Taking the B+E test
Words and photos by Michael Bateman
My parents brought me up holidaying in caravans and when they asked my wife and I to ‘look after’ their Bailey Senator, we jumped at the chance.
Our previous car and caravan combo meant that I was legally able to tow the caravan, but when we upgraded our car, the new car took the weight over the legal limit of 3,500kg, and although I had some towing experience, the DVLA law required I take the B+E test. So, that's what I did…
My wife, Stephanie, had previously completed the test in order to tow her horses. With me being able to tow, it meant we could share the load when going away in the caravan.
We had planned a trip from our home in Worcestershire down to Kent to visit family and friends in a few months' time, so the clock was ticking to get the training completed.
Taking the assessment drive
I decided a course held over two days, with a test on the third day, was the quickest option, so I located a test centre and training venue online and was invited for an assessment drive. I'd chosen Paul Williams Training Services, located close to us in Gloucester.
When I arrived, and after getting kitted out in appropriate Covid-safe PPE, the first task was practising the reverse manoeuvre – the thing I was most apprehensive about. As it turned out, I was massively relieved when I completed it correctly first time. We then set off into the Gloucestershire countryside on a drive.
Although the trainer was happy with the way I drove, it was clear that I’d picked up a few bad habits over the past 19 years of driving, so we agreed to two training days before the test to get me up to the required standard.
With Covid-19 still causing issues, getting a test slot was problematic. The only date available was just five days before our planned trip, so passing first time was vital. The pressure was on.
The B+E training course
The training days were four-hour sessions each, which both began with initial checks on the vehicle and trailer. These included looking out for wear and tear and going through the coupling and uncoupling process, in addition to a list of vehicle safety questions which could be asked in the test.
Getting the order of coupling and uncoupling correct was vital as even the smallest oversight could see me not even making it onto the road on test day.
During the driving practice, I asked as many questions as I could, to be aware of any small details, such as when to pull out of a junction safely and how to check blind spots and mirrors when manoeuvring.
After around 90 minutes of driving, we pulled into a lay-by which was quite clearly the usual break point for this instructor as he was greeted by name and the cook immediately started preparing the ‘usual order’.
The mental rejuvenation supplied by my sausage and egg bap was definitely appreciated. We continued on the road and eventually returned to the test centre where I practised my reversing and coupling/uncoupling for the final part of the day.
When reflecting on my first day of training, although I’d learnt lots, I wanted the trainer to be a bit harder on me and put me through a practice test scenario to see where I might slip up.
This improved during the second day’s training and we split the day with the breakfast bap again. I spent time practising my off-road aspects until I felt I had an automated process to follow so I didn’t miss any part required by the tester.
The B+E Test
Test day arrived and after a quick recap on the aspects of the test and a short drive to focus my mind, I was introduced to the tester. I didn’t feel nervous, but my left leg was shaking like a leaf while trying to control the clutch on the reversing manoeuvre.
I stuck to my practised coupling and uncoupling routine and thankfully we were quickly heading out onto the road.
The first junction outside the test centre leads onto a 50mph road with a slightly offset crossroad. I hesitated when a lorry was trying to come out from the other side and when I finally took the plunge and went for it, it resulted in my first minor.
According to the tester, I was only saved from an immediate failure by the slow speed of the car on the main road which only had to ease off the accelerator, rather than slamming on their brakes. Lesson definitely learnt.
We drove around the roads and the tester did his best to put me at ease. We did lots of pulling over to the side of the road and then re-entering the road, which I’d definitely not practised enough in my training.
It wasn’t helped by the feeling that every time I pulled away the tester clicked on his iPad as I started to fear it was a repetitive failure that could cause me to fail. Luckily it wasn’t.
I felt happy overall as we returned to the test centre and was over the moon when the tester informed me that I’d passed with six minors.
We discussed aspects of my driving that I can improve on going forward and I left happily clutching my certificate with a huge sense of relief. Kent, here we come!
I think Stephanie is looking forward to being able to sit back and enjoy the ride from now on – I'm really glad I did it and it wasn't as hard as I thought.
If you enjoyed this guide to towing, there is loads more expert caravan advice just like it in the latest 2020 issue of Your First Caravan.
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