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Towing - the ins and outs

2004-12-01 11:17

But towing a trailer or caravan for the first time - or after a long period of disuse, or without practice - can be a daunting prospect.

It will certainly take you some practice to get used to the extra weight and length. Here are a few things to bear in mind before you hook up.

  • Make sure your car can cope with the extra load. In particular the engine, suspension, brakes and tyres need to be in good condition. Car tyres should be inflated to the "full load" pressures (refer to your owner's handbook). Also check the condition and pressure of the tyres on your trailer/caravan.
  • Check that the tow bar is in good condition and built to carry the load you want to pull. Professional and factory-fitted bars are recommended.
  • Fit extending side mirrors so that you can see past your load.
  • Your driving licence states the maximum load that you can tow. You cannot exceed this limit. If you have a normal B category licence, this means the total gross vehicle mass (vehicle and trailer/caravan) may not exceed 3 500 kg, and the towed vehicle (caravan/trailer) 750 kg. We often see people towing a caravan AND a boat behind a heavily-laden 4x4 or bakkie, and we bet the total load is well in excess of 3 500 kg - the 4x4, empty, probably weighs more than 2 tons!
  • Check that no part of the load protrudes dangerously from your vehicle.

Loss of control

If you begin to lose control of the trailer/caravan/boat, ease off the accelerator and slowly reduce speed. Do not brake. A stabiliser bar in the form of a damping strut can be fitted to your towed vehicle to help reduce snaking. As a general rule, keep the weight low and evenly distributed and reduce speed on downhill roads.

Remember that you need extra length when overtaking or manoeuvring.

The extra weight of the load will affect braking and acceleration. Brake gently at first and then firmly to prevent the caravan/trailer wheels locking.

Balance the weight of your car with the load that is being towed. Uneven weight will make the car unstable. Keep heaviest items over the trailer/caravan axle. The laden weight should be kept as low as possible. Car manufacturers usually specify an ideal nose weight for a trailer/caravan when loaded.

Drive at a safe speed. In bad weather and high winds, reduce speed even further

Stay in a high gear, keeping the engine revs low. This will help to prevent the engine overheating. If you tow regularly, you may be wise to fit a larger radiator or a more effective fan.

  • Keep to the legal speed limit. In the UK, the maximum speed for towing a car with a trailer/caravan is 100 km/h.
  • Before you travel, secure all items in the trailer and tow car. Close all windows, roof vents and doors.
  • Your trailer or caravan must be fitted with an approved style number plate.
  • By law, if you are towing during darkness your trailer will need to be fitted with:

- Two red side lights at the rear
- Brake lights
- Rear reflectors
- Number plate lights
- Trailers and caravans must be roadworthy.I>

  • It is illegal to allow passengers to travel inside the trailer/caravan
  • Your trailer/caravan lights must work properly.
  • Reversing takes practice - lots of it. Take it slowly at all times and, if you can, turn in your seat so that you are facing as near straight backwards as possible. This makes it easier to sense how to steer when you have three axles and a pivot to contend with. (Information adapted from http://www.BBC.co.uk for South African conditions)

    Check out our accidents gallery here


    Driving in the city

    2004-12-01 13:40

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