Tow like a pro!
To the casual observer, towing might look like a simple case of ‘hitch it up and off you go’ – but there are important things to remember. Here David Motton shares his top tips for safe and comfortable towing
David Motton shares his expert tips for towing
WE ALL LOVE caravanning, but not every caravanner loves towing. Here are some of our favourite tips to make towing safer and more enjoyable.
1 Play the percentages
You probably know what’s coming next. The 85% ‘rule’ has been the caravanner’s friend for decades. Both major caravanning clubs recommend towing no more than 85% of the kerbweight of your tow car, especially if you are new to towing. It’s a strong recommendation rather than a legal requirement, but you’ll find car and caravan more stable if the car weighs substantially more than the van.
Experienced caravanners may be happy towing up to 100% of the car’s kerbweight, but we’d never recommend going above this weight, even if the car’s legal towing limit is higher. Think of the car as a dog and the caravan as a tail. When the tail weighs more than the dog, if it starts to wag you could soon be in all sorts of trouble.
2 Load safely
It’s easy to overload your caravan, especially if you’re packing for a fortnight away with the family. Check that you are not exceeding the van’s Maximum Technically Permissible Laden Mass (MTPLM), which is the most it is permitted to weigh when fully loaded. Weighing each bag individually is a bit of a faff, so investing in a set of scales such as the Reich Caravan Weight Control amounts to money well spent.
It’s not just about how much weight is in the van, it’s where you put it. In the car, load the heavy items first so they are on the boot floor and as close to the rear axle as possible. In the van, make sure heavy items are low down and above the axle or axles.
If you own a caravan with a fixed-bed layout, there will be lots of storage space underneath the bed. However, be cautious when loading under the bed as this is usually well behind the axle. Don’t put anything heavy here. It’s a very good spot for bulky but relatively light items such as an Aquaroll and Wastemaster.
3 Check, check, and check again
Make sure your outfit is safe and roadworthy before every journey. Check the car and caravan’s tyres are inflated to the right pressure, make sure all the lights are working, and be sure you have hitched up correctly. Winding the jockey wheel back down to make sure the hitch is securely gripping the towball will prove that car and caravan are safely connected. It never hurts to doublecheck that the breakaway cable is secure, the stabiliser head is down and the handbrake is off before driving away. It might seem like overkill to some, but having a checklist that you tick off at the start of every journey will make sure nothing important is missed.
4 Always use towing mirrors
By law, you must be able to see four metres out from the side of the caravan at a distance 20 metres behind you. In practice, it’s very unlikely that even a large 4x4 will be wide enough for you to see that far out and behind using the car’s regular mirrors.
‘Towing a caravan is something any competent driver is capable of doing, but there are new skills to learn’
But it’s not just about obeying the law for the law’s sake. Having a clear view behind you is essential to stay safe while towing. You can’t change lane safely if you can’t be sure whether another vehicle is about to overtake you.
5 Plan ahead
What appears to be the most direct route isn’t always the best way to travel when you have a caravan in tow. Many campsites will have recommended routes for the last few miles which they outline on their website. If not, give the site a call and ask if there are any narrow lanes or awkward junctions to be avoided.
6 Smoothly does it
It’s understandable that some drivers are nervous when towing, especially if they are new to caravanning. But being on edge doesn’t make for an easy journey.
As any experienced caravanner knows, towing doesn’t feel the same as regular driving. You will notice some pushing and shoving from the caravan, and you can see it moving slightly in your mirrors. If you chase every slight movement with agitated steering corrections, you’ll only make things worse. Instead, keep your steering, braking, and accelerating smooth and relaxed. The car is always trying to pull the caravan straight, so let it do the hard work for you. If your car and van are well matched, sensibly loaded, and driven at an appropriate speed, small corrections with the wheel should be all you need.
7 Never rush
You’re on holiday! Why hurry? Give yourself plenty of time to complete your journey, and allow for regular breaks every couple of hours so you stay alert.
If you allow lots of time, there’s less temptation to speed. You’ll find that car and caravan will be more stable at 60mph than at higher, illegal speeds. In fact, in wet or windy weather you may find that dropping to 55mph or so makes for an easier journey. Remember that your braking distances will be longer when towing, so leave a long gap to the vehicle in front to allow plenty of time to react.
8 Be courteous
A well-driven outfit needn’t hold up other traffic, but on a twisty single-carriageway road you might find a sensible pace is lower than that of other vehicles. If you notice a queue of cars building in your mirrors, pull over when it’s safe to do so. Stopping in a layby for 30 seconds will make little difference to your journey, but you’ll be doing your bit for the reputation of caravanners everywhere!
9 Get some training
Towing a caravan is something any competent driver is capable of doing safely, but there are new skills to learn. For anyone starting out, or a driver who wants to brush up on their skills, a towing course is highly recommended. B-licence holders may need to upgrade to be able to tow heavier car and caravan combinations, but even those of us who already have a B+E licence can benefit from practical instruction. The big two caravan clubs both run towing courses throughout the country.
WHEN GOING ON holiday, not everyone will be travelling with a caravan the size of the average two-bed semi.
So when it comes to towing, plenty of people simply need a modestly sized vehicle that can haul a small-to-medium trailer with ease. And that car should preferably be one that doesn’t consume too much fuel in the process and requires relatively inexpensive consumables such as brakes and tyres.
That’s precisely where the Suzuki SX4 S-cross (A) comes in: it has compact dimensions, it’s strong and capable, and it shouldn’t cost a fortune to run.
Suzuki entered the crossover market way back in 2006 with the first-generation SX4, a car that replaced the terminally dull Liana hatch and which was identical to the Fiat Sedici in all but badging.
This was a small machine, though, which tended to limit its appeal, despite the kudos of entry in the World Rally Championship. So Suzuki decided to move up a class, with a second SX4 S-cross (the original vehicle continued on sale for a time after the second model was launched).
With the larger vehicle came a larger audience, some of whom were keen to use it for towing. So it was just as well Suzuki saw fit to equip the car with either twoor four-wheel drive and a range of smallish, but still lusty engines (B).
Suzuki was decidedly envious of the runaway sales success that was the Nissan Qashqai, so clearly had that car squarely in its sights when developing its own crossover.
Styling-wise, the SX4 looks rather like a cross between a conventional hatchback and an SUV. To some, it’s a fair compromise; to others, it’s neither here nor there.
Still, Suzuki gave the S-cross a great start in life by setting its starting price at just £14,999. Yes, for that sum you got the two-wheel-drive 1.6-litre petrol model in entry-level spec, but the presence of air conditioning, alloy wheels, cruise control and Bluetooth meant buyers had no reason to feel hard done by.
Something else the interior features in abundance is space. Up front, there’s loads of head- and legroom for even tall adults to stretch out comfortably.
Behind them, the rear seats are raised, cinema-style, to give occupants a good view, which should minimise the chances of motion sickness (C). The higher seating does have a slight impact on rear headroom, although the legroom here is generous.
Good news for tow car buyers comes in the form of a boot that’s beyond generous for the class (D), so you’ll be able to carry plenty of stuff for long weekends away.
Up front, two engines were offered at first: a 1.6-litre petrol and a 1.6-litre turbodiesel. There were manual and auto gearboxes on offer, and both models were also available with four-wheel drive for extra traction on slippery surfaces (E).
In 2015, Suzuki introduced an efficient twin-clutch automatic gearbox; then in 2016, the company gave the SX4 S-cross a facelift, taking the opportunity to provide two new engines: a 1.0-litre with 110bhp and a 1.4-litre version of the same engine with 138bhp.
Before the facelift, we’d have said that the diesel was the better option for tow car buyers, but following the tweaks, we’d go for the 1.4-litre Boosterjet version (the diesel was eventually phased out for 2020, and today the only engine available is a 1.4, 127bhp mild-hybrid version).
With this pre-2020 1.4 engine, the car has a towing limit of 1200kg. That isn’t much, but it does perform its haulage duties with ease. It accelerates with intent, and stops quickly with no wandering or other dramas.
Driven solo, the SX4 S-cross is satisfying. That’s largely down to its surprisingly sporty handling, although the downside of this is that the ride quality is also on the sporty side.
Better still, your average fuel economy figure will start with a ‘four’ at minimum.
Finally, servicing is incredibly cheap: according to Servicing Stop, who provide our figures, an interim service will cost you less than £100, while a full service will set you back £112. That’s got to be a bargain.
Great news – the SX4 S-cross is largely free from niggles and grumbles. Reported issues have been with individual cars rather than being indicative of model-wide faults. Having said that, the car has not been completely free from the dreaded recall letter. The first ‘bring it back’ notifications arrived on owners’ doormats in 2014, following concern that the rear-differential oil level could have been a bit short of where it should have been, owing to an incorrect filling procedure when the vehicle was built at the factory.
The following year, the S-cross was recalled once more; this time because there was a risk that a fuel-tank mounting strap had been incorrectly constructed, and could be prone to breakage. There have been a handful of other recalls since.
You can check whether any potential Suzuki purchase has outstanding recall work by visiting https://cars.suzuki.co.uk/ owners/check-outstanding-recall/.
The Suzuki SX4 S-cross may not be a natural at the top of tow car users’ lists, but to ignore it would be to do it a disservice. As long as you don’t ask too much of it, it’ll tow happily, and it won’t cost too much, either.
It makes a surprisingly sporty companion when driven solo, and is roomy enough for five adults ( just) and plenty of luggage. Best of all, the SX4 is available at bargain prices.