It looks easy when you see other people do it, but towing a caravan, horsebox or trailer is a skill in itself, so there’s lots that you need to know when it comes to heavy loads, and choosing the right vehicle to do it in.
Towing Heavy Loads
If you’re planning on using your car to pull a caravan, trailer or horsebox, you’ll need to know what you’re doing.
First off, you’ll need the right kind of driving licence. If you passed your driving test before 1 January 1997, you’re usually allowed to drive a vehicle and trailer combination that weighs up to 8250kg.
However, if you passed your test after this date, you can only drive a car or van up to 3500kg, towing a trailer of up to 750kg (you can also tow a trailer over 750kg, as long as the combined maximum weight of the trailer and towing vehicle is no more than 3500kg.)
If you want to tow anything heavier, you have to pass a special car and trailer driving test.
Whatever you're hauling should weigh no more than 85% of the ‘kerbweight’ of the towing vehicle. Kerbweight is the weight of the vehicle minus passengers and cargo. The maximum weight a car can tow is usually listed in the car’s handbook.
When towing, you must be able to see behind you, so you’ll have to fit towing mirrors. You can be fined up to £1,000 and get three penalty points if you don’t have them. And remember that the maximum speed when towing is 60mph on a motorway, or 50mph on A-roads.
Best cars for towing
Best for under 1500kg: Škoda Octavia Estate
The Octavia is a very good all-round car anyway, but if you’re looking for a medium-sized tow car, it's hard to look beyond it.
When powered by a strong-pulling 2.0-litre diesel engine (which tend to be better for towing), the Octavia is ideal for hauling anything up to around 1800kg. There’s enough power to ensure that it won’t feel sluggish, even on motorways.
The Octavia is comfortable and well equipped, while the Scout trim level adds exterior styling with an off-road ruggedness that will look good at any caravan site.
Best tech: Land Rover Discovery
Land Rover, with its farming and country roots, has always taken towing seriously, and it has even pioneered towing technology. For example, all Discovery models have a Trailer Stability Assist feature as standard, which detects when trailer sway is developing and reduces speed to regain stability.
The Discovery can also pull a trailer, horsebox or one of the heavier twin-axle caravans weighing up to 3,500kg. Useful if you have to do a lot of heavy hauling.
And the new Discovery is jam-packed with tech such as parking aids (it's a big car) and the Touch Pro infotainment system, while the cabin is very comfortable and practical.
Best for economy: Hyundai i30 Tourer
Towing does nothing for your car’s fuel efficiency. Nothing good, anyway. This is only logical, as towing something that isn’t very aerodynamic is bound to have a negative effect on a car’s fuel consumption.
In recent tests, though, the Hyundai i30 Tourer estate was found to be one of the strongest performers among all tow cars. With a 1.6 CRDi diesel engine under the bonnet, the i30 Tourer managed to return 24mpg, which, while less than half its regular figure, is better than all its rivals. And yet it doesn’t feel underpowered, making it both efficient and effective.
Best allrounder: Volvo XC60
Volvo’s cars are coming up trumps in lots of different categories – and towing is no exception.
Many of the Swedish brand’s cars are highly effective tow cars, but we've gone for the XC60, a midsized SUV. When powered by a 2.0-litre diesel engine, it has enough pull for a 2400kg caravan or trailer. Add four-wheel drive and a smooth and easy-shifting eight-speed automatic gearbox, and you have something that is easy to drive.
As it's a Volvo, it also has a very comfortable, well-designed and well-built interior, with all the latest technology – including the newest innovations in safety.
Best for adventures: Volkswagen Amarok
If you’re going away on an adventure that involves towing a caravan, as well as carrying bikes or a jetski, for example, you’ll need a pickup truck.
We’d go for a Volkswagen Amarok, which has a good range of 2.0 and 3.0-litre diesel engines that pull very strongly.
It also has a cab that meets the high standards you’d expect from a VW, with high-quality materials and enough technology to make you forget that you’re essentially driving a commercial vehicle.
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