Caravan novices are risking £1,000 fine over towing mistakes - here's everything you need to know

By Matt Allan
Friday, 25th September 2020, 12:00 pm
Updated Friday, 25th September 2020, 12:01 pm

Clueless novice drivers are hitching up caravans and taking to the road despite not understanding the laws around towing - risking fines and accidents in the process.

Lockdown and continuing restrictions on foreign travel have seen a boom in so-called staycations and growing numbers of holidaymakers are turning to the caravans as a means of escape. Some reports claim sales of caravans and motorhomes are up by as much as 20 per cent on last year.

However, research by Uswitch suggests huge numbers of these towing novices could be unwittingly breaking the law and leaving them at risk of substantial fines, as well as taking potentially dangerous risks.

Uswitch found a sharp rise in the number of internet searches on caravan-related matters, covering everything from how to hitch one to a car to what sort of licence you need to tow a caravan. It then surveyed drivers to gauge their knowledge of the issues and found that 60 per cent have no idea how to safely hitch a caravan to their car, 57 per cent didn’t know the licence around towing and 51 per cent were unaware of the different speed limits for cars towing caravans.

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To help camping newbies stay safe and on the right side of the law, Uswitch has created a guide to the basics - from how to hitch a caravan to speed limits and what licence you need for different vehicles.

How do you hitch a caravan to your car?

The first piece of advice is that if you’re unsure, ask a professional to demonstrate how to hitch the caravan to your car. Once you’ve been shown you should practise several times before heading out on a journey.

The Caravan Club has the following advice but also emphasises the importance of seeking professional advice if you are at all unsure.

If you can, get help rather than trying to manoeuvre the caravan. Use the jockey wheel to adjust the height of the caravan hitch so that it is higher than the towball before reversing the car into position.

(Photo: Shutterstock)

Attach the caravan’s breakaway cable to the towbar attachment point and ensure there is enough slack that it doesn’t become taught even at the extremes of articulation. This cable applies the trailer’s brakes if the vehicles become separated so you don’t want it activating accidentally.

Couple the towball according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Hitches vary so make sure to check the guidance for your specific setup and if there are visual or audible indicators check for these to confirm a correct connection. Double check the coupling then ensure the jockey wheel is fully retracted and stowed as high as possible.

Connect the caravan’s electrics to the towbar’s output then get someone’s help to ensure all the lights work. Also check the van’s tyres, brakes and number plate before setting off. Faults with any of these could see police fine you.

You must be able to see clearly down both sides of your caravan and four metres either side at a distance of 20 metres behind the caravan. This means you will need to fit extension towing mirrors, otherwise you could receive a £1,000 fine, three points on your licence and risk invalidating your insurance if involved in a crash.

It’s also a legal requirement for vehicle registration plates to be visible on your caravan or trailer, too, or again, you could be fined or face penalty points.

Weight restrictions and your licence

There are different restrictions on what you can tow on a standard car licence depending on when you passed your test.

If you passed your driving test on or after January 1 1997 and have an ordinary category B (car) licence, you can drive a vehicle up to 3.5 tonnes or 3,500kg maximum authorised mass (MAM) towing a trailer of up to 750kg MAM.

You can also tow a trailer over 750kg MAM as long as the combined weight of the trailer and towing vehicle is no more than 3,500kg. For anything heavier you need to take a category B+E driving test.

(Photo: Shutterstock)

However, if you passed your driving test before January 1997 you’re generally allowed to drive a vehicle and trailer combination up to 8.25kg MAM.

If you exceed these limits you could receive up to six points on your licence.

Speed limits for caravans

Everyone knows the regular speed limits for a standard car but these are reduced for vehicles towing a caravan or other trailer.

On a motorway or dual carriageway it is 60mph and on single carriageway roads it is 50mph. It remains 30mph in builtd up areas.

It’s also worth knowing that caravans are not permitted in the outside lane of motorways.

Does your insurance cover you to tow a caravan?

Before you even start planning your journey, if you’ve recently bought a caravan or motorhome you need to ensure your insurance covers you.

Over half of UK motorists (53.59 per cent) don’t know whether their car insurance covers them to tow a trailer, and if this applies to you it’s worth giving your provider a call.

Whilst most car insurance policies will cover your vehicle while towing a caravan, they are unlikely to cover damage to your caravan in the event of a collision. Do check, but you'll probably find that caravans are specifically excluded in the policy.

Uswitch car insurance expert, Florence Codjoe, says: “If you’re one of the many drivers thinking of renting or buying a motorhome this year, it’s important you know what level of cover your insurance offers.“It’s also essential you are aware of the weight restrictions, speed limits, and safety regulations before commit to a purchase. If you fail to comply and are involved in an accident, you are unlikely to be covered by your insurance provider and could face a fine, along with points on your licence.”

This article first appeared on our sister title The Scotsman