A guide to caravans and trailers

Luxury holidays are all well and good but they can easily put a dent in your savings. So what’s the affordable alternative?

A record number of Brits are now choosing to stay in the UK for their holidays, setting up camp in a trailer tent or caravan.

Our guide to caravans and trailers gives you the low down on safety, maintenance and cost, so you don’t get left behind.

Caravan or trailer tent?

The biggest difference between a caravan and trailer tent (or lightweight leisure trailer as they’re called in the industry) is the cost.

The most expensive trailer tents cost little more than £5,000; the smallest caravans start at this price. If you’re willing to dip into your savings or take out a loan, a massive five or six-berth luxury caravan will cost at least £20,000.

You’ll also need to decide what you want (or need) in the way of home comforts. Modern trailer tents offer a high level of amenities, but they still rely on canvas to keep out the elements. If you want the closest thing to four walls and a roof over your head, a caravan is the better option.

Before making a purchase, check what your car can handle. The Caravan Club recommends that, as a general rule, you shouldn’t choose a caravan that is more than 85% of the kerb weight of your car. It’s also important to check your car’s handbook to see what its maximum towing weight is. You’ll need an appropriate towbar if you don’t already have one.

Need to know: Cars registered after 1 August 1998 can only be fitted with towbars that are type approved.

The legal side

If you obtained your driving licence on or after 1 January 1997 you’re restricted to towing an ‘outfit’ with a combined gross weight of no more than 3,500kg. You also need to make sure that the trailer’s gross weight doesn’t exceed the unladen weight of the towing vehicle.

Pre-1 January 1997 licence holders can take a supplementary test, known as the ‘B+E’ test. This is especially useful if you’re going to exceed the 3,500kg limit. Find a qualified instructor through the Driving Standards Agency

Our top five safety tips when towing

The best way to master the art of towing is to get some training. The Caravan Club offers comprehensive courses for towing caravans, trailers and even driving motor homes.

1. Do some maintenance checks – both inside and out – before you head off. These should include: tyre pressure, handbrake, battery, gas cylinder, awning, doors and windows. Make sure your caravan or trailer tent tail lights are working too.

2. Adhere to different speed limits when towing. Stick to 10mph less than the speed limit.

3. Secure your caravan or trailer tent. Once you’ve lowered the hitch onto the tow bar, ensure the safety mechanism pops up or the handle clicks into place, depending on the model. Don’t forget to connect the breakaway cable in case things go wrong!

4. The key to safe towing is to adopt a smooth driving style. Leave plenty of space between you and the vehicle in front.

5. Load your caravan sensibly – it needs to stay balanced. If you’re unsure, seek advice. And finally, never allow people or pets to travel in a caravan or trailer tent when it’s being towed.

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