One of the most important things to do when you're considering buying a caravan - or changing your car if you have a caravan already - is to make sure your car will tow your unit comfortably.
On a practical level, a small car can physically tow a large caravan, but there are legal restrictions on the combinations you can drive on the road. You'll also find it easier to manage your outfit if you stick to certain car to caravan weight ratios, especially if you are new to towing. And if you're overtaken by an HGV on an exposed road on a windy day, even the most experienced driver will be glad he or she has stuck to a sensible ratio.
In this Data Sheet we look at how to find the best combination of car and caravan. If you are considering towing a folding camper, trailer tent or any other trailer, all the comments apply to your unit too, but we've used the term - caravan - throughout for convenience.
In general, it's best to use the heaviest, most powerful car to tow the lightest possible caravan. In the real world, however, many people consider the running costs of their cars as well as the purchase price, so are moving towards less powerful, more fuel-efficient engines even though they still wish to tow. Factor in the extra features that caravan manufacturers are including in their units - meaning they are often heavier than in the past - and finding an acceptable match between your car and caravan is becoming more challenging.
Kerbweight, towing and MTPLM
There are four main figures to consider when matching a car to a caravan: the car's kerbweight, the car's towing limit, the car's Gross Train Weight (GTW) and the caravan's Maximum Technically Permissable Laden Mass (MTPLM). You'll find definitions of these in the panel on page 3.
The Camping and Caravanning Club, like many others in the industry, recommends you only tow a caravan that weighs 85 per cent or less of your car's kerbweight. Those who are experienced at towing may go up to 100 per cent of the car's kerbweight, but no-one should tow a caravan that is heavier than the towing limit of the vehicle it's behind. Legally, if you add together the Maximum Authorised Mass (MAM) of your car and the MTPLM of your caravan, the total weight must not exceed the GTW of the car.
Some of these figures will appear on the weight plates of your car and caravan. The others should be given in the handbook.
In a car, the weight plate is also known as the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) plate and is often found under the bonnet or on the driver's door pillar. A caravan weight plate will probably be close to the entrance door.
The standard MTPLM figure for caravans given by manufacturers is calculated according to the British and European standard BS EN 1645. It's technically known as the MTPLM (Lower Limit) and in some cases this can be increased to the MTPLM (Upper Limit). This Upper Limit is based on the physical limits of the caravan itself, such as its chassis and axle limits. If you have a suitable towcar and your driving licence allows it (Data Sheet 40 - driving licences has detailed information about the limitations of a licence), you can ask your caravan dealer to - replate - the unit to the higher MTPLM with the resulting increase being the amount of luggage and other extras you can carry. It's important to do this because if you are challenged by the police or insurance company and questioned about the legality of your outfit, it's the figures given on the plates and accompanying documentation that will be used to validate your statements.