Motorhomes are marvellous, but they have their limitations. Towing with your motorhome can give you the flexibility of taking a car or trailer away with you. But what do you need to know about towing a motorhome, and how does towing affect your motorhome insurance?
In this article, we’ll take a look at which types of vehicles you can learn to tow behind your motorhome and touch on what you should do if you’re planning to tow outside the UK.
Why would you tow with a motorhome?
A substantial motorhome is a brilliant base for a holiday, but it’s not exactly a nifty choice for daytime excursions, especially if you’re heading for winding, Cornish country lanes or steep seaside slopes.
Large vehicles can be challenging to park and reverse, not to mention carrying relatively high fuel costs. Towing a car behind your motorhome means you have the option of roaming wherever you want, without the hassle of packing up and driving a large vehicle.
On the other end of the scale, you might have a small campervan that is no longer big enough for your family’s needs.
Being crammed inside in chilly evenings or during rainy weather is no joke. Towing a small caravan means you have extra space while you’re away, but you can still enjoy the comfort and fun of a campervan throughout the day.
You might also want to tow a trailer with a boat, canoes, bikes, or a fold-up trailer caravan. Towing can make your trip more enjoyable and save the cost and hassle of hiring equipment or vehicles at your destination.
Make sure that any items you tow with your motorhome are suitably covered by motorhome insurance or a supplemental policy.
What can your vehicle tow?
What you can tow depends on the maximum towing limit of your vehicle. The manufacturer should be able to confirm this and tell you if there are any limitations on fitting a tow bar to the vehicle.
The best towing vehicles tend to have rear-wheel drive and a short overhang behind the rear wheels.
Some motorhomes cannot be fitted with tow bars at all, for others there can be difficulties. Panel van motorhomes are usually easier to fit with tow bars, but coachbuilt motorhomes vary in how easy it can be to fit a bar.
A tow bar will add to your vehicle’s payload, so you should check your motorhome’s loaded weight and ensure there is enough scope within the plated weight to be able to add the tow bar assembly.
You will also need to check your noseweight. This is the downward force which your towed vehicle exerts on the towing car’s towball.
If the noseweight is insufficient, the towed vehicle will tilt and become unstable. The general recommended noseweight is 5-7% of the towed vehicle’s laden weight.
What does your driving licence permit you to tow?
The law sets limits on what drivers are allowed to tow depending on what category of licence they hold.
If you passed your test before 1st January 1997, you are likely to be able to drive a vehicle and trailer with a combined maximum authorised mass (MAM) of up to 8.25 tonnes.
If you passed your test after 1st January 1997 you will only be permitted to drive a category B vehicle coupled with a towed vehicle of up to 750kg MAM, or a towed vehicle over 750kg if the combined MAM of the car and towed vehicle are less than 3500kg MAM.
You may be able to increase your driving capacity by taking a car and trailer (B+E) test, in which you have to drive an unladen category B vehicle with a braked, unladen trailer of at least one tonne MAM.
Using a tow bar
The most common way to tow is using a tow bar. This is a bar that links the vehicle or trailer behind to your motorhome.
The towed vehicle keeps all four wheels on the road and a safety chain or cable is usually used to increase stability between the vehicles. A supplemental brake system or lights are used to ensure brake lights and indicators show on the towed vehicle.
If your motorhome was registered for the first time after 1st April 2012, the law requires you to fit an EC-approved tow bar.
The main benefit of having a tow bar is that it is cheap and space-efficient. One of the downsides, though, is that it can also be complicated to fit a towbar and electrical system if your motorhome has an impediment such as a water tank or gas cylinder.
Using an A frame
An A frame is another option for attaching your towed vehicle to your motorhome.
An A frame has a horizontal bar that connects to the front of a car or other vehicle and a pointed section with a safety cord to connect to the towing vehicle.
These towing frames are permitted for use only when UK technical requirements relating to lights and braking are met.
Additional braking systems are only required for cars over 750kg; microcars may be beneath this weight limit and therefore may be towed without additional braking systems.
However, most cars will be above this weight and therefore they will need to be connected to the motorhome’s braking system.
Where a remote device is used to actuate brake pedals on the A frame, this must be designed to ensure safe and stable braking of both the towing vehicle and the trailer.
Reversing while towing a car can be an issue: whereas trailers have systems that automatically collapse braking when reversing, cars do not. This can result in sustained braking drag.
An A frame must be used with technology that overruns inertia systems to get past this.
Some suppliers of A-frames claim to have created systems which meet the braking force regulations and can be reversed without the need for manual operation of the braking system.
In addition, towing a car makes it difficult – not to say impossible – to reverse. As the car has all four wheels on the road, there is no pivot point, which makes it very hard to control the direction of the car.
If you really need to reverse, it may be necessary to uncouple the car and reverse it separately, which can be time-consuming and fiddly, depending on the A frame set up.
In terms of lights, some A frame manufacturers connect the car’s own lighting system to mimic the lights of the towing vehicle, while others use a separate trailer board with its own lights.
Cars being towed must have two red reflective triangles fitted on the back and the number plate of the motorhome should be displayed rather than the car number plate.
There remains some grey area in which braking systems are permitted when using an A-frame for towing; you should always check with your motorhome insurance provider before using an A-frame on the road.
Using a trailer
Using a trailer to tow a car or other objects such as boats and canoes, can be a great solution. Some car transmission systems can be damaged by being towed, especially automatics.
Leaving a key in to override the steering lock can also have a negative impact on battery life and the car’s other systems.
The trailer overcomes these issues and can be a stable and safe option.
As with any towing, you need to know your towing limit and keep within it to ensure that the towing limit is not overloaded. The noseweight should also be kept within safe limits.
A small box trailer can be very useful if you need to transport lightweight items such as canoes or move some of your touring kit out of the motorhome.
This will help to avoid overloading the motorhome axles and ensure that the load is more balanced.
For heavier loads such as cars and boats, using a twin-axle trailer is probably the best option in terms of stability. The downside of using a trailer, of course, is the space it takes up.
You either need to have storage space or be prepared to pay to hire a trailer when you need it. Car transporter trailers can sometimes be targeted by thieves, so secure storage and/or a wheel clamp or lock are advisable in order to keep it safe.
It should be noted that manoeuvring a trailer, especially when reversing, is a skill. It is a good idea to get some practice in a quiet, safe place before trying to reverse in busier and more challenging circumstances with lots of people watching you!
You will need to turn the wheel counterintuitively, and slow, gentle nudges are better than sudden movements or trying to be speedy.
Another top tip is to avoid reversing as much as possible: plan your route carefully and use alternatives to turning in the road wherever possible.
Using a tow dolly
A dolly is a small trailer which lifts the two front wheels of the towed vehicle. This can be a workable option for two-wheel drive vehicles.
For rear-wheel drive vehicles, the drive shaft will have to be disconnected and removed before towing with a dolly in order to prevent damage to the vehicle’s transmission.
If you tow with a dolly, the requirements for lighting and braking systems are the same as those that apply to trailers. A major benefit of a dolly is that it takes up less space than a trailer, but is a little more stable than an A frame.
Towing and the law
The law places limits on vehicles that are towing – you cannot go above 50mph on single carriageways or 60mph on dual carriageways and motorways, and you are not permitted to use the outside lane of a motorway with three or more lanes.
You are only permitted to tow an unbraked trailer with a MAM of up to 750kg, or half the kerbweight of the towing vehicle, whichever is less.
Kerbweight is the mass of the vehicle in running order, e.g. with oil, coolant, fuel, spare wheel and the driver onboard. If a trailer is fitted with brakes, these must work properly even if the load is below 750kg.
Towing outside the UK
Always check with your motorhome insurance provider before using your motorhome to tow abroad, particularly if you plan to use an A frame.
There is no EU-wide legislation relating to A frames and using a trailer may be a better option abroad to avoid being stopped by the local police.
There are a few other considerations to take into account when deciding whether to tow abroad.
Firstly, ferry companies vary in how they approach towing. You may find yourself paying double the cost of your motorhome when going by boat or through the channel tunnel.
Road tolls can also be higher for a motorhome towing a trailer or a car. Check the details of roads in your destination to work out how much this will add to the cost of your trip.
Sensible precautions to take when towing
As with any major journey, good maintenance is important. Check your motorhome’s tyres, wheel bolts, oil levels and ensure your motorhome is up to date in terms of servicing and repairs before setting off.
A video camera showing the rear view from your towed vehicle can be an invaluable aid. These gadgets work wirelessly and give you a view of any obstacles, especially when reversing.
You simply fit the cameras to the rear of the towed vehicle and use a small screen to view the rear when reversing. They can be bought for very little money, and can really assist with manoeuvring.
Naturally, towing will increase your vehicle’s fuel consumption. This is likely to be around 5-10% higher, depending on what you are towing. You should allow for this in your budgeting and fuelstop plans.
If you are planning to tow a car using your motorhome, you will want to think through all the costs and factors to be sure that hiring a rental vehicle or equipment wouldn’t make better sense for you.
Do you need motorhome insurance that you can rely on? Contact Motorhome Protect today.