Owning a campervan or motorhome opens up a world of opportunities, allowing you to explore the world in comfort. However, over time some people find their vehicle has limitations that they want to address, and towing can solve some of these problems.
- Why would you tow with a motorhome?
- What are the benefits of towing?
- What can your vehicle tow?
- How to tow with your motorhome
- Can a towbar be fitted to your motorhome?
- Using a towbar
- Reversing while towing a car
- Towing and the law
- What does your driving licence permit you to tow?
- The maximum weight you can legally tow
- Towing outside the UK
- Precautions to take
- Towing and insurance
Picture the scene; you’ve arrived at your campsite, set up your gear and are planning trips over the coming week, then suddenly you realise that some of the places you’d like to visit have restricted access which won’t accommodate your motorhome or campervan. Your regular car would have been perfect, but it’s parked outside your house. Or you’ve arrived and realised that the nearby river is perfect for paddle boarding, but you just didn’t have room for your boards in your campervan and now the kids are disappointed.
Towing can make your trip much more flexible by allowing you to bring your car or load up a trailer with items that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to take.
Just remember though, you’ll need to make sure your insurance policy covers anything you decide to tow.
Towing can help with access issues, storage, and being able to bring all the gear you want with you. All these things can be summed up in a word though and that’s ‘flexibility’. Put simply, towing can make any trip you decide to take more flexible and, therefore, more enjoyable and relaxing.
While the government provides legal advice on what you can tow, it will obviously depend on the type of vehicle you own so check your owner’s manual for guidance or contact the manufacturer if it doesn’t provide you with all the answers you need.
Some of the things you could consider towing though are:
- A trailer to give you more storage space
- A caravan for more living space
- Another vehicle, such as a small car for day trips
- Motorbikes and bicycles for exploring the countryside
- Kayaks and canoes for getting out on the water
There are several different options for towing with your vehicle, but rear-wheel drive vehicles with a short overhang behind the rear wheels tend to be the easiest to set up. Some motorhomes can be fitted with a tow bar, for example, while others can’t. Also, adding a tow bar will increase your vehicle’s payload so you’ll need to check your loaded weight and make sure you have scope within the plated limit to add tow bar equipment.
You’ll also need to check your noseweight, which is the downward force that whatever you’re towing exerts on the towing vehicle’s tow ball. If your noseweight is insufficient, then whatever you’re towing will tilt and become unstable. In general, it’s recommended to aim for the noseweight to be 5 – 7% of the vehicle’s laden weight. There are gauges available to help you determine the noseweight, but it’s also achievable by using a sturdy set of scales and piece of wood.
In addition, you’ll need to make sure you comply with the legal requirements in relation to towing, such as having appropriate towing mirrors and a breakaway cable or secondary coupling installed on the towed item.
A towbar is probably the first thing you’ll think of when considering the options for towing with your campervan or motorhome. But before we get into how to use a towbar, you’ll need to think about whether you can fit one to your vehicle and the answer to this question isn’t always straightforward.
Several factors need to be considered here, such as the class of your vehicle and how it was built. Generally, panel-built vehicles can be fitted with a towbar. These include vehicles that are sold from new as a campervan and are based on the design of a commercial van, or in some instances they can be a commercial van that someone has purchased and either converted themselves or commissioned a specialist to modify for them.
Coachbuilt motorhomes come with more challenges though, as they may have under chassis fresh or wastewater tanks in the way, or they may have an LPG cylinder under the motorhome that prevents you from installing a towbar.
We’d always recommend consulting a professional before installing a towbar and the best place to start is the manufacturer or dealer for your vehicle, as they’ll be able to provide detailed technical information as well as info on any issues you should consider based on their experience with other customers.
A towbar links your vehicle to whatever you choose to tow behind it. The towed vehicle will keep all its wheels on the road and the addition of a safety chain or cable is generally recommended to increase stability between the two. You’ll also need to add an additional brake light and indicator system to whatever you’re towing to make sure that other drivers are aware of what you intend to do.
Towbars are popular because, compared to the other options, they’re cheap, save space, and are relatively easy to fit if you have the right type of vehicle. However, they can range from complicated to impossible to fit on certain styles of motorhome where things such as gas cylinders and water tanks may get in the way. If this is the case with your vehicle there are other options to consider, though.
Using an A-frame
An A-frame is attached to the front of a vehicle, such as a car, and allows for one vehicle to be towed behind another vehicle, such as a car being towed by a motorhome. A car attached to a motorhome via an A-frame is legally treated as a trailer and, as with towbars, you’ll need to ensure that you meet the requirements for lights, mirrors, and braking. We’d generally recommend having an A-frame installed by a professional.
Additional braking systems are only needed for cars over 750kg, so make sure you check the weight of the vehicle you plan to tow to see if this applies to you (although most cars will be above this weight). You’ll also need to ensure that any additional braking devices that deploy brakes to the A-frame ensure safe and stable braking of the towing vehicle and the trailer.
For lighting, some A-frames will connect to the car’s system to replicate the lights of the towing vehicle, while others will use a separate trailer board with another set of lights. Either way, cars being towed must have two reflective triangles on the back as well as the registration plate of the towing vehicle displayed, rather than the one being towed.
If in doubt, always check with your insurer to make sure you are using the right braking system for your set up and you can also consult the Government website for general advice.
Using a trailer
Another option to consider when towing is a trailer, which comes in a range of sizes and weight capacities, depending on the vehicle you’re using to tow with and the type of driving licence you have (more on this later).
Trailers can be used to transport various things, including cars, motorbikes, boats, and kayaks, while some can be fitted with sides to transform them into a more versatile way of transporting things that won’t fit in your main vehicle.
Additionally, they are much easier to use for reversing than an A-frame, although it can still be tricky until you’ve had some practice.
A trailer will probably set you back more than an A-frame conversion initially, but on the plus side they do tend to hold their value, so if you decide to sell it on in the future you could get a decent portion of your outlay back.
Another issue to consider is storage space, both at home and at any campsites you visit, as well as security, as you’ll want to deter potential thieves with measures such as wheel clamps and hitch locks.
Using a tow dolly
A dolly is a small trailer which lifts the front wheels of the towed vehicle off the ground. They work well with two-wheel drive vehicles, but for rear-wheel drive vehicles the drive shaft will need to be disconnected and removed before towing to prevent damage to the vehicle’s transmission.
You’ll need to meet the same requirements for lighting and braking systems as you do for trailers, but a dolly has the advantage of taking up much less space than a trailer and is also a little more stable than an A-frame.
They should, however, only be used to transport a non-functional vehicle, such as a car that has broken down and needs to be towed back home or to a garage. In this instance, one set of the disabled car’s tyres is on the ground, while the other end is suspended on the dolly.
As long as you are using the right type of dolly for your purpose and are using it correctly in relation to the relevant safety and towing regulations, it should be legal.
You’ll need to be careful when reversing while towing a car as, unlike a trailer, cars won’t have a system to automatically collapse their braking when reversing, so this can result in braking drag. You’ll therefore need to use an A-frame with technology that overruns inertia systems to overcome this.
Aside from this issue, reversing while towing a car is tricky as the car will have four wheels on the road so you won’t have a pivot point in the same way that a trailer does. Therefore, you may need to uncouple the car and reverse both vehicles separately.
There are a few laws you’ll need to be aware of when towing. You aren’t allowed to drive above 50mph on single carriageways and 60mph on dual carriageways and motorways, plus you aren’t allowed to use the outside lane of a motorway if it has three lanes or more.
There are also limits in place relating to your kerbweight, which is the mass of a vehicle in running order, so it includes everything onboard from your fuel to your spare wheel and passengers. If you have an unbraked trailer then you are only permitted to have a maximum authorised mass of 750kg or half the kerbweight of the towing vehicle, whichever is less. If your trailer is fitted with brakes, you need to ensure they work properly even if your maximum authorised mass is below 750kg.
As you’ll likely be aware, there are a number of driving licence categories in the UK and depending on what you choose to tow, you may need to review the type of licence you have. Before you decide to tow anything, make sure you have taken and passed a licence that includes category BE.
If you have a BE licence you are entitled to drive a vehicle with a maximum authorised mass of 3,500kg with a trailer. However, the size of the trailer depends on the BE valid-from date on your licence, so if it is before 19 January 2013, you are allowed to tow any size trailer within the towing limits of your vehicle, but if it was issued on or after 19 January 2013, you’re allowed to tow a trailer with a maximum authorised mass of up to 3,500kg within the towing limits of your vehicle.
If you exceed these limits, you’ll need to revisit your licence. For full details on all driving licenses visit the government’s website.
You will need to consider what your motorhome can tow safely, and this can be expressed as the Gross Train Weight (or GTW). GTW is the total weight of your vehicle and anything that you are towing and will vary depending on the class of your vehicle.
Manufacturers will quote the towing limits in your owner’s manual so be sure to check your vehicle as it is illegal to exceed the limit. To be sure you should get the weight checked at a weighbridge.
It’s important to check with your insurer before you tow abroad, especially if you are using an A-frame as there is no EU-wide legislation that covers them. In this instance, using a trailer may be a better option.
Also, do check with ferry companies you plan to use or Eurotunnel, as charges can vary. It’s also worth bearing in mind that road tolls can be higher if you are towing so check your route before you go to avoid any surprises.
Certain gadgets are worth exploring; for example, a video camera mounted to the rear of your towed vehicle can help avoid obstacles, especially when reversing.
Whatever you’re towing it’s worth remembering that it will increase your overall weight and thus fuel consumption so make sure you factor it into your fuel budget and allow for slightly more frequent stops to refill along the way.
It’s also worth considering getting a sign for the rear of your towed vehicle if it’s not immediately obvious that you’re towing to other drivers. Finally, if you’re thinking about driving in urban areas make sure you’re aware of any restrictions in place in relation to low emissions and clean air zones in case you need to pay any related charges before entering.
Every insurance policy is different so make sure you check with your insurer before you use your vehicle for towing. Alan Boswell Group motorhome insurance policies don’t cover trailers and only insures motorised vehicles on a third-party only basis (not towable caravans), meaning that the item being towed would need to be insured fully comprehensively as well.
What insurance products do you need to consider?
If you’re planning on hiring out your vehicle to others to earn an extra income, you’ll need comprehensive self-drive hire insurance, ideally, alongside a public liability policy. You’ll need to ensure that your policy covers the towed vehicle or take out separate insurance for it if the cover is insufficient. Of course, if you are taking your own car then it is legally required to be insured as well.