04/03/2010
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Why 90% should be the new 85% - caravan weight call

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It’s simple. For decades caravanners have believed that their caravan’s fully loaded weight should not exceed 85% of their car’s kerbweight.

We’ve come to know this as the 85% rule or law. Obeying it unthinkingly could give you more of a safety margin than you need in modern conditions, and may cause you to turn your back on the caravan of your dreams.

Go Caravan magazine says a move up to 90% as a guideline figure for safe towing is well overdue, and many leading figures in caravanning agree.

At Bailey in Bristol, company director and head of engineering Nick Howard said: "A new 90% guideline is entirely reasonable and realistic."

It’s a point of view echoed by the Swift Group in Hull, where product director Steve Trossell says: "It has been our view for some time that the 85% guideline is too low.

It’s an opinion that has been reinforced by our experience on road and testing on track under extreme but controlled conditions. We would fully support a revised 90% guideline figure as a completely safe starting point for caravan beginners, providing their caravan is correctly loaded and the outfit properly prepared."

The Caravan Club arrived at the 85% figure 46 years ago, for completely laudible reasons to do with safe towing. However, many advances in cars since that time have been safety related. Many of those original safety concerns have faded or have already vanished.

"To ignore the progression in motor vehicle technology and safety since 1973 is senseless," says Steve Sharpe, partner at the leading group of caravan dealers Lowdham Leisureworld. 

"I think it’s high time for a review of what’s considered a safe tow match figure and 90% seems quite sensible.”

For these reasons a 90% tow match figure is the one Go Caravan magazine will now quote as our guideline for new caravanners.

For the present, neither club is intending to revise its 85% guideline. The Camping and Caravanning Club told us: "Before accepting any change the Club will need to be convinced that new technology can provide safe outfiits at higher weight ratios and the technology can provide the benefits consistently."

The Caravan Club is biding its time: "If towcar characteristics change, perhaps in the next decade or so, such that the average towcar becomes noticeably lighter, then the current guideline may need to be reviewed.”

See both clubs' full responses below.

Go Caravan cover
Calling for change
Go Caravan magazine's support of 90% is based on firm foundations. Professor Jos Darling, senior lecturer in mechanical engineering at the University of Bath, has spearheaded a programme of stability research in collaboration with Bailey Caravans.

"Given the progression in automotive technology,” he told us, “good practice alongside safe loading should mean 90% presents no problem as a new guideline for new or inexperienced caravanners. Simply put, a badly loaded 85% match is dangerous, whereas a safely loaded 90% match is not."

His team’s findings suggest a need to shift our thinking to an understanding that the efficient loading of a caravan can have more impact than weight.

This is about choice. Nobody's advocating that people wantonly compromise their safety. As Rob Quine, MD of Elddis says: "Caravan safety is paramount." But he goes on: “To ignore the advances of car technology which itself has safety at its heart is arrogant. A reassessment of the guidelines is long overdue.”

Many experienced caravanners go higher than 90% and quite safely. This guideline is for those who want to choose a caravan easily and with confidence.

Too many buyers have missed out on the perfect tourer for the sake of a few kilos which, with correct loading, would have no discernible effect on stability. This is our attempt to set that right.

Club responses:

The Camping and Caravanning Club:

"The Club is always interested to listen to new ideas and innovations. However, the 85% rule has stood the test of time well and at present we have no plans to change our advice to caravanners. Before accepting any change The Club will need to be convinced that new technology can provide safe outfits at higher weight ratios and the technology can provide the benefits consistently and reliably.

The Caravan Club:


"The Club is currently happy with the 85% guideline, which has been verified through a combination of member feedback, outfit testing and academic research to help deliver a safe and comfortable towing experience for drivers of all abilities. 

"If towcar characteristics change, perhaps in the next decade or so, such that the average towcar becomes noticeably lighter, then the practicality of the current guideline may need to be reviewed, but this could only be done if the stability of the outfit could be maintained.

"This would probably require technical advances in the design of the tow hitch, and the stability control systems built into the car and the caravan.  Of course, if caravan manufacturers ensure that lighter caravans also become available, then the current guideline may well prove perfectly acceptable for much longer.

“The Club has many contacts within the automotive sector, through our membership of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, and organisations such as the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership. This enables us to monitor developments in vehicle technology, whether it be alternative fuels, electric vehicles or lightweight structures.

"Through liaison with key manufacturers such as Land Rover, we can assess how and when new technologies are likely to affect the towcar choice of Club members. At present, we do not anticipate large scale changes in towcar nature nor availability within the next 10 years. However, niche market vehicles are already available which show the direction future mass-market designs are heading.  

"This issue is discussed in further detail on the Club website, in an article called ‘How green will we go?' (link will open in new window/tab)

Manufacturer responses:

Rob Quine, Managing Director, Explorer Group: "Caravan safety is paramount. But to ignore the advances of car technology which itself has safety at its heart is arrogant. We feel a reassessment of the rules (guidelines) is long overdue.'

Nick Howard, Director and Head of Engineering, Bailey Caravans: "A new 90% guideline is entirely reasonable and realistic. Indeed our extensive research with Prof Jos Darling at Bath University proves caravan weight distribution (loading) should be considered with a similar amount of importance as a towcars weight anyway."

Steve Trossell, Product Director The Swift Group: "It has been our view for some time that the 85% guideline is too low. It's an opinion that has been reinforced by our experience on road and testing on track under extreme but controlled conditions. We would fully support a revised 90% guideline figure as completely safe starting point for caravan beginners providing their caravan is correctly loaded and the outfit properly prepared. For added security all Swift Group caravans are now sold with stabilisers.”

Professor Jos Darling, Snr Lecturer Mechanical Engineering University of Bath: “Given the progression in automotive technology, good practice alongside safe loading should mean 90% presents no problem as a new guideline for new or inexperienced caravanners. Simply put, a badly loaded 85% match is dangerous whereby a safely loaded 90% match is not.”

Steve Sharpe, Partner, Lowdham Leisureworld: “To ignore the progression in motor vehicle technology and safety since 1973 is senseless. I think it's high time for a review of what's considered a safe tow match figure and 90 per cent seems quite sensible considering the circumstances.”
  • What do you think? Tell us your views in our online forum by clicking here.
  • A full version of this article – including the definition of the law - is published in the latest issue of Go Caravan magazine. Order your copy securely online by clicking here.

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