Think that any tow bar will be OK for towing a caravan? Surprisingly this is not the case.
Your caravan hitch and electrical connections will dictate the type of tow bar and electrical connection you will need on your towing vehicle.
Keep reading to find out what tow bar you need for a caravan…
The Three Tow Bar Types
There are three basic tow bar types, fixed flange, fixed swan neck and detachable swan neck.
The fixed flange tow bar, is mainly used on commercial vehicles, the fixed flange bar has the tow ball attached by two bolts.
Fixed swan neck tow bars are less industrial looking than the flange tow bar and have the advantage of being less likely to activate rear parking sensors when reversing your vehicle.
Detachable tow bars give you the option of removing the tow bar neck when not needed. In most cases, one removed the tow bar is unseen when looking at the rear of the vehicle. Great for those who want to keep their cars sleek looks.
The Caravan Hitch (Coupling).
There are two main types of caravan hitch. The standard hitch and the ALKO (AKS) hitch.
The standard hitch is generally found on small caravans, trailers and newer micro caravans. This type of hitch is designed to fit all 50mm tow balls. (With the standard hitch the tow ball is usually lubricated.)
The ALKO AKS Hitch. This hitch is the most popular hitch found on modern caravans. The hitch has friction pads that help prevent the snaking and pitching of the caravan. The AKS ALKO coupling requires a compatible tow ball. The ALKO-compatible tow bar sits further from the tow vehicle’s bumper and has a longer neck to accommodate the extra space and movement required by the coupling. (Do Not use a standard tow ball to tow a caravan with an AKS hitch.)
The ALKO tow ball is compatible with all hitches. A standard hitch can be used o a standard or ALKO tow ball. Standard tow ball can only be safely used with a standard hitch.
The only time you will see a standard tow ball is on a fixed flange tow bar, as commercial trailers mainly use the standard hitch.
All swan neck tow bars are ALKO (AKS) compatible.
Ball and Pin tow bars
Ball and pin tow balls are for commercial vehicle use only. The ball and pin tow ball has a standard 50mm ball that is not compatible with ALKO-type hitches.
Drop plates are used on commercial vehicles to lower the height of the tow ball. They can only legally be used on tow bars that are type approved for their use (these are normally commercial tow bars that have four bolt holes on the tow bar face plate.) Drop plates should not be used on any non-commercial vehicle. Check with your tow bar manufacturer before fitting a drop plate to your tow bar. The tow bar will only be legal if the manufacturer has tested and had approval for a drop plate to be fitted to that type of tow bar.
Depending on the age and style of your caravan there will be three types of electrical connections to consider when buying tow bar electrics:
7 pin Electrics
The very basic electrical connection for trailers.- The 7 pin wiring only allows for basic light functions. Brakes, Indicators, Side-lights ad Fog light. (The 7 pin does not have any function for reverse lights)
Twin 7 Pin Electrics. This connection will have TWO plugs, one black and one grey. The black plug is the same as the 7 pin (Above) and the grey (Auxiliary plug) has functions for reverse lights, auxiliary battery charge and fridge power. This connection also carries power for the Active Trailer Control (ATC) stabiliser. (ALKO ATC is an anti-snake system designed to ‘stretch’ the caravan outfit by lightly applying the caravan brakes whenever the trailer starts to sway beyond a certain limit.)
13 pin Electrics
The 13 pin plug is the newest connector and combines all of the twin 7 connections within one plug.
We advise having 13 pin towbar wiring fitted due to the ability to use adapters to cover all towing situations. Adapters for the 13 pin wiring include 13 to 7 pin and 13 to twin 7 pin.
Universal bypass towbar wiring and type approved dedicated wiring are the tow options available when choosing the wiring for your tow bar.
Universal wiring has been around for years, with this type of wiring the lighting functions are relayed to the tow bar electrics socket by Scotch locking on to the appropriate wires in the car. This type of wiring bypasses the cars towing safety features and should not be used on modern vehicles. Much cheaper than type approved dedicated wiring. However, it isn’t as reliable and certainly isn’t as safe for towing or for your cars reliability. Universal bypass will invalidate any manufacturer vehicle warranty.
Vehicle specific dedicated wiring comes in the form of a pre-manufactured wiring loom that is made specifically for your car make and model. This type of approved tow bar wiring connects into the cars existing wiring loom and is approved for use by manufacturers. In many cases the type approved dedicated wiring allows for the towing vehicle to have its software updated…
If your vehicle has approved dedicated wiring fitted then it is often possible to update the cars software to activate the towing safety features. When activated the car will recognise when an electrical connection has been connected to the tow bar socket. This will automatically turn on features such as on dash trailer bulb failure, towing engine management, and cutting the reverse sensors. You may also find that features such as adaptive cruise control, ABS, anti-bump systems and vehicle suspension settings automatically change to take account that the vehicle is towing. These features are vehicle specific and not all manufacturers allow for the facility to alter the coding (the vehicles that can’t be coded often activate any towing safety features automatically.)
To stay safe whilst towing your caravan make sure you are using the best towing connection available. Safety and reliability are the number one reason to buy from Ultimate Towbars.
Failure of the tow bar and electrics can be a costly experience at best.
If you’re unsure what tow bar you need to ask your caravan supplier or get in touch with us.
You can contact Ultimate Towbars by calling 0114 360 7080 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Safe Towing from Team Ultimate Towbars