What Can I Tow
Most of these guidelines concern maximum weight limits for both car and caravan and how to safely load both vehicles.
The most important factor to remember is that the kerbweight (partially laden weight) of the car should at least be equal to and ideally exceed the fully laden weight of the caravan.
It’s important that you safely load both your caravan and your car. For optimum towing performance, we recommend to aim for a maximum towed load of no more than 85% of the car’s kerbweight for beginners and perhaps up to 90% for experienced towers. Never exceed 100%.
For example, if your car weighs 1750kg with a full tank of a fuel and a driver, ideally, your caravan’s maximum laden weight (often referred to as MTPLM – Maximum Technically Permitted Laden Mass) shouldn’t exceed 1487.5kg (85%) for beginners and 1575kg for experienced towers.
Most cars have upper weight limits determined by the manufacturers and some have restrictions on the maximum weight they may tow.
In their brochures, manufacturers will typically state that their vehicles are capable of towing a load that exceeds our recommended towing ratios. Whilst this would not be illegal, we would not recommend towing anything heavier than the car’s kerbweight.
The connection between weight ratio and stability has been proven
For all modern caravans built by National Caravan Council members, the MTPLM should be on a plate (usually near the door or on the A-frame), and also included in the handbook. Consult your caravan dealer if in doubt.
Do I need a bigger, more powerful car?
After weight, the other important consideration is engine power and torque. The power to weight ratio (sometimes measured as bhp per tonne) can be a useful indicator of this.
Attach a caravan to the hitch and the power to weight ratio of many cars is often almost halved.
For example, a Ford Mondeo 2.0 TDCI weighs 1557kg and has 140bhp so its power to weight ratio is 90bhp/tonne. Attach a fully laden Swift Challenger 540 to the hitch and the power to weight ratio drops to 46bhp/tonne.
One rule of thumb to aim for here is 40bhp/tonne of the GTW, i.e. everything in the outfit that the engine has to pull - laden car and laden caravan.
This is a minimum target figure for allowing reasonable performance, not delaying other traffic and having sufficient power for overtaking.
Petrol or diesel
Torque, or pulling power, is a measure of engine performance. Good torque at low engine speeds will allow easy pulling away, and towing with a minimum of gear changing.
In general, diesel-engined cars will offer more low-down torque, which makes them more accomplished towcars. Renewed concerns over air quality are likely to see increased levels of taxation levied on diesel vehicles in the coming years. Hybrid vehicles, which combine a petrol or diesel engine with an electric motor, are set to become more popular. The additional torque provided by the electric motor is useful for towing and the superior fuel economy and lower emissions mean lower fuel and tax bills.
Manual or automatic
An automatic is ideally suited for caravan towing, and with its torque converter allows crawling pace where a manual's clutch would slip and wear.
The latest five, six or seven speed automatics have virtually eliminated any significant fuel consumption penalty and generally deliver performance effectively equal to their manual counterparts. Other benefits include less wear and tear on the transmission, easy re-starts on hills and excellent low speed control when reversing to hitch up. An automatic gearbox is also easier to use with today’s electronic handbrakes – especially on a tricky hill start.
Modern automatic transmissions usually feature the option to manually select a gear so they can be driven as a ‘clutchless manual’, but in most driving conditions the gearbox is best left to do its own thing most of the time. The exceptions to this while towing include situations like driving in snow and ice, where holding a low gear to maximise engine braking is desirable. When preparing to overtake, it’s also sometimes useful to select a lower ratio in advance of starting the manoeuvre, rather than waiting for the gearbox to ‘kick down’. More sophisticated automatic transmissions can be programmed to respond to these conditions with special settings such as W for winter, S for sport and E for economy.
On a small number of models the manufacturer imposes a lower towing limit on the automatic than is standard for the manual version – be sure to check before buying.
Most of our members opt for a 4x4 as their towcar – 4x4s generally allow for a wider selection of caravans to be towed and gain extra traction on wet pitches. It’s worth bearing in mind, that some more compact models don’t weigh much more than a standard saloon, so the advantages aren’t so beneficial.
Rear wheel drive vehicles cars such as BMWs and some Mercedes tend to offer a more refined towing experience on the road and provide good traction - thanks to the extra weight of the caravan on the hitch keeping the rear wheels in contact with the road. Most front wheel drive cars tow very competently providing the car manufacturer's noseweight limit and rear axle limits are observed. Performance can still be compromised while towing on hill starts, or on wet grass/mud, where the front wheels may struggle to pull away – even with the traction control system engaged.
The guidance set out on this page is provided for general guidance purposes only, and does not purport to be legal advice or a definitive interpretation of the law.