Whether you’re getting a caravan because you’re retiring and want to see more of the country in your spare time or looking for a cheap holiday option for the family, choosing the right car for towing your caravan will ensure that your holiday experience is safe, relaxed and legal.
If your current car isn’t quite up to the job and you need to upgrade to something that’s man enough for towing a caravan, there are number of things that you’ll need to think about. At the heart of these considerations are the power and weight of your vehicle in combination with the weight of your van.
There are also some more general things to consider that can apply to buying any used car.
Here is our list of the main considerations:
To tow a caravan safely your car needs to be heavier than the fully loaded caravan. It also needs to be pokey enough to make steady progress on gradients of up to 1 in 8 (12.5%). Depending on your age, you might need to upgrade your driving licence to tow the larger, heavier caravans.
If you already have a caravan, you’ll need to know what the car you’re considering can tow comfortably. Read our blog on choosing vehicles for different lifestyles. Details of the maximum weight the car can tow are usually found on the spec sheet or in the owners’ manual.
The weight of the caravan should be lower than the maximum towing weight of the car. Maximum towing weight is the total weight of a fully loaded vehicle (luggage and passengers) plus the nose weight of the caravan and the tow bar combined.
If you don’t have a caravan yet and want to know if your car can tow one, find the kerb weight of your vehicle. Kerb weight is the standard weight of your car without luggage or people and can usually be found in the owner’s manual. If not, then consult the vehicle’s manufacturer for the data.
Caravanning organisations suggest that you don’t tow anything heavier than the kerb weight of your car. It’s recommended that the weight of the item you’re towing is no more than 85% of the kerb weight. So, the bigger the car, the heavier the kerb weight is likely to be and therefore the greater its towing capacity. If you have a heavy caravan you’ll need to buy a used car with heavier kerb weight.
When you’re looking for a used car to tow a caravan, in addition to the weight of the car you’ll also need to have a think about engine power and torque. Torque is the rotational force generated by the vehicles engine and applied to its axle.
Measured as break horsepower per tonne, the power to weight ratio of a vehicle is a good indication of its engine power and torque.
A good rule of thumb for selecting break horsepower of your vehicle is 40bhp/tonne of the gross train weight (GTW). GTW is the total weight of the laden car and laden caravan i.e. everything in the outfit that the engine has to tow.
Attaching a caravan to a vehicle can almost halve the power to weight ratio, so the more power and torque an engine can push out the better.
Once you know what engine size you want you need to decide between a manual transmission or one with an automatic gearbox. And remember, if fuel economy is important to you, manuals tend to be more fuel efficient than automatics.
However, automatics are often heavier than cars with manual transmissions, giving you a higher towing limit. Driving an automatic, particularly for long distances, is also easier and more comfortable. The downside is that overall automatics can be less reliable than manuals.
You could consider vehicles with semi-automatic or continuously variable transmissions (CVT). Both these transmission types are slightly more fuel efficient than fully automatic gear boxes, but the towing ratios tend to be similar to manuals.
Torque, or pulling power, is a measure of engine performance. Good torque at low engine speeds will allow easy pulling away, and towing with a minimum of gear changing.
In general, cars with diesel engines will offer more low-down torque, which makes them better at towing. With the world’s eyes on climate change and concerns over air quality, we’re likely to see increased levels of taxation levied on diesel vehicles in the coming years. Hybrid vehicles, which combine a petrol or diesel engine with an electric motor, are sure to become more popular. This is good news for those in search of a car for towing because additional torque provided by the electric motor is very useful. And, the superior fuel economy and lower emissions mean lower fuel and tax bills.
To cope with British road conditions, you’re going to want a car with great road holding. Four-wheel drives are great for towing because they deliver more traction than two-wheel drives. They also have higher kerb weights than two-wheel drive alternatives, so maximum towing limits are increased.
That said, some rear wheel drive models offer a good towing experience because they have good traction over the rear of the car. This pulling power is enhanced by the added weight of the caravan’s nose over the tow bar.
So, what’s the best choice for towing? Perhaps an automatic 4x4? See below for our list of some popular choices of used vehicles to tow a caravan.
Nissan X-Trail – A 7-seater SUV. Available in 2WD and 4WD versions. Kerb weight = 1,485-1,670 kg, BHP = 139-170bhp, towing capacity = up to 2,200kg depending on the model.
BMW X5 – The mid-size luxury SUV from BMW. Super comfort and options. Kerb weigh = 2,105-2,350kg, BHP = 215-444 depending on model, towing capacity = 1,900-2,700 kg
Volvo XC90 – Style, power and versatility in equal measure. Kerb weight = 2,029-2,225 kg, BHP = 161-311bhp, Towing capacity = 2,400-2,700 kg
Land Rover Discovery – Third generation ‘Discos’ offer superb traditional styling with a solid can-do attitude. Kerb weight = 2,193-2,230 kg, BHP = 240-306 bhp depending on model, Towing capacity = 3,000-3,500 kg
Audi A6 – An exciting and versatile executive car. The all-road Quattro is the one to go for. Kerb weight = 1,645-2,020 kg, BHP = 187-552 bhp depending on model and configuration, Towing capacity = 2,000-2,100kg
Vauxhall Insignia Country Tourer – Standard comfort and equipment. Kerb weight = 1,658 kg, BHP = 168 bhp, Towing capacity = 1,200 kg
BMW 5 Series Touring – German engineered refinement and a great ride to boot. Kerb weight = 1,715-1,885 kg, BHP = 147-442, depending on model and spec, Towing capacity = 1,700-2,100 kg depending on model and spec.
Need more help choosing the right car to tow your caravan?