24/05/2014
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Towing with your motorhome

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Before you invest any money in a towbar, you need to find out what your vehicle can tow. With a van conversion, this is generally quite simple and you’ll have plenty of options, in the case of a coachbuilt or A-class model, not all motorhomes make good tow vehicles and some cannot be fitted with a towbar at all.

So your first step is to contact your vehicle manufacturer and ask them what they advise as a maximum towing limit and if they have any stipulations for towbar fitment. If you’re looking to buy a motorhome, ask the advice of the supplying dealer (and get it in writing). As a general rule of thumb, vehicles with short overhangs behind the rear wheels and rear-wheel drive or twin-rear wheels make the best tow vehicles. A front-wheel drive coachbuilt with a massive rear overhang, garage and modest payload will typically make an ineffective tow vehicle.

When was your motorhome registered?

If your motorhome was first registered after 1 April 2012 you need to fit an EC type-approved towbar to be fully legal. If your vehicle was first registered before 1 April 2012 you do not need a type-approved towbar.

Check your motorhome’s weight

You need to know the weight of your vehicle when it’s loaded. Visit a weighbridge and ask for a printout of the front and rear axle weights.

Check this is under the plated weight detailed on your chassis plate (or in the handbook).
If it isn’t, adjust your touring equipment to suit or consider uprating your chassis – you’ll fall foul of VOSA if you get stopped and get a fine as well as risking legal action in the event of an accident.

Check your noseweight

The weight of any towbar, including the metal frame that bolts to your vehicle chassis and any wiring will all reduce your vehicle’s payload by that amount. So, if your towbar assembly weighs 80kg, you have 80kg less payload to use.
In addition to this you need to be aware of the noseweight. This is the force that pushes down vertically on the towball. Your motorhome manufacturer and towbar maker will specify a maximum noseweight. This is typically in the region of 75kg to 120kg and must not be exceeded.

You can measure the actual force pushing down on your trailer (or bike rack/storage rack) by either buying a dedicated noseweight device, which we’d recommend, or simply putting a stout piece of wood (or an axle stand) under the trailer nose and placing it on your bathroom scales (but make sure it can cope with the weight first).

Cantilever effect

If your motorhome has a large rear overhang, the distance of the towbar from the rear axle centre will affect the load on the rear axle. Try lifting a 10kg weight with your arm at your side. Now lift the same weight with your arm horizontally – it feels much heavier than 10kg. It’s the same for your motorhome and the danger is that the combination of a large overhang and a towbar with heavy kit on it, can overload your rear axle.
In the case of a motorbike rack, this cantilever effect can be calculated by measuring the length from the centre of the rear axle to the centre of the load attached to the towball. It’s less of an issue with a trailer as you can vary the noseweight by repositioning the load in the trailer.
Speak to your towbar installer armed with your axle weights (plus weight of load) and they will be able to advise you on this.

Got a small payload?

Bigger is generally best in most things excluding waistlines, but if your motorhome’s payload is small, fitting a towbar can be very useful. Armed with a small box trailer, you can effectively gain more payload without increasing your payload by much (just the noseweight). Equally, if your vehicle is overloaded with touring kit, decanting some of it to a trailer can help you avoid overloading axles and give a better balanced load.

Towing cars

There are several options when it comes to towing cars: single-axle trailer, twin-axle trailer or A-frame. Each has pros and cons, but I favour twin-axle trailers as they’re more stable, help prevent the car’s wheel and gearbox bearings revolving in transit and are easiest to reverse. They can be hired from about £40 a day.
A-frames can be useful if you have limited storage or mobility issues. A-frames used to tow cars must be braked irrespective of the weight of the towed car.

With any trailer, always check tyres and wheelbolts before any trip and always carry a spare wheel. Trailers with larger diameter wheels and Al-Ko axles tend to be more stable.

This is an extract from a longer article in July 2014 MMM magazine. To order your copy, click here.


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