Even if you consider yourself a towing expert, there will still be times when things don’t go quite according to plan. Motoring expert Liz Dobson shares her tips.
You may have been towing your caravan for years, but sometimes even the best of us can make some rookie mistakes when we’re hitching up to head out on holiday after some time at home. Maybe you’re new to the towing game and you’ve finally invested in a caravan to explore New Zealand, or, like some family friends of mine, you’ve traded in your motorhome for a large caravan and ute so you can park up and use the four-wheel-drive vehicle to explore the area.
You will likely already know the basics from passing your driving license: don’t go faster than 90km/hour, and leave more space than usual between your vehicle and the vehicle in front, so that others can pass you. Remember also that the added weight you’re carrying means you will need more space to stop, so increase your following distance from two seconds to four seconds.
Whatever the scenario, it’s never a bad time to brush up on your knowledge, so my first column for MCD is all about what not to do when you’re towing.
1. Don’t overload your caravan
Consider the weight of your van when loaded with all your gear, water, food and extras. If you breach the limits set by the manufacturer you will be towing illegally. ‘Tare weight’ means the weight of an empty van, while the ‘payload’ is the maximum carrying capacity of gear, gas, and water. You can reduce your payload by packing the minimum clothing, and using camping plates and cups which are usually lighter than china. Try to avoid carrying glass: buy drinks in cans wherever you can.
2. Don’t forget the essentials
Due to lockdown, it may have been a wee while since you went camping far, if at all, so even if you think you’ve got it all in hand, write a comprehensive checklist (considering making a spreadsheet and printing it off) of what you’ll need, and don’t forget the essentials. Make sure your towbar is clean and devoid of any rust. Checking your towing equipment is the most essential part of your caravan trip, especially if it has been parked up for a while. Check the tow coupling and brake mechanisms are well lubricated – your local garage or mechanic will be able to do this for you.
Practice using all your gear and appliances, including coupling and uncoupling, before you leave. Make sure your gas bottle is full. Also, make sure you know where everything is, and have the frequently used items close at hand.
3. Don’t forget to top up
Towing a caravan uses more petrol, so your fuel economy will be different from your usual commute. Fill up before you leave home, and use Google Maps to show where the service stations are on your route. Remember, travelling at slower speeds, also means you use less fuel.
4. Practice your three-point turn
Many of us break out into a sweat at just the thought of having to reverse into a tiny campsite spot, with all your new neighbours watching. Everyone in your group who drives should practice reversing before you head off – it’s the only way to be sure you won’t end up doing a mortifying 100-point turn in front of everyone!
5. Secure your load
Unfortunately, many holidays end up in disaster through something as simple as not securing everything in your trailer or caravan. Heavy items should be kept low down and close to the axle, including the car as well as the caravan. You don’t want big, heavy bags sliding around inside the caravan so buy some straps. Places such as The Warehouse has an array of straps and tiedown. If your caravan has a fixed bed at the back, don’t load it with heavy items as you’ll be weighing the van like a pendulum, increasing the risk of instability and incidents.
6. Use extension mirrors
You know those signs on the back of trucks that say, ‘If you can’t see my mirrors, I can’t see you’? This applies to you when you’re towing. For caravanners who often head out on trips, consider adding extension mirrors to your vehicle. When you’re towing, you are legally required to have a clear field of vision around and behind your caravan, without any blind spots. As most caravans are wider than cars, even if your SUV has large side mirrors they still won’t suffice.
Towing mirrors attach easily to your existing side mirrors and act as an extension. Once correctly installed, the mirrors should show part of the wheel arch, and the road beside and behind the caravan. Preferably, it will also show the roof of the caravan too.
7. Check your tyre pressure
Most cars have different recommended pressures for towing or driving when heavily loaded – check your caravan tyres are at the correct pressures, too. Under- or over-inflated tyres won’t handle as well, and could make an outfit less stable. In extreme circumstances, a tyre could even fail.
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