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Driving techniques

Many newcomers to caravanning are concerned with the prospect of towing or manoeuvring a car and caravan combination. The problems that are sometimes encountered may be due to incompatible vehicle combination, incorrect loading, lack of proper towing equipment or simply a lack of skills. Once the above points have been fixed and a little common sense is used, towing a caravan or camper trailer need not be any more difficult than driving a car by itself.

Some areas where extra awareness may be required are:

Moving off

With a load behind, the acceleration rate of a vehicle is significantly reduced. With a manual transmission it is usually necessary to stay a little longer in each gear before shifting into a higher gear. If an automatic transmission is fitted the use of the selector level to control up changes, especially when going uphill, is sometimes desirable.


Because of the extra length and weight, fast speeds are not recommended. In some States the speed limits are lower when a caravan or trailer is pulled. Never drive too close behind other vehicles. Leave at least a 60 metre space unless actually overtaking. This allows others to pass you safely. When approaching a hill and provided it is safe to do so, increase your speed slightly so it is easier to go up the hill. Always select a lower gear early if the vehicle speed drops off noticeably. Once engine speed is lost, it is difficult to regain. As a result additional stresses may be placed on the engine.


Overtaking other vehicles, particularly long trucks or other caravans, must be done with extreme caution. Not only is the acceleration considerably reduced but due to the extra length a greater distance has to be covered before moving back into the left-hand lane. Remember to check mirrors to ensure it is safe to overtake. Never overtake a slower vehicle when going downhill.

Being overtaken

By constantly monitoring the rear vision mirrors, a faster travelling vehicle can be readily spotted. If the vehicle intending to pass is a truck or bus make sure that this can be achieved quickly and safely. If road conditions permit, move as far to the left as possible. The greater the distance between the two vehicles, the safer the situation becomes. Never take the foot off the accelerator or brake when another vehicle is going past.

Going downhill

Always slow down and engage a lower gear before actually reaching the downhill section of the road. This is particularly important if the hill is a steep one. By adopting this procedure the need for heavy braking while going downhill is reduced. Excessive speed or sudden braking while travelling downhill could create an unstable situation.

Fuel consumption

Assuming that the caravan and towing vehicle are compatible, excessive fuel consumption can usually be attributed to either fast speeds, poor engine tune or bad driving habits.

More economical driving techniques can easily be mastered by anyone and will result in a noticeable reduction in fuel consumption. When moving off or passing another vehicle always move the accelerator smoothly. Any rapid or excessive movement will waste petrol. Judging traffic flow is another useful technique. By observing the traffic some distance ahead it is often possible to avoid unnecessary braking and delays.

It has been stated that every time the brakes are used fuel is wasted. This implies that the brakes needed to be applied because vehicle speed was kept up longer than necessary. Everyone knows that braking cannot be avoided completely, but by slowing down sooner when approaching traffic signals or other vehicles, fuel can be saved.

If you see a hill coming up, and safety permits, increase vehicle speed slightly to make it easier for the engine to pull the vehicle up the incline.

It is worth noting that to enable a vehicle to pull a given load, it must produce a certain amount of power. The power will be approximately the same whether the engine has four, six or eight cylinders. This means that when towing a caravan or camper trailer with a four-cylinder engine the fuel consumption may be nearly as great as if a six cylinder engine was fitted.

Finally if you wish to obtain a reasonable fuel consumption while towing, do not choose a caravan that is beyond the capabilities of the towing vehicle. Alternatively do not use a vehicle that cannot adequately cope with the load you intend to pull.

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