Choosing the right towing vehicle

  • You’re running late, the map you are using seems to be of Bulgaria and it’s pouring with rain. Up ahead, a steep hill looms and your heart sinks. Will your car and trailer make it to the top?

    The last thing you need when transporting your horse is a car that might let you down. You need a vehicle that will get you to that event on time and in one piece. Weight, engine size, fuel type: all are factors you should take into account.

    Match your car to your trailer

    When you start to tow, it’s important to make sure your car is the right one for your trailer.
    The main factor in choosing a tow-car is weight. Having a small car can limit your choice of trailer — you have to make sure the vehicle is heavy enough to pull your trailer, and one or two horses, easily.

    The rule is the same for all things towed behind a car, be they caravans, boats or horse trailers. Ideally, your fully loaded trailer should represent no more than 85% of the weight of the car towing it. So if your car has a kerbweight (overall weight) of 1,000kg, your trailer should weigh no more than 850kg, fully loaded.

    The 4×4 option

    A heavy off-roader is what you need, right? It’s true that 4x4s are often easier to match to today’s heavier trailers, but they are not the only option. You have to look at how you will use your car and trailer. If you do a lot of long-distance driving, towing on the motorway with a good saloon car is often much smoother and more stable. Not only that, they are generally lower, and therefore less susceptible to cross-winds.

    What makes 4x4s especially suitable for towing is their transmission. Off-road, the additional low gears mean that rough ground at a muddy event can be easily negotiated. Also, heavier trailers mean a weightier car is needed, which you are more likely to find in the 4×4 market.

    Get your load right

    Another important factor in getting things right is loading. This is difficult with live animals, but try to make sure most of the weight is over the trailer axle. Too much weight at the front puts pressure on the noseweight (the weight applied to your car’s towball), which may make your outfit unstable. The correct noseweight for your trailer should be stated in the handbook.

    “If you have a two-horse trailer and only one horse, put him on the right-hand side,” says Emily Archer-Perkins, head girl at New Park Farm, near Wincanton. “Having him there can keep your trailer steady.”

    “Snaking” is when your trailer shifts from side to side, and may be a result of bad loading. It can be solved by taking your foot off the accelerator and gradually slowing down.
    “It’s really tempting to speed up, but that’s what you can’t do,” says Emily. “Especially if you’re going downhill.”

    Manual or automatic?

    In the bad old days, some automatic gearboxes had the tendency to overheat when towing. Nowadays, car manufacturers have solved the problem, but if you want maximum control, it may be best to use a manual transmission when towing larger trailers.

    Using your lower gears when towing up and down hills and in slippery conditions will give you much more control over your outfit. Some 4x4s have extra low gears, but these are needed only in extreme off-road situations.

    On many new cars, you can switch from automatic to manual for difficult conditions. But if you are happy using gears, why cut out the middle man?

    Diesel or petrol?

    The main advantage of diesel is the greater “punch” you get when pulling away at low speeds. This punch is called torque, and you want as much as possible when towing, so you can pull out quickly. With a petrol car, the engine has to speed up much faster, meaning you hold on to each gear for longer in order to pull away in good time. Towing with a petrol car on the motorway will feel just as good as with a diesel, but generally, you get more distance for your money with a diesel engine.

    This feature was first published in Horse & Hound’s transport special, (2 November, ’06)

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