Before you begin, it’s a good idea to narrow down a few specifics about what you need your tow car to pull. There’s a big difference between an occasional run to the dump with some hedge clippings, to pulling a full size caravan. The two most important things to consider is weight and torque. Most modern hatchbacks will happily cope with pulling a boat, trailer or small caravan, it’s only when you move up to larger items such as horseboxes, that something bigger and stronger is needed.
When looking at a car’s performance figures it’s easy to focus solely on bhp, but torque is really the more important of the two performance figures. Simply put, the more the torque figure is, the more grunt the car has, which translates into better pulling power. Each road test in Diesel Car includes a maximum towing weight and torque output for a car, so that’s a good place to begin.
Once you know whether or not your prospective purchase is up to the task, it’s then time to consider the car’s transmission. While a manual gearbox might be the choice of the keener driver, many people that tow prefer an automatic transmission as it simplifies matters somewhat, and the chances are that if you’re going to do a meaningful amount of towing, you’re going to want an automatic. For heftier trailers and caravans, you’ll need four-wheel-drive in order to put the traction down onto the road, but don’t think that you’re necessarily pigeon-holed into an ungainly SUV. Many estate cars are well up to the task of towing and there’s a number of well respected vehicles that boast the benefit of all-wheel-drive.
Once you’ve chosen the type of car and gearbox that you prefer, there’s a few towing specific extras that you might want to consider. Both Ford and Honda, for example, offer a trailer stability control system on some of their cars that can be used for towing, such as the Kuga and CR-V. The system works by braking individual wheels, to bring the trailer back in line and under control, in the event that the trailer begins snaking. It’s the kind of equipment that is invisible for the majority of the time, but could prove to be invaluable in the event of a problem.
Owners clubs and forums are a great source of information as to how they perform when fully laden. A salesman will always tell you what you want to hear when you are trying to buy one, but realistically will have no knowledge of what it is like to tow a caravan from Corby to Clacton, or a power boat from Peterborough to Penzance. Speaking to people that have real world experience is invaluable, with The Caravan Club and Camping and Caravanning Club particularly knowledgeable in this area.
With all that worked out, it’s time to consider the cost of the tow bar itself – most manufacturers will offer their own, bespoke towbar and fitting can cost as much, if not more, than the bar itself. A towbar for a Skoda Superb Estate will cost around £250 plus fitting, while on Jaguar’s XF Sportbrake the kit costs over £1,200, including the dreaded VAT and installation. It’s important to bear factors like this in mind as they can easily be forgotten. The good news is that you don’t always have to opt for the official manufacturer’s towbar, as specialists like Witter, Westfalia and Towsure offer top quality alternatives, and usually at a more affordable prices.
Choosing the right tow car need not be difficult, it’s all about doing your homework. Get that right and you’ll have a vehicle that will tow with ease for many years to come.
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