• This topic has 51 replies, 28 voices, and was last updated 4 days ago by tewit.
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  • Talk to me about towing a caravan
  • nickewen
    Free Member

    Evening all,

    I bought my current car a couple of years ago with one eye on buying a caravan. It’s a 2017 BMW G31 540i XDrive and (fuel economy aside) my assumption is that it would make a good tow car.

    One of my questions relate to the suitably of vans I could potentially tow with the car. It has a tow limit of 2000kgs but I’ve read that I should not exceed 85% of this as a sensible limit, would I be being reckless to tow something close to or exceeding this 85% value?

    I’m going to be getting a tow-bar installed soon for my bike rack that is currently gathering dust in the garage. I’ve had a couple of bars fitted in the past on previous cars for the rack but wondering if there are additional considerations for future proofing for van towing? Apparently the BMW tow option includes upgrading the cooling fan and cable to battery etc.

    I plan to pay for some tuition on towing before hitching anything to the back of my car. Anything to look out for in this respect would also be much appreciated.

    Cheers!

    benpinnick
    Full Member

    The 85% limit is nonsense in my humble opinion. I regularly tow more than 100% of the weight of my vehicle (legally of course) without problem.

    The two numbers you legally care about are maximum train weight (from your vin plate) and mtlp from your caravans plate.

    Stay under these and you’re legal. The 2000kg tow weight is big enough for most caravans without blowing any warranty the car may have/invalidating your insurance, but it’s not actually the legal limit. That’s the two numbers above.

    Make sure your caravan has as a minimum a mechanical anti sway hitch, load it properly and keep your tyres in good nick and you should be fine.

    hot_fiat
    Full Member

    A properly coded tow bar to oem standards should let the car’s ecu know you are towing and alter its behaviour accordingly. Not sure about BMWs, but in VW land that means disabling parking sensors and blind spot protection, enabling trailer stability control, changing throttle response, gearbox change points and clutch engagement regimes. I would suspect BMW would behave similarly. 13 pin electrics are imo far better than two 7 pin sockets.

    if you’ve not towed big things before it might well be an idea to get some training. Single, dual and trainable trailers all behave slightly differently and it would have been good to have someone point that out to me before heading off

    matt_outandabout
    Full Member

    One of the things I would ask is about the balance of van size comfort in use Vs van size/mass when towing.

    I’m sure it’s lovely having huge space, masses of hotel like luxury. But that’s likely huge, heavy and takes a lot of effort to move.

    I’ve a colleague with a very big double wheel 2000kg luxury van. Who keeps a Discovery going to tow it, hates towing it so husband does it, they often take it somewhere for a season and leave it because they don’t like towing it. And how thier kids are old enough that they don’t come along, so it’s often two of them…

    My brother in law did similar – bought a 5 berth, maximum weight van and huge awning which fills the car boot. They struggle with all the kit ‘needed’ space wise, they’ve found just moving the thing on site and putting up or drying a monster awning is awkward. And the kids have started to make their own summer holiday plans at 15 and 17….

    I’m of the view that camping is camping – you’re still in a field, sharing loos etc. Having a smaller, more manageable, yet still dry, warm and comfortable van, is a Good Thing.

    But it’s all balance and compromise on your priorities.

    mert
    Free Member

    Apparently the BMW tow option includes upgrading the cooling fan and cable to battery etc.

    Quite common on bigger cars, towing bigger weights. Sometimes add an auxiliary oil cooler too. And if they’re doing that level of change, this will apply too.

    Not sure about BMWs, but in VW land that means disabling parking sensors and blind spot protection, enabling trailer stability control, changing throttle response, gearbox change points and clutch engagement regimes. I would suspect BMW would behave similarly.

    So if you’re getting anything sizeable, might be worth splashing a little extra for the BMW kit.

    The 85% limit is nonsense in my humble opinion. I regularly tow more than 100% of the weight of my vehicle (legally of course) without problem.

    It’s a worst case scenario, a well driven, perfectly loaded and balanced trailer will be safe at 100-200-300% of vehicle max weight. A badly loaded trailer at 50% will be a nightmare to drive as soon as anything goes remotely wrong. (My “record” is towing 12000 kilos on a 2400kg tow vehicle.)

    benpinnick
    Full Member

    When buying make sure your ‘van has a decent payload. British ones are terrible out of the box as were (wrongly) obsessed with the mtlp being low as posible. I would recommend maybe 200kg as it’s surprising how quick it adds up. Most low payload caravans have been downrated on paper only, and a payment to the manufacturer or dealer can get the paperwork reissued with a higher rating.

    Towing is the smallest of issues with caravans though. Build quality is the real issue.

    a11y
    Full Member

    One of my questions relate to the suitably of vans I could potentially tow with the car. It has a tow limit of 2000kgs but I’ve read that I should not exceed 85% of this as a sensible limit,

    My understanding is the rule of thumb was 85% of the towing vehicle’s weight, not 85% of it’s maximum towing capacity. But like @benpinnick says, as long as you’re sensible it’s OK to tow more than that.

    A 540i will barely be slowed by a caravan hooked on the back. We owned a 1500kg single axle caravan for a few years. Initially towed with a 160bhp Freelander 2 which was great, then with our Transit Custom van with 130bhp. Transit struggles on hills (sorry to all those on the A30 a few years ago…) but was very, very stable. Barely felt the caravan behind, whereas IME a more evenly matched car/caravan weight combo feels less stable. Transit towed ‘better’ at 65mph rather than the legal 60mph limit on motorways – less slowed by hills, less need to drop a gear or two to maintain speed, and 3-4mpg better off. Not legal though.

    Big one: pay attention to the noseweight and how you load the caravan. Aim for the maximum noseweight your car/caravan allows, and keep all heavy stuff in the caravan low down and close to the axle (not in the nose or right at the back). I can’t see those rear-mounted bike racks on caravans being a great idea, putting 40kg or so hung that far away from the axle.

    a11y
    Full Member

    When buying make sure your ‘van has a decent payload. British ones are terrible out of the box as were (wrongly) obsessed with the mtlp being low as posible. I would recommend maybe 200kg as it’s surprising how quick it adds up. Most low payload caravans have been downrated on paper only, and a payment to the manufacturer or dealer can get the paperwork reissued with a higher rating.

    Towing is the smallest of issues with caravans though. Build quality is the real issue.

    Ha, this. I was amazed how everything adds up – and also how difficult it was to find a publicly accessible weighbridge in my area so I could check the actual weight of my set up.

    Re build quality. I’m not sure which (if any) UK caravan brands are decent for this. We bought a Hobby instead – if they’re good enough to live in permanently then they’re good enough for us for a few weeks hol a year.

    molgrips
    Free Member

    Build quality on newer vans is much better than it used to be in the old days.

    As above – don’t go too big, it’s just a pain all round.

    reluctantwrinkly
    Free Member

    The 85% rule refers to the kerbweight of the car not its towing limit which is usually way over the kerbweight. It is advisory but generally a good place to start for someone new to towing. As mentioned, payload is pathetic on most vans at around 155 kg for a 4 berth van. Take off a battery and motor mover and you are down to about 100kg which will only give you minimal stuff in the van when you weigh it all up. Lots of stuff may need to go in the car to keep below the caravan mtplm. Some vans can have the mtplm upgraded by buying a new sticker (rip-off) but it depends on the chassis. The max chassis weight is usually on a plate in the gas locker box not the plate near the door.

    timba
    Free Member

    snip…how difficult it was to find a publicly accessible weighbridge in my area so I could check the actual weight of my set up

    Your local county council often test local weighbridges, try their trading standards dept.

    The county council waste transfer station (aka the biggest tip) usually has a public weighbridge

    mikertroid
    Free Member

    Years ago my now ex-wife bought a huge twin axle job when I was away and off-grid on a work trip.

    I had a T5, which you’d have thought would have no problem, but it was just a total headache maneuvering the ‘van around in site’s etc. and off country lanes to get thru narrow gates.

    I hated it for that reason. It needed, but didn’t have, a mover motor.

    Couldn’t wait to get rid. A single axle, lighter one might have been a different experience altogether.

    Flaperon
    Full Member

    Watch the YouTube video on the effect that shifting the van’s centre of gravity has on towing behaviour. Also depending on age you might not have the required category on your driving licence for towing. There was talk of giving it automatically a few years ago but I can’t remember what happened.

    Definitely consider some lessons if you’ve not towed before. Reversing is easy with practice but remember that in a pinch it might be easier to just unhitch it and push…

    fazzini
    Full Member

    Get a motor mover.

    stcolin
    Free Member

    Interesting timing. We’ve just bought a small lightweight Bailey, MTPLM of 1140kg’s, just a smidge over a ton empty. We’re towing it with a 1.0 Ecoboom Focus, but we’re within all the numbers fairly comfortably. I have subsequently learnt that this particular van has a light nose weight and that we need to load everything forward of the axle. So, nose weight appears pretty important for stability also.

    trail_rat
    Free Member

    Also depending on age you might not have the required category on your driving licence for towing. There was talk of giving it automatically a few years ago but I can’t remember what happened.

    The requirement for a towing license was foolishly scrapped in the post brexit scramble for truck drivers.

    Be careful if you go onto the continent though.

    poly
    Free Member

    I don’t know if you can borrow/hire a van?  I know a few people who have bought one and then hated the experience for the sort of reasons MOAB points out.  One who hated towing so never went very far and certainly not on any small roads. One who who sold it after a season because, “it was such a faff to collect from storage, pack it up, tow it somewhere, set it up, then do it all in reverse”.

    of course others love everything about it -wife has a colleague who goes almost every weekend from Easter to October.

    molgrips
    Free Member

    So, nose weight appears pretty important for stability also.

    5-7% of the van’s weight is the guideline.

    RustyNissanPrairie
    Full Member

    Me and MrsRNP are new to towing a caravan but we’ve had a large Ifor box trailer that we towed with our 110 Defender.

    Imho – towing on A roads/motorways etc is easy, it’s tight twisty single track with tractors coming the other way that the stress levels start ramping up. The quiet small sites that we want to be on are often down this type of road/lane. We deliberately bought a small caravan even though our tow car will do 3.5t as there are only the two of us and dog.
    It works really well for us (just been away again this weekend), quick and easy to deploy. I couldnt cope with the stress levels large double axle ‘vans would involve.


    thebibbles
    Full Member

    Buying a nice car like that and then forcing it to tow a caravan just seems wrong.

    RustyNissanPrairie
    Full Member

    The best tow car is the one you already own. Or somesuch.

    trail_rat
    Free Member

    I couldnt cope with the stress levels large double axle ‘vans would involve.

    Easier than single axles. Much slower to turn.

    reluctantjumper
    Full Member

    The requirement for a towing license was foolishly scrapped in the post brexit scramble for truck drivers.

    Be careful if you go onto the continent though.

    You don’t automatically get it through, you have to apply for a new photo card and then it will have the correct B+E class added.  Plenty of people have been caught out thinking it was automatically added regardless then getting pulled over.

    oldschool
    Full Member

    You do get it automatically. The below is from the gov website

    What changed on 16 December 2021
    If you passed your car driving test from 1 January 1997, you’re now allowed to tow trailers up to 3,500kg MAM.

    Check your car’s handbook to find out its gross train weight (GTW). This is the total allowable weight of the car plus the trailer plus the load.
    DVLA will update your driving licence record to show that you’re allowed to tow trailers. You do not need to contact DVLA for this to happen. It will be done automatically. You’ll get category BE added to your driving licence when you next apply to get a new driving licence.

    If you passed your car driving test before 1 January 1997, you are not affected by the change.

    Re: big twin axles.

    Conversely to some of the above – I don’t mind towing ours (actually quite enjoy it).

    The upside of having a decent kitchen, full sized double bed and proper shower make it worth it if spending any amount of time in there

    timba
    Free Member

    You don’t automatically get it through, you have to apply for a new photo card and then it will have the correct B+E class added.

    You can get an electronic copy now (as in right now) https://www.gov.uk/view-driving-licence I don’t know if other countries accept it at the roadside though. It’s meant for employers, car hire, etc.

    molgrips
    Free Member

    The upside of having a decent kitchen, full sized double bed and proper shower make it worth it if spending any amount of time in there

    I don’t think you take yours down little lanes to small out of the way sites though do you?  Plus you tow with a tank.

    You don’t need a massive van to get those things anyway.  Proper showers are the norm now and fixed beds the most common layout even in single axle vans. You lose a foot or so of kitchen and of bathroom space.  If I were living in one I’d like a double axle, but not for holiday making.

    joefm
    Full Member

    the bmw is a weighty thing with power so you should be fine if you’re under legal limits.  I’ll doubt you’ll notice towing it.  Reversing is another thing though.  Training is useful for that but experience is the only thing that really works.

    benpinnick
    Full Member

    The upside of having a decent kitchen, full sized double bed and proper shower make it worth it if spending any amount of time in there

    Depends on the ‘van. Mine has the above, we’ll the shower is a wet room style but actually works fine and doesn’t soak the whole room; its a single axle… but its also 7.6m long. Not the biggest single axle you can get either. What Ive seen happens is when you get a double axle they often downrate the axles, wheels (and sort of tyres by fitting really lightweight ones) meaning you don’t really gain very much extra weight carrying capacity, but now have the manoeuvring headache and extra tyre costs if you’re replacing every few years.

    garage-dweller
    Full Member

    Reversing is another thing though. Training is useful for that but experience is the only thing that really works.

    This. Counter intuitively perhaps but longer wheelbase trailers are generally easier to reverse than shorter (leaving aside how tight the space is).

    The only other encouragement I can offer, which I can’t see above is don’t be disheartened if it takes a while to ‘get’ it on reversing.  I had a long break from regular towing and it took a quite deliberate effort to scrape off the rustiness.

    When I came back to towing regularly we had a strict passenger silence and sit still rule or kicked anyone extra out of the car at our destination before manoeuvring.  It is amazing how much a bobbing head/waved arm/bit of chatter/Slipknot on the radio can detract from your focus during that (re)learning phase.

    Take your time and don’t be afraid to straighten up, reposition and have another go. Most of us were there once (whatever we were dragging).   🙂

    benpinnick
    Full Member

    The most important thing for towing is knowing your route. Plan ahead, stick on main roads even if it makes the journey longer and don’t let Sat Nav dictate/change where you go. If you do that then towing a well loaded caravan is easy enough. Just probably stay away from coastal cornish campsites for a while… Caravans and cornwall are a mix you don’t want to get straight into on your first trip.

    tewit
    Free Member

    We bought a 6 birth twin axle last year, and it’s much better to tow than our old single axle. It doesn’t get dragged about by passing lorry’s as much. It’s been ok taking it along narrow country lanes as well so far. I wouldn’t fancy towing those 8 foot wide vans though.

    If you’re new to towing. Try holding the bottom of the steering wheel when reversing. Left to make the van go left etc.  That helps.

    I agree with garage-dweller about distractions whilst reversing. The trouble is with kicking the kids out means that they are legging it about all over the place, which is even worse.😀

    flicker
    Free Member

    Just probably stay away from coastal cornish campsites for a while… Caravans and cornwall are a mix you don’t want to get straight into on your first trip

    Gets quite exciting when you’re nose to nose with another caravaner and the roads barely wide enough to get out of the car without falling in the hedge 😀

    davy90
    Free Member

    I grew up with family caravan holidays, my folks still have one they take out a couple of times a year. I borrowed their van a couple of times when our kids were little, once to Luss on Loch Lomond and a couple of trips to the River Cele in the Lot department in France. On the French river trips, we were with a group in tents so the van with a hook-up became the mothership with its, fridge, George Foreman grille and power sockets.

    I towed with a manual diesel Honda Accord estate which didn’t like the long French motorway hills as it fell between comfortable ratios at sensible speeds. This may have not been helped by the two canoes on the roof.

    We deliberately avoided narrow back lanes as much as possible and the towing experience was tolerable. Couple of exciting moments in French service stations, a crazy high kerb and very bendy exit from a fuel stop nearly ended in tears but other than that is was pretty straightforward. Our fellow French caravaners who swarmed to help when we arrived at the site were impressed with the motormover.

    We found the faff of towing and packing and unpacking the inordinate amount of junk you (my parents) feel you need to take along, and the ‘ambience’ of caravan sites not to our liking and just preferred ‘wild’ camping or super scruffy (cheap) campsites. Ended up augmenting the backpacking tents with an old Talbot campervan which got good use over the 5 years the kids fit in it.

    +1 for try before you buy.

    molgrips
    Free Member

    Left to make the van go left etc

    I disagree with this kind of statement, because it’s not always the case that steering one way makes the van go a certain direction.  You just have to realise that you are pushing the nose of the van via the towball.  So you need to get the car behind the van to push it in the direction you want the nose to go and the van to turn.

    I first learned this when I was a kid and I had a Matchbox articulated lorry; I realised that you couldn’t push it backwards because it jack-knifed, and I started to work out how to get it to go backwards in a straight line.

    tewit
    Free Member

    I disagree with this kind of statement, because it’s not always the case that steering one way makes the van go a certain direction.

    Fair enough. My step son is a lorry driver and I’ve no idea how he manages to reverse his trailers. I’ll stick with my caravan.😀

    trail_rat
    Free Member

    I disagree with this kind of statement, because it’s not always the case that steering one way makes the van go a certain direction.

    They are predictable and they do go where you want them to go by the movements you make on the steering wheel

    If they are not responding in the expected manner for the steering wheel rotation its usually because it’s gone past the point of no return- common issue when using a single axle. Or it’s poorly loaded.

    It’s funny though as far as trailers go. Caravans are one of the easiest things to reverse they are always in view you know exactly what there intentions are I had a single axle trailer for a while that hid behind the car. By the time you could see it peaking out from behind the car it was too late to correct.

    TheDTs
    Free Member

    I once had an old timer Caravan club dude put down his Daily Mail, walk over and pat me on the shoulder for my reversing prowess. EVERY other time me and Mrsdts ended up having a row about manoeuvring the van into position. Best done without an audience ime. “Right there but a meter to the left” was a favourite instruction! We did a few good holidays here and there but a 9 hour drive back from Lake District towing the heap of shite van  ended our enjoyment of it. It was a very cheap van. So we didn’t have too much skin in the game.

    molgrips
    Free Member

    They are predictable and they do go where you want them to go by the movements you make on the steering wheel

    Yes – my point is sometimes people say ‘steer the opposite way’ i.e. steer left to make the caravan go right.  That’s not strictly accurate. You steer left to make the van start pointing right, then to maintain that curve you need to go back to steering right.  If you want to go back in a straight line then yes, to a point, but if you want to back around a curve you need to set it up first then maintain it.  Opening the steering on your car tightens the curve, and vice versa.

    Caravans are one of the easiest things to reverse they are always in view

    Yeah, but on the other hand you can’t see over it. Sometimes you absolutely need a spotter because you cannot see when you’re about to hit that sign or tree etc or if you’re in position.

    Yes – my point is sometimes people say ‘steer the opposite way’ i.e. steer left to make the caravan go right.

    The original point that was made by tewit earlier, wasn’t so much about the left = right (well it was in a way) – it was more a tip for those having brain block when trying to suss out which way to turn the wheel.

    Holding it at the bottom means you actually turn it the direction you want the van to (initially) go, rather than the opposite. It’s a handy tip tbh. The rest of what you say is correct mind

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