Blog by DVSA Chief Driving Examiner, Mark Winn.
I’m Mark Winn, Britain’s Chief Driving Examiner at the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA).
We’re responsible for road safety standards for vehicles and drivers, including people who tow trailers and caravans. We want to ensure motorists have the right driving skills and know how to make sure their vehicles and trailers are safe to use on the road.
I care about this because, as well as having a professional interest in towing safety, I have a personal interest too. Until recently I regularly towed a horse trailer which contained a precious cargo. I also tow a large box trailer for the local scouts, which has its own responsibilities.
Tow safe 4 Freddie
The story of Freddie Hussey also makes this subject very meaningful. Freddie was a little boy who tragically died when a trailer became uncoupled from a towing vehicle. I’ve been involved with the #towsafe4freddie campaign since 2016.
As travel restrictions lift and many people are holidaying at home, our message is: ‘whatever you’re towing, make it SAFE’ and support the #towsafe4freddie campaign.
Just by taking a bit of time to carry out some basic checks, you can make sure your journey is safe and goes to plan.
Whatever you’re towing, make it SAFE
I’m a great believer in having little ways to remember things – so this is the SAFE advice we’re offering, to make the checks easier:
In my mind, prevention is better than cure. This year, many caravans and trailers have been unused for months. Brakes can bind if a vehicle has been parked up for a while. A tyre that has been outside in all weathers will deteriorate.
So, as well as carrying out a walk around check to make sure your trailer is safe, get your trailer or caravan professionally serviced at the beginning of the towing season. The Approved Workshop Scheme includes over 520 mobile and fixed workshops.
Alongside a service, you can often get a free safety check at your local garage or trailer dealer. Lots of workshops offer free inspections as well - look for a local National Trailer and Towing Association site.
Air in tyres - check pressure, tread depth, condition, and age
First of all, take a good look at your tyres. With trailer tyres it’s important to look for signs of cracking. If there are cracks, or if the tyre shows signs of ageing, it’s time to replace it.
Keep an eye on the tread depth and the condition of the tyre.
It’s important that your trailer or caravan tyres are at the right pressure, so check with a gauge. Consider the weight and load that you’ve got in your trailer and car as that may make a difference to the tyre pressures. Look in your vehicle handbook for information about this.
Don’t forget to check your car tyres, too.
Fit the breakaway cable or safety chain and check electrical connections and cables.
Make sure the breakaway cable is in good condition and securely attached to the car and the trailer.
If the trailer becomes unhitched from the car this will pull the trailer brakes on. So, if the worst happens, the trailer should come to a stop.
If you’re towing an unbraked trailer (under 750kg gross weight), you’re likely to have a breakaway chain. If the hitch fails, this will support the weight of the trailer until you can come to a safe stop.
Check the condition of the electrical cable. Make sure it’s securely fixed and can’t drag on the floor and wear out. If the cable is in good condition, this will help to keep the lights working.
Examine lights, load and weight limit, mirrors, and do the jockey wheel test.
Before each journey, get used to checking that the lights on the trailer or caravan work - particularly brake lights and indicators. Get someone to help you or use the reflection of lights against a garage door.
The way you load the vehicle is important. Make sure your load is spread out and try to pack the heaviest stuff in the middle of the vehicle, over the wheels.
The nose weight must be right – that’s how heavy the front of the trailer is. You need to have the right amount of downward pressure onto the towbar of the car.
Different vehicles and trailers have a different nose weight, so look in your car handbook or the notes that come with your trailer.
On smaller trailers, you might be able to be able to check the nose weight by lifting and feeling the weight of the trailer. If the trailer is heavier, you are better off using a gauge – they’re not expensive and are easy to get hold of.
Your car handbook will also tell you maximum weight you can carry in the car and the maximum you can tow. You also need to check what your driving licence allows you to tow.
The load and weight limit for a trailer can be quite complicated, but your vehicle handbook is the best source of advice.
If you’re not sure, talk to experts at
- the National Trailer and Towing Association
- the Approved Workshop Scheme
- the Camping and Caravanning Club
- one of the horse societies; or
- your local trailer centre
When you’re sitting in the driving seat it’s important to have a clear view down both sides of the trailer. So, you might need extended towing mirrors, depending on the size of your caravan or trailer.
You need to make sure your trailer is safely coupled to the car and that means checking the towing hitch is securely locked onto the towing ball.
Before you set off, I suggest you use the jockey wheel test. This is where you try to lift the hitch off the tow ball using the jockey wheel.
You should see the back of the car raise slightly. Do this twice to double check it stays secure and check that any warning marker indicates the hitch is correctly locked to the tow ball.
Where can I go for further help?
With a bit of forward planning, you can make sure your vehicle and trailer, or caravan are safe to use and that you enjoy towing safety.
Visit GOV.UK for advice on the checks to do before towing and watch the short video about how to safely couple your vehicle and trailer.
DVSA’s official manual on towing contains a wealth of advice.
The Camping and Caravanning Club has a basic guide on how to tow a caravan.
Follow this advice and #towsafe4freddie to enjoy happy and SAFE towing this summer.