TOWING CAN BE A CHALLENGE: Driving with a trailer, caravan or towing another vehicle can be challenging. Make sure you read our top towing tips to ensure you arrive at your destination safely. Image: Shutterstock
JOHANNESBURG - Whether you’re heading on holiday, moving house or helping a friend move a vehicle that's broken down, there’s a good chance you’ll need to tow a caravan, trailer or another car at some point in your life.
However, it’s not a case of simply hooking up the vehicle and hitting the road, reports Les Mc Master, chairman of the Motor Industry Workshop Association (MIWA).
TYRE CHECKS ESSENTIAL
McMaster said: “There are a few guidelines you need to follow to ensure the vehicle is towed easily and safely.
“Before purchasing a trailer or a caravan, check your owner’s manual to find out how much weight your vehicle can tow. Install a good quality tow hitch that matches your vehicle’s weight limits and ensure it is installed by a reputable dealer.
"A tow hitch should be SABS approved and they should be installed 35cm to 46.5cm from the ground.”
Check the tyres of your car and your caravan or trailer to ensure there is adequate tread and that they are properly inflated.
McMaster said: “Another important consideration is visibility. Check that all the lights are working and the brake lights are properly connected. The lights on the towed vehicle should sync with your vehicle.
“While it’s not law to have towing mirrors fitted, they give you a better view of the back of the vehicle you’re towing, which makes towing considerably safer.”
DISTRIBUTE THE WEIGHT
How you pack your trailer or caravan also affects its stability on the road. Although your trailer or caravan might be listed at a “particular weight”, this weight usually does not include furniture, luggage and other accessories.
Once you have packed all the items you plan to take with you and the petrol and water tanks are filled, measure the nose weight of the caravan.
McMaster said: “Measure the nose weight of the trailer, which should be roughly 10% of the gross vehicle mass (GVM). Once you’ve figured this out, balance the weight throughout the caravan to ensure stability.
“Before you’re ready to hit the road, ensure all the cargo is secured by locking doors and using bungee cords or cable ties. If possible, travel with empty water tanks, only filling up once you reach your destination.”
NOT AS EASY AS IT LOOKS
Driving with a car, trailer or caravan hitched to your vehicle can be challenging. McMaster recommends a few practice drives before embarking on a journey: “Get familiar with the braking and handling, check for any swaying and learn how to handle the towed vehicle properly.
“When towing a caravan or trailer, expect slower acceleration and longer stopping distances. If the caravan is swaying, slow down as much as possible without braking hard.”
Stick to a maximum speed of 100km/hour because the added weight of the towed vehicle means the faster you travel the harder it is to stop without the risk of a crash.
TOWING A CAR
Driving a vehicle attached to a heavy load is different to driving a vehicle on its own. Don’t underestimate the importance weight, good visibility and low speed.
McMaster advises: “You need a lot more room to stop when towing a vehicle, so keep a safe following distance.”
“If you need to tow another vehicle bear in mind that the maximum speed is 30km/hour if using a tow rope. The rope should be no more than 3.5m long and a clearly visible red flag must be tied to it.”