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What Are Towbars Used For?

If you’re thinking of towing a folding camper caravan or trailer tent or other trailer, you have to be aware of towbars and the electrics that go with them. To make it easier, the word “caravan” is utilized throughout but it applies to all trailers unless stated otherwise.

Before 1998, there were no rules to ensure the safe design and installation of a trailer towbar. Anyone was able to build just a few angles of iron to installing towbars. On August 1, 1998 (20 April 1999 in Northern Ireland) safety regulations were introduced, which stipulated that new vehicles registered after onwards must be equipped with type-approved towbars that are manufactured in compliance to European directive EC94/20.

The directive requires a small sample of every type of towbar to go through an examination that involves a two million cycle test of fatigue that typically lasts for 60 hours. The towbar then gets examined by the certification agency for vehicles in the country where it was manufactured. If the inspection is successful, the towbar will be issued with an individual number of approval for the type and can be offered for sale as an approved product.

On October 29, 2012, The Directive expanded to cover light commercial cars that do not exceed 3500kg in Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) along with all motorhomes built upon commercial vehicle chassis cabs regardless their GVW. The Directive 94/20 Directive also stipulates that the towbar should be attached to the vehicle by using designated mounting points supplied by the maker. Another condition is that towball be mounted in a certain location relative to the mounting points, not at the height of the ground. It is the responsibility of the maker of the vehicle to ensure that the position of the towball is consistent with regulations. The regulations state that towball and the height of the hitch for a fully loaded vehicle (GVW) and these are described within the Data Sheets glossary.

The 94/20 Directive is now changed with ECE (United United Nations Economic Commission for Europe) Regulation 55. It has all the provisions of EC 94/20 , but it imposes additional conditions which include testing the second coupling. This is the point of attachment for the breakaway cable that is used on trailers with brakes. Towbars that conform to the EC 94/20 standards are still deemed acceptable and are suitable for sale as well as fitting and use.

EC Approval does not just be used for towbars but is also applicable to electrics used for towing. They must be in conformity with EC Directive 2009/19 (electromagnetic compatibility). Note that this refers to interference caused by radios and not the compatibility of the operation with a particular caravan.
Identifying the capacity of the towing

Every modern vehicle is fitted with the vehicle Identification Number (VIN) (also known as a chassis plate). This can be found under the bonnet , or lower down on the door pillar. The upper figure represents an estimate of the maximum authorized mass (MAM) that the automobile is, or in that sense, the weight it can legally can be loaded up to. It could be also referred to as gross vehicle weight (GVW).

The following number will be the Gross Train weight (GTW). This is the maximum permissible weight that can be accumulated by the loaded trailer and vehicle. Another way of looking at it is to say that the figure is the total of the real axle loads for each axle. They must not exceed them. The figures below are the maximum permissible loads of both rear and front axles.

The difference between GTW as well as that of the MAM is the towing capacity of the vehicle’s total weight. In this case, it is noted that the maximum towing capability of this Subaru is 3,754kg + 1,945kg . This is 1,800 kg.

In accordance with European rules, a vehicle’s towing limit is defined as the maximum weight allowed by the following:

“The motor vehicle that tows a trailer should be able to start the combination of vehicle loaded to its maximum mass five times on an uphill slope of minimum 12 percent within 5 minutes.”

So, since certain roads of the A class in the UK and a lot of roads throughout mainland Europe have gradients higher than 12 percent (approximately 1/8) it’s recommended not to tow beyond the towing limit set by the manufacturer.

In assessing what you might be able of towing, Club always ensure that for safety that you adhere to the 85 percent recommended that maximum Technically Permissible Laden Mass (MTPLM) that the trailer must not exceed 85 percent of the kerbweight of your towing vehicle. The figure could be raised to 100 per cent for experienced drivers who are used to pulling, but it should not exceed this amount. The kerbweight figure doesn’t appear on the VIN plate, but it should be listed in the vehicle’s manual. It could be identical to the ‘Mass in Service number that is currently displayed in the DVLA Form V5. It is dependent upon whether or not the total weight (75kg) is being included. See the glossary.

Legally the MAM of your car, together with the MTPLM of your caravan, should not be more than the GTW of your car.

Can the vehicle be towable?

It’s important to be aware that some cars aren’t intended for towing, and towing one of them would be illegal. The Club’s experience has shown that they typically include sports versions that are lowered or sport an engine kit, eco models, and most recently, electric and hybrid vehicles. Some require towbar prepared and installed. The Club believes that it is unlikely that the towbar is possible to install following the departure of the factory in stock new vehicles or pre-owned, therefore these vehicles will not be legally able to tow. A vehicle with no towing limit could appear identical to a model that is with the capability of towing one exception being the one that is indicated by the plate on which it is registered.

Some examples of these vehicles are those of Ford Ka, Jaguar F type, a few Audi TT, Audi S3 and a few Skoda. For these types of vehicles, The Maximum Train Weight will be either zeros or dashes. Therefore, before purchasing, look over your VIN number of the vehicle you plan to purchase to determine its towing capacity as well as other checks that the Club recommends for safe and reliable towing in our Matching Car or caravan’s Data Sheet. This may involve calling the head office of the firm to confirm.

Certain vehicles could have the same figures in the GTW and MAM. In this instance, when the load of the vehicle is restricted below the maximum allowed amount (MAM) it could be possible to pull that difference in weight between the actual and MAM/GTW. In the majority of cases, this only allows towing the heaviest trailers. In order to be able to use this feature, the driver must be aware of how much their trailer and vehicle weighs. This can be done by visiting an open weighbridge.

Another crucial figure to keep in mind is the limit of the noseweight of the vehicle towing. This is the highest static force that can apply to the towball of any towbar that is fitted.

Noseweight is essential for stable towing . The widely accepted norm is that the nominal noseweight of the trailer (or caravan) should be within the range of 5 to 7 percent of the MTPLM. If a caravan has an MTPLM of 1,500kg, this is 75kg-105kg.

Towbar specialist versus dealer

It is perfectly feasible and legal to install an towbar on your own however, it’s not something that should be done at a leisurely pace. In addition to ensuring that the correct bolts fit in the right holes at the right torque, there’s the whole issue of electrics for a towbar to think about as well as the possibility of having to take off your rear bumper the crash beam the boot floor, rear lights, etc.

We would advise that the job be done professionally. If your vehicle is brand new, it might be beneficial to purchase the factory fitted towbar installed, or request the dealer that supplied the unit to install the towbar on your behalf. So, there’s less chance to be warranty issues in the event that something goes wrong later on. Another thing to keep in mind is that certain vehicles might require some factory preparation, and might require cooling equipment in addition in the event that they are utilized for towing. A dealer with a main dealership is the most knowledgeable about the details.

In spite of this, there are many top towbar fitting businesses that will visit you to complete the task. The main dealers can hire towbar fitting services from companies like these. To assist you in selecting one you can use the National Trailer & Towing Association (NTTA) maintains an inventory of QSA Accredited (QSA) towbar fitting firms.

Different types of towbars

Towbars are available in two primary kinds – ones that have a fixed towball as well as ones with a detachable version. They can be equipped with the flange or swan neck towballs. If you’re worried about the appearance of the rear end of your vehicle, you might want to look into a towbar that has an detachable towball. It might be possible to select the towball can be removed from view when not being used.

Fixed towballs can be bolted to the towbar. The UK the most well-known is the flange model that is mounted using two (or often up to four) bolts. This is a great option if you want to attach things like bicycle racks bumper shield, Blade stabiliser bracket.

Detachable towballs most often have a swan neck type however, you can also find mount flanges with detachable mounting that are suitable for towballs that have flanges. Towballs that detach have locks that can be released quickly which allows the towball be removed and then returned to its original position without the use of tools. The mounting is typically vertical, meaning that you push it up to lock. However in cases where space is limited the horizontal option could be employed. Vertical locking systems leave nothing visible after the towball is removed.

Retractable towbars are an extremely popular choice for factory fitting, they allow the towballs in its place when not in use , much like detachable, but have the benefit of being connected to the vehicle.

These are towbars with a permanent fitting systems that are able to expand and retract tow balls behind the bumper on the rear. They can be locked manually and unlocked, electrically controlled or a combination the two . They are available from aftermarket suppliers like Witter. Retractables are also likely to come with a readily accessible electrical plug 13 pin as illustrated below.

The disadvantages are more costly and complex compared to the conventional options, but should you be seeking a simple towbar that does not harm the lines of the vehicle when it’s is not being used, the retractable could be the right choice for you.