Towing a caravan for the first time can be daunting, but a little advice and experience will help make it a positive experience.
A new caravanner faces a steep learning curve, from how to hitch it up and making sure it’s loaded correctly, to understanding how to operate all of the appliances found inside.
And the big one: towing the caravan safely. When you’re at the wheel with a caravan hitched up, how you must ‘read’ the road and react to various traffic conditions is significantly different to when driving unhitched from a caravan.
It would be naive to expect that towing a caravan is much the same as driving a car unhitched.
It just isn’t. But that doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t do it. A bit of advice and plenty of practice will go a long way. Here are some of the things to expect when towing a caravan for the first time…
In many instances, a fully loaded caravan will weigh more than the tow vehicle. It stands to reason, therefore, that a longer stopping distance will be required. Sure, unless your loaded van weighs less than 750kg, it will have its own braking system (either electric or override, depending on the weight of the van), but a caravan and tow vehicle combination will nonetheless never pull up as quickly as a car.
It would therefore be wise to maintain larger gaps than usual when in traffic. How much of a gap will vary according to the conditions, so proceed cautiously and with a healthy dose of common sense.
Towing a large rig on a highway is one thing, but towing one on secondary roads or suburban streets, even at low speeds, can get a little hairy. Cars parked on the side of the road or pulling out of driveways, overhanging branches and careless pedestrians will conspire to fray the driver’s nerves.
Be vigilant, check your extension mirrors, and remember that you might need to take a wider path around an obstacle to ensure the caravan clears it.
The tight corners you are likely to encounter can also present a challenge. A trailer will always take a shorter path around a corner. This ‘cutting in’ could result in the trailer swiping a tree, a signpost or worse. Again, a wider path may be necessary.
Additionally, bear in mind the outward sweep of the trailer when turning – the last thing you need is for the rear of the van to strike something.
Come to terms with the fact that you are not going to accelerate as quickly as you might be used to. Even the twin-turbo V8 Land Cruiser 200 Series will take a little while to really get going when hitched to 3500kg worth of caravan.
It will depend on your setup, but it’s highly likely, too, that you won’t ‘cruise’ at 100km/h on the highway. Every caravan/vehicle combination has a highway ‘sweet spot’, whether it’s 85km/h or 95km/h.
While it’s important not to slow down traffic unnecessarily, try not to feel pressured by following traffic to travel beyond a speed that is legal and which you feel is safe for you and your rig.
THE STRESS FACTOR
If anyone says that towing a large, heavy caravan in traffic, or even at speed on an open highway, is not stressful, they are lying.
The truth is that it requires a heightened state of awareness. You will be constantly on the lookout for obstacles that could damage your vehicle or van. Is that overhead sign a little low? Will my van clear it? What about those tree branches?
You will also be constantly assessing how the van ‘feels’ on the road, quietly judging each small yawing and pitching motion, ever-alert to the possibility of developing an uncontrollable sway.
With experience, this will all become second nature and you’ll develop a sense of the dimensions of your rig and how it performs under tow. The stress factor will die down – but it never goes away completely.
Therefore, it’s important to take a lot of breaks when towing. Stress is tiring, and there’s little benefit in pushing your nerves to breaking point just to save an hour of travel time.
You will quickly discover that safely manoeuvring a tow vehicle and caravan combination in tight spaces is far from easy. Avoid them wherever possible, at least until you have developed your proficiency and confidence.
Supermarket carparks are a case in point. When you need supplies, park your caravan in an open area or on a side street. This may mean that you’ll have to walk a little further than you would prefer to get to the supermarket, but it’s worth it.
TAKE IT EASY
When you are at the helm of your rig for the first time, take it easy. There is no rush. After all, you’re on holidays.
Stay alert to all possibilities, proceed with caution and, as you pull up to the caravan park, don’t be afraid to ask for help when getting your van on site!
For more information about how to travel safely under tow see our article on the top five caravan safety features!