting and that you have the necessary tools to hand.
Before you start
When purchasing a towbar to fit to your vehicle yourself, make sure that you select the correct one. Towbars that are designed to fit individual vehicle chassis precisely, such as those manufactured by Brink, are vehicle specific, for example, the towbar designed for a Saloon model may not fit an Estate of the same model. You must also make your towbar dealer aware of any special features, such as a body kit, which may have been fitted to your car. You MUST ensure that your vehicle is in a proper fit state to accept a towbar - is the chassis corroded? Is it accident damaged? To facilitate fitting it is a good idea to remove the contents of the vehicle boot, including the spare wheel. It may be necessary to remove some of the interior trim to fit the towbar. Remove all retaining clips carefully - in cold weather conditions some clips become brittle and may be damaged on removal. Due to the styling of most of today's modern vehicles, it is now common practice to remove the bumper before fitting a towbar. if this procedure is not clear and you are unsure how to remove the bumper, refer to the vehicle handbook
Towbar fitting points
In many cases, towbar fitting points will be marked by small dimples in the vehicle panels, which have to be drilled out. Provided a sensible, cautious approach is adopted, drilling holes in vehicle bodywork in order to fit a towbar should not be a major problem. It is wise to drill a small pilot hole first to maintain accuracy. All holes drilled into the vehicle bodywork should ideally be treated with an anti-corrosion compound. Follow the set fitting procedure rigidly. DO NOT tighten any of the fixings at the assembly stage. When all the components are in place they should be tightened to the specified torque settings, starting with the smallest ones first. It is of the utmost importance that you utilise all the vehicle manufacturer's fitting points; they are there for a purpose!
As well as an electrical test meter and a trailer board if you are fitting an electrical kit at the same time as fitting your towbar, you will need the following: Electric drill, cone cutter, hand saw, torque wrench, torx head socket set, standard socket set - M6 to M16.
We have listed the three main and important reasons why your vehicle should never be fitted with a towbar that doesn't fit to all the manufacturer's recommended fitting points.
- Fitting points are calculated to utilise the optimum strength of the vehicle and to enhance the safety aspect; to not use them - or indeed use other methods - can hinder safety when towing
- Fitting points recommended by vehicle manufacturers must be used if unnecessary stresses are to be avoided on the vehicle's chassis. Brink, for example, manufacturer over 2000 towbar designs - all of which fit precisely to all fitting points.
- You may also invalidate your vehicle manufacturer's warranty if an 'approved' towbar is not used. Brink towbars are sold to both vehicle dealers and aftermarket outlets and already meet all required approvals.
Your vehicle bumper may be provided with a purpose made panel for this, or may be pre-marked on the inside. Always work from the inside of the bumper and if using a saw, ensure that the teeth on the blade are positioned so as not to cause a bur on the outside which may cause bodywork paint to flake
Bumper protectors - steel plate accessories that fit between bolt on towbars and the tow vehicle often obscure the number plate. Such an obstruction is now illegal under the EC 94/20 Directive.
The following tips are just a few widely accepted guidelines to promote safe towing - particularly before you are on the road or when reversing. For the novice, reversing the combination can be daunting but a few easy to follow rules should help this considerably
The law currently states that both towing vehicles and caravans/trailers and the loads they carry must be in such a condition that no danger or nuisance is caused.
Keep all the heaviest items over the axle. The remainder should be distributed to give a suitable nose weight at the coupling. Correct loading is crucial to stability. Ideally the maximum laden weight of the caravan/trailer should not exceed 85% of the kerbside weight of the towcar.
On the road
The actual laden weight of the caravan/trailer should be kept as low as possible; the lower it is the safer the caravan/trailer combination will be. Think about the overall length of the towing combination, all too often, accidents occur because the driver has forgotten to take into account the increased length of both vehicles. The addition of an extension mirror will assist in improving vision and, depending on the width of the vehicle being towed, may be a legal requirement.
As a rule of thumb, to reverse in a straight line, once the caravan or trailer is visible in either mirror, gradually turn the steering wheel towards that mirror to re-align the towed vehicle. If reversing round a corner or into an opening, your initial movement of the steering wheel should be in the opposite direction to where you want the caravan or trailer to turn into. Once moving gradually reverse this action as necessary. Practise makes perfect - don't be put off by early failed attempts at reversing.
HOW TO AVOID SNAKING
Snaking occurs for varying reasons - from buffeting winds to aggressive driving - but it can be reduced by fitting a quality stabiliser. However, a stabiliser should never be used to counteract a poor towing combination or bad driving.
Points to remember
The following points will drastically reduce the chance of snaking:
- Keep within the nose weight and laden weight limits of your combination.
- Check tyre pressures regularly.
- Reduce speed on downhill roads.
- Keep an eye on overtaking vehicles slipstream effects from lorries and coaches can cause snaking. Keep well to the left of your carriageway.
If you feel you are snaking, your instinctive reaction may be to brake hard or accelerate out. This is not advisable and is extremely dangerous. The proper course of action on sensing the snake is to brake gently and gradually until full control is regained.
Brink provide a traditional, friction pad stabiliser compatible with the UK style towbar which utilises a standard, bolt-on ball. When used in conjunction with an adaptor bracket - also available from Brink - the stabiliser is compatible with most swan neck towbars. The SSK 2 model, also available from Brink, acts directly on the point of pivot, working equally on each side of the towball, and so does not affect balance and stability. Easy to use, it engages in one simple movement. Equally as effective on small trailers as on large caravans, the SSK-2 works on loads from 180kg up to a maximum gross weight of 2000kg.
CABLES & COUPLINGS
Breakaway cables and secondary couplings form an essential part of any towing combination
The breakaway cable is a connecting device which automatically operates the trailer braking system in the perilous event of a coupling detachment.
A secondary coupling (secondary to the coupling head and towball), consists of a chain or wire which ensures that the trailer remains attached to the towing vehicle in the event of a coupling detachment. it also prevents the drawbar from touching the ground and provides some residual steering.
The breakaway cable and secondary coupling should be attached to the towbar in one of two ways:
Looped over - the forming of a loop with hook or clip on the end of the cable back to the cable to form a loop over the towbar. This is a common practice but if the tow hitch fails the cable could unloop itself over the towball.
Directly - fixing of the sprung hook or clip on the end of the breakaway cable or secondar coupling through a closed hole, loop, eyelet pigtail attachment. This is the preferred method. NOTE. with a detachable towbar the breakaway cable or secondary coupling must be attached DIRECTLY to the attachment point, which must not be on, or part of, the removable component(s). The cable should be of sufficient length so as not to come into contact with the ground, but must also have sufficient slack to avoid inadvertent brake application when negotiating a tight corner.
The breakaway cable should apply a sufficient load to the braking system operating mechanism to hold the trailer on an 18% gradient at its maximum permissible weight. The secondary coupling should have a minimum strength at least equal to the maximum weight of the trailer.
CYCLE & ROOF RACKS
Taking cycles on a touring holiday has become popular - cycles can be carried on the vehicle roof or behind the vehicle. A carrier mounted to the rear of the vehicle does, however, offer more flexibility, as the vehicle roof is left free for extra storage by way of a roof rack.
Roof racks & boxes
It goes without saying that when towing, heavy items MUST NEVER be carried on the car roof if the towing combination's maximum laden weight has already been reached. Roof racks are available in two basic styles, for cars with rain gutters and those without . Adjustable roof bars are simple to fix to cars with factory-fitted roof rails. To cut down on fuel consumption (by increasing aerodynamics) and to protect your belongings, a roof box provides an excellent answer to carriage problems. Fixed safely and securely to the roof rack, a box such as the Alpine 700 has variable quick-release fittings and central locking system.
Compared to a roof-mounted cycle carrier, the use of a rear mounted type has several advantages. Easier to attach, load and offload, this type of carrier returns better fuel consumption than its rival. The one drawback of some rear-mounted carriers is that they cannot be fitted to all types of towbar - the swan neck and detachable types in particular. But thanks to its unique patented coupling system, the Multipac 980 available from Brink can be fitted swiftly to any type of towbar. As standard, it accommodates two cycles, but with the simple addition of separate accessories it can carry up to three cycles and even be converted to a luggage carrier. A loaded cycle carrier can easily add up to 90kg to your noseweight so check that this is within your towing limits.