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With the winter school holiday time here, many drivers will be hitting the roads with trailers, boats and caravans in tow. “Whatever you are towing it should be done right to avoid damage to your vehicle and accidents on our roads. It’s also important to understand the rules around what your driving licence entitles you to tow,” says Dewald Ranft, Chairman of the Motor Industry Workshop Association (MIWA), a proud association of the Retail Motor Industry Association (RMI).
He says the first thing to ensure is that the trailer or caravan has been properly serviced by a competent person. “During the service the following areas should receive special attention: brakes (if fitted); electrical connections and components such as lights, cables etc; wheel bearings (these need to be greased if the trailer has been standing for a lengthy period); and tyres with emphasis on the tyre age i.e. cracks etc.” He highly recommends using a MIWA-accredited workshop.
He adds that it is also important to ensure you have the correct licence and what you are towing falls within the legal requirements in terms of weight in relation to your vehicle. “Many motorists don’t realise that their driver’s licence regulates what vehicle they can drive and what type of trailer they can pull.”
A basic breakdown of the different driver’s licence codes can be found on the back of the driver’s licence card. A B driver’s licence code entitles you to tow a trailer or caravan no heavier than 750kg. The Gross Motor Vehicle Mass (GVM) cannot be over 750kg. Caravan towing regulations lie in the last three codes starting with an E: EB (light vehicle); EC1 (heavy vehicle) and EC (extra-heavy vehicle). These driver’s licences are the only ones with which you can tow a trailer or caravan with a GVM of over 750kgs.
“If you don’t have a driver’s licence for towing, you’ll need to do the K53 again. You need to write a learner’s test and then go for a towing driver’s licence test,” explains Ranft. “It is important that motorists don’t attempt to tow an item that is too heavy for their vehicle. It’s not just a fine you need to be worried about – your insurance won’t pay if you’re involved in an accident and don’t have the correct driver’s licence for towing.”
The cost of fuel and fuel consumption is also a factor to consider before heading off on holiday with an item tow. “Towing roughly halves your normal distance so be careful to plan your stops beforehand. It’s also important to budget for the additional fuel you’ll use when towing. You’ll need to double your usual fuel expenditure,” he advises.
Ranft says that speeding is the number one cause of accidents when towing. “Drivers need to be aware that the stopping distance is far longer when towing and allow for this.”
He adds that passing heavy vehicles and vice versa creates a vortex which can affect the towing combination stability. “Ensure that you are not caught unawares. Do not use excessive braking when descending a steep descent as this may overheat the brakes on the units and lead to premature brake failure. Rather select a lower gear to assist with the braking force and keep to the recommended speed limit.”
He also encourages drivers who stop to assist a broken-down vehicle to ensure they use the correct equipment before attempting to tow the vehicle. “Use only approved towing equipment such as towing bars and ropes. Be aware when using a rope that it will slacken on deceleration. By using the correct rope you avoid the risk of the rope snapping on acceleration. A tow bar should be used if the towed vehicle’s brakes are not working. Be aware that the steering on the towed vehicle may be extremely heavy when the engine is not running so too are the brakes without vacuum assistance,” he adds.
“Every holiday season we have many fatalities on our roads. Let’s make sure that we tow responsibly and take it easy this winter,” concludes Ranft.