Driving Licence

Your first thought should be does your licence allow you to tow a caravan with your car? Broadly speaking if you passed your driving test before the end of December 1996 then you can tow a caravan of your choice providing your tow car has the capacity, more of that to follow.

If you have a licence from the 1st Jan 1997 onwards then you can still tow with the right combination of car and caravan however you have a very restricted choice. You are limited to a total car and caravan weight (with both loaded) of 3500kgs. These weights need to be taken from the weight plates of the car and the caravan. They are based on the maximum weights allowed by the manufacturers and not the weight you load it to (which cannot exceed the weights on the plate). For example if your car weighed 2000kg loaded and the caravan had a max weight of 1600kg you cannot load it so it only weighs £1500kg and be legal. Furthermore the maximum weight of your caravan in this instance must also be lighter than the unladen weight of your car. If you look at a few cars and caravans you will see that this is a difficult combination to achieve.

The best course of action if you have a later licence is to pass a trailer test, which will add a B+E category. Whilst at Sudbury Caravans are pleased to give practical advice on towing and reversing we cannot help with lessons to pass the B+E test, we do however recommend Fliss Spink www.felicitysdrivertraining.co.uk for this who has trained several of our customers. If you need clarification of your licence entitlement then you can check it at Driving-licence 

Car & Caravan Selection

Having made sure you have the correct licence in order to drive the car and caravan of your choice you need to check that the car is capable of towing the caravan.

To be sure you are legal follow this guide.

Find the VIN and weight plate on the towing vehicle. The usual location is in one of the door shuts or under the bonnet. If you cannot find it then look it up in your handbook or ask your dealer. There must be one somewhere. On it you will find four weights listed. If there are only three this generally means that the vehicle cannot tow a trailer/caravan at all. Looking at the four weights, the lowest two are the maximum weights that the car axles can carry. The one at the bottom being the front axle and the next one up the rear. The 2nd from highest figure is the maximum weight the car when loaded up and the highest is the maximum weight of the car and caravan/trailer when both are fully loaded. If you subtract the 2nd highest from the highest you will get the maximum weight of the loaded caravan you can tow.

It is possible to reduce the weight in the car and then tow a slightly heavier caravan but it’s best to stick to the calculation above to ensure you are never overloaded with your combination.

When the car and caravan are loaded the axle weights of the car or caravan must not be exceeded. For instance you could have the correct car and caravan but if there is a lot of weight in the back of the car and in the front of the caravan the load being imposed on the rear axle of the car may exceed the weight listed on the plate. Lastly the nose weight of the caravan must not exceed the maximum that the car can have imposed on the tow ball. This weight can usually be found in the car’s handbook.

Many people may have heard of the 85% rule. This is just a guide not law. It suggests that you should only have a caravan that is 85% of the possible weight the car can tow, but it is only a guide. Drivers have been within the 85% but still have experienced a poor towing caravan, this is almost always due to incorrect loading of the caravan and not it’s overall weight.

Turning to the caravan, the weight that has to be checked is the maximum loaded weight (also known as the MAM, Gross Weight, Laden Weight) not the unladen weight. The weight plate on the caravan (usually beside the entrance door or sometimes in the gas locker) will show the maximum weight and either the unladen weight (subtract one from the other to give the amount that can be loaded into the caravan) or the payload (subtract this from the maximum weight to give the unladen weight).

You must at all times ensure you are towing within the maximum weights of the car, it’s axles, the caravan axle(s) and the overall weight. If not the combination may be dangerous to drive, your insurance could be invalid and there are large fines if you are caught in a roadside check.

Where to Buy

Having decided on the caravan you wish to purchase, you now have to decide on whether to buy privately or from a dealer.

All UK produced caravans are recorded on the CRIS database and are given a 17 character reference. (Non UK caravans may be and if not can be added by the importer or owner).This mixture of numbers and letters will not only indentify the caravan but also shows who produced it and the model year.

The 3rd character of the 2nd line of the VIN will give the year.

N 1992, P 1993, R 1994, S 1995, T 1996, V 1997, W 1998, X 1999, Y 2000. After “Y” a “1” will be a 2001 up to a “9” and then a 2010 is an “A” 2011 a “B” and so on.

When you purchase a caravan you can then have it registered to yourself. If buying privately it is imperative that you have a CRIS check carried out. For a small fee a report will be produced confirming if there is any outstanding finance on the caravan, if it is stolen and if it has ever been written off. Registration of a caravan is not compulsory but if it is not in the name of the current seller then an up to date report cannot be given or relied upon. If it is not registered to the seller, walk away.

If buying from a dealer you do not have to worry about the outstanding finance problem or whether it is stolen as this is the dealer’s responsibility however they should make you aware if it has been written off.

A caravan that has been a write off is not necessarily a bad buy, so long as it has been repaired correctly and the price reflects its status, in the region of a 30% reduction on the price you would expect to pay if it had not been damaged.

When deciding where to buy from bear in mind that a caravan that is being offered privately should be substantially lower in price than from a dealer. You the buyer are taking the risks as to its condition particularly damp levels and operation of appliances. The seller does not have the cost of servicing the caravan, providing a warranty, premises costs and VAT on the sale.