Most of us 4×4 owners chose the vehicle we drive due to the practicality and requirements of our lifestyle. That usually means that our 4×4’s have a tow bar fitted, whether for work or play we tend to drag things around behind us. If you fit into this category then some of the following information may be of interest to you.
Hitching up your trailer, checking the lights and away you go, it’s not quite as simple as that especially if you don’t want your collar felt by the boys in blue on a roadside check. So to help you out on the basics of trailer and towing laws we have compiled a few facts and explanations below to assist your towing knowledge.
These codes are detailed on the logbook/handbook and govern the restrictions for towing with that vehicle. These relate to the towing vehicle only, neither of these will include items being towed.
GVWR- Gross Vehicle Weight Rating
Maximum operating weight of a vehicle, this includes everything on board from passengers to the contents of the fuel tank.
GVM – Gross Vehicle Mass, Same as GVWR
These codes will be detailed on the trailer plate.
GTWR – Gross Trailer Weight Rating
GAWR – Gross Axle Weight Rating
Specifies the maximum weight on any particular axle.
GCWR – Gross Combined Weight Rating (Train Weight)
Includes vehicle and trailer weight combined.
The Trailer Checklist
Is your vehicle large enough to tow the caravan or trailer and it’s load? We’re not just talking about engine or torque power although obviously ragging your motor is never a good thing. Car brakes need to be powerful enough to stop the car and what ever you’re towing, you don’t want to be slowing for a roundabout and have your load shove you into traffic. Some trailers are fitted with brake’s, which increases weight carrying capacity.
How heavy is your trailer or caravan and what’s the weight of the load?
Does your Driving License allow you to tow? Not relevant to most of us old school guy’s but those young bloods out there have restrictions.
Be prepared to alter your driving because the addition of a trailer or caravan will affect the performance of the vehicle. Hill starts will be more laboured, stopping distance will increase and cornering needs extra room.
You’ve hitched up so check your lights work; your number plate is displayed clearly on rear off trailer, tyres and tyre pressure are correct, wing mirrors show your load and lastly have you lifted your jockey wheel/corner prop stands. Check strap/chain connected to the vehicle, not around the tow ball.
If you have a braked trailer, “hand brake off”
You may scoff at this but I wish I had a pound for every damaged jockey wheel I’ve seen damaged due to not being lifted at all … or not enough.
Loading your trailer.
The load needs to be secure with nothing rolling around as loose items could alter your weight distribution and effect handling. Even distribution across the trailer is key, to much weight on the front will push the rear of the towing vehicle down and consequently lift the front affecting steering, placing strain on the tow bar and placing you at risk of snaking. This also applies if the trailer is loaded at the rear lifting the tow vehicle vehicle’s rear via the tow bar putting unnecessary strain on the tow-hitch locking mechanism risking failure and a possible break-away situation, so try to ensure the trailer is level. If you need to carry unevenly distributed loads ensure the individual wheels and axles are not above their payload. When there is an overhang of more then 1 metre from the rear of the trailer you need to mark the end with a red flag or sign, side overhangs of more then 16 inches need markers too and at night marker lights need to be used, white at the front red on the rear.
General towing advice
Towing prevents you from using the outside (fast lane) on motorways.
Snaking means your trailer is no longer following the car smoothly so gently reduce your speed.
Avoid braking sharply on bends you don’t want to jack knife, better to slow prior to the bend and gently accelerate out.
Leave more room around you, you’ve increased your size so increase your space when driving, overtaking or braking.
If the distance between the vehicle and trailer is more then 1.5 metres a warning flag or device needs to be placed between the tow bar and trailer or vehicle being towed.
Passengers are not allowed to travel on the trailer or in the caravan.
A LONG VEHICLE sign needs to be displayed on the rear if your procession if the car and trailer have a combined length of over 13 metres.
When to use 4L towing:
1, on wet, slippery surfaces
2, passing through sandy areas
3, on rough trails
4, through shallow water
6, climbing steep hills
7, through mud
8, descending steep hills
9, when maneuvering/shunting with a heavy load
Remember towing does reduce your speed limits in the UK to 60 mph on Dual Carriageways and Motorways. In France if you are towing a combined weight of over 3.5 tonnes you can travel up to 80kmh (50mph) on single carriageways and 90kmh (56mph).
If you’re touring abroad with a caravan or trailer check out your speed limits here
You need to have a heightened sense of awareness when towing. Before each trip take a few extra minutes to check the trailer tires to make sure they’re properly inflated. Recommended pressures are indicated on the tire sidewalls. Also be sure the tow vehicles tires are properly inflated. If it’s a heavy trailer, try adding extra pressure to the tow vehicles rear tires.
Never take trailer wheel bearings for granted, a total failure, which will cause the wheel to stop turning, can cause an accident. Check the bearings at least once a year, before you head out on your first excursion. Get one side of the trailer up on a jack, grab a wheel with both hands, and see if there’s any play in the bearing. Then turn the wheel, using ears and fingers to detect any scratchiness in the rotation.