Never towed a van and got scarred by snaking!

Nov 16, 2021
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Hi,
off to see my first van (will buy if all ok) this Friday, and due to work I don't have time to read and watch all about snaking, so starting this topic - all imputs welcome.
In general, I am a very careful driver - especially in the city. On motorway, I am always within limits ;) ;) and trying to anticipate others. My CRV is relatively agile and I can escape crazy van or HGV drivers.
But towing (never towed anything) makes me anxious. I see that I will depend much more on other road users. I will make sure that trailer is always properly loaded and all heavy items are over axle. On my first few tows I will probably wont exceed 50 mph, or will simply follow some HGV a little faster. I am planning to drive (at least at the beginning) during late evening/nights and plan my way very carefully.

But to start a discussion, let me ask the question - is it possible to get into difficult snaking while driving around 50 mpg?

My tow vehicle is CRV 2.0 petrol auto 2013 - max tow weight 1500 kg and trailer will be something like 2010 4-berth with MTPLM close to 1500kg...
 
Nov 11, 2009
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Welcome to the Forum.

It doesn’t depend on other road users it’s 95% dependant on you. What’s the kerbweight of your car, or it’s Mass in Service. That would give a guide to your outfits suitability. In answer to your question yes you can get snaking at 50 mph. Have you looked at an outfit matching site such as “ Towcar.info” to see how suitable your outfit may be?


Ive done a match with your car and a generic van of 1296 MIRO and 200 kg payload. It’s not too bad best to repeat it yourself as there’s far more data than the screenshot. Use your actual car data fir kerbweight, nose load and towing limit. But your approach of taking it easy is a good one.

https://towcar.info/outfitmatch.php


A999DFD6-807A-4141-AFB7-399831581A14.jpeg
 
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Jun 20, 2005
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On your figures you are close to a 100% ratio. You clearly understand how to load the caravan correctly and ensure the nose load is compliant with the caravan hitch and your cars towbar/ ball.
Assuming you have all the mirrors etc in place. Keep a very good distance from the vehicle in front. Be gentle with braking and acceleration, no rush. Look as far ahead as possible so you are planning your position on the road well in advance. Take all sharp turns as wide as you can. The caravan needs that little extra room. A well balanced outfit should be stable at 60 mph but why rush. Try her out at slower speeds and get the feel. Beware of big coaches and car transporters . They give you a “ suction” feel. Don’t panic. Stay cool and relaxed.If you feel a snake, no reason why you should, be calm, relax the throttle and slow. Avoid braking and do not try and accelerate out of it. Go for it.
 
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Nov 16, 2021
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Thanks :) @otherclive thank you for doing the match - I actually checked it earlier, should have mentioned it.
I know I am close to 100% ratio, but, checking other discussions, I think it's not that bad - with wife kid dog and heavier items in car, I should be alright. And my first tow will be mostly empty caravan - I might put as much items in the car, I even considering buying lot of sparkling water in bulk (I do it often anyway) so I will have chance to put 80 kg to the hitch and increase the ratio.
I was bit worried about my car, but turns out, the manual model has 2000 kg towing capacity, so I pressume the 1500 in auto is more performance than safety related (well, I understand safety sometimes depends on performance ;)).
And first modification to the van will be some storage system, so I can quickly and safely move weight around. Am I crazy?
 
Mar 14, 2005
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Hello outdoorguy,

I have to say that some of the phrasing of your question and reply does concern me, and I don't know if you are trying to be humorous or that you don't understand the basics of driving safely when towing. It's never sensible to be flippant about safety it gives the wrong impression or message.

Safety should never depend on performance, it should be a prime concern under all circumstances.

There is a wealth of difference between towing a small low trailer and a large caravan, and its is for that reason the UK caravan industry recommend that novices should not exceed an 85% tow weight ratio. You are going straight up to 100% and that is a big jump for someone who openly tells us they haven't towed previously.

Your proposed strategy is beyond what I would recommend to a novice. Just becasue it might still be lawfull does not necessarily make it wise or have a reasonable margin of safety.

Have you also considered how much weight you will be putting into the car? Do you realise the nose load of the caravan pushes down on the car and that has to be included as part of the cars load, and combined with all the other items such as people and luggage you have suggested you might actually exceed the cars load margins?

Please stop and take the time to do the proper research.
 

Parksy

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Nov 12, 2009
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An important consideration for towing safety is the correct tyre pressures on the car and on the caravan.
Correct observance of weight limits, noseweight limits and load placement are paramount.
Try to achieve a noseweight as close as possible to your limit without exceeding it.
On motorways and trunk roads it's not a good idea for a novice to overtake lorries, coaches or larger vehicles when travelling downhill, take your time, anticipate the activities of other road users including pedestrians and cyclists and get a feel for the behaviour and stability of your caravan and towcar combination.
If you detect early signs of instability, take your feet off everything and use only gentle steering inputs where necessary.
 
Jan 31, 2018
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In 10 years of caravanning we've never had a snake. Load sensibly, ie as you say most in the car, check tyres etc and ensure both vehicles are well serviced take car when over taking or being overtaken and in cross winds when passing hedge gaps etc, but most importantly drive at speeds appropriate to conditions always within speed limits which are max ,not targets and treat every other road user as if they're an idiot ie read ahead and be a defensive driver.
 
Jan 3, 2012
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Like what everyone says in thirty years of towing i made sure the outfit car and caravan tyres are correct and nose weight near to it .
With you not use to towing i would not have gone straight up to 100% on your first tow when i started out it was at 85% .
If you do buy the caravan don"t forget towing mirrors and take it very steady until you get use to it on the back and keep to your speed limits on the roads .
Also are you putting a mover on the caravan that extra weight
Good luck
 
Nov 16, 2015
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With your first, snake, in your caravan, and it will happen very quickly, it will probably be your last one, as it frightens the hell out of you and any passengers you have.
Mine happened on a down hill stretch of the A34.
 
Jul 18, 2017
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The first time I towed a caravan was with a Peugeot 404 pickup, Caravan was a CI caravan probably with a maximum MTPLM of 1000kg. However it was loaded way over the MTPLM, but the vehicle bin was also totally full and also carrying 3 men in the back so was also probably grossly overloaded. No issue travelling foot flat to the floorboards. This was way back in the seventies and being young with no relation or thought of safety!
Today I am very meticulous about the MTPLM of the caravan and make sure that we stay within it having experiencing a very bad snake in 2004. Caravan was correctly loaded and car a heavy S80 Volvo more than capable of handling the caravan.
Unfortunately on the M5 near junction 13 after overtaking a HGV as we were pulling back in we crossed those dreaded "tram" lines on the road surface which started the caravan snaking. Luckily I had presence of mind to slow down briefly and then very gently accelerate which straightened the caravan again. Never experienced a snake again as now very aware of those "tram" lines.
If you really have a concern, join the CAMC and do one of those towing courses which helps boost your confidence plus yo get a small discount on your caravan insurance.
 
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JTQ

May 7, 2005
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With your first, snake, in your caravan, and it will happen very quickly, it will probably be your last one, as it frightens the hell out of you and any passengers you have.
Mine happened on a down hill stretch of the A34.
The A34, certainly in sections, one travelling north between Chieveley and Didcot has or had some dreadful tyre tracks; these can easily "seed" a snake as the van can no longer cope with being tram railed askew to the tow vehicle and "snaps out".
That and going downhill where the van wants to go faster than the car, can really wake one up.
A good reason to tow with as inherently stable an outfit as possible, not one just close to instability.

edit: see Buckman found about those tram rails elsewhere, nasty.
 
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Nov 16, 2021
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Hello outdoorguy,

I have to say that some of the phrasing of your question and reply does concern me, and I don't know if you are trying to be humorous or that you don't understand the basics of driving safely when towing. It's never sensible to be flippant about safety it gives the wrong impression or message.
Well, thats true that I got a bit reckless with weight calculation. Although, I was tired after 3 hours of searching and watching videos about snaking (and scared).
My first tow, where it will be just me, all that I can remove from caravan (mostly awning, battery, maybe gas) in the car and emty van - will be well within limits - car at least 1650 kg which allows for 1400 van with 85% ratio - caravan MIRO is 1300, but no sure how heavy is motor mover fitted. With car loaded for camping, I am sure it will get to 85% ratio easily.

As wrote above, I did my lesson. I will check tires every tow, will find a way to make sure weight distribution is spot on - so I am going to buy a lot of small-ish storage boxes so all items that during camping are under beds will be able to move to the floor on the center or to the car - in case of heavier items. Weight on the towbar will be always checked.

treat every other road user as if they're an idiot ie read ahead and be a defensive driver.
Thats the problem, and reason I am scared. I live in London (North London, to be precise) and driving there is driving like in.... well, hard to say. People are doing unspeakable things. When I go to M25, it's often not better. With a relatively powerful car, I can get away with it, but I am afraid with the trailer I will rely on the others. And others - at least what I see now - just want to go faster, faster, faster. And if you are 'blocking' outside lane, most of idiots will flash lights at you, even though in front of me there is another car. I could go and go - maybe one of the reasons I am scared is the number of close encounters I have every year.

I understand that 95% responsibility is mine, but I am afraid about the remaining 5%.

On my first few tows I will probably wont exceed 50 mph, or will simply follow some HGV a little faster.
Quoting myself - with trailer, I am not going, ever to go faster than 60 mph. And the 60 mph will be only when there is no traffic (I once drove from St. Ives, Cornwall to London in non traffic condition, so it happens - barely any car!). So most of the time I will drive behind some HGV, and as I understand those are limited to 56 mph. Keeping relatively good distance

Regarding mentioned downhill, this is something I am already have in mind. I am going to control speed there very, very carefully. Luckly, I did my fair amount of mountain driving :)

Thanks for all the post and sharing your experience - it really, really helps. The tram lines are something I will keep in mind.
 
Jan 31, 2018
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Don't over think it; you sound cautious-you'll be amazed how easy it is really! Just take your time and allow more space on corners etc.
 
Nov 11, 2009
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Well, thats true that I got a bit reckless with weight calculation. Although, I was tired after 3 hours of searching and watching videos about snaking (and scared).
My first tow, where it will be just me, all that I can remove from caravan (mostly awning, battery, maybe gas) in the car and emty van - will be well within limits - car at least 1650 kg which allows for 1400 van with 85% ratio - caravan MIRO is 1300, but no sure how heavy is motor mover fitted. With car loaded for camping, I am sure it will get to 85% ratio easily.

As wrote above, I did my lesson. I will check tires every tow, will find a way to make sure weight distribution is spot on - so I am going to buy a lot of small-ish storage boxes so all items that during camping are under beds will be able to move to the floor on the center or to the car - in case of heavier items. Weight on the towbar will be always checked.



Thats the problem, and reason I am scared. I live in London (North London, to be precise) and driving there is driving like in.... well, hard to say. People are doing unspeakable things. When I go to M25, it's often not better. With a relatively powerful car, I can get away with it, but I am afraid with the trailer I will rely on the others. And others - at least what I see now - just want to go faster, faster, faster. And if you are 'blocking' outside lane, most of idiots will flash lights at you, even though in front of me there is another car. I could go and go - maybe one of the reasons I am scared is the number of close encounters I have every year.

I understand that 95% responsibility is mine, but I am afraid about the remaining 5%.



Quoting myself - with trailer, I am not going, ever to go faster than 60 mph. And the 60 mph will be only when there is no traffic (I once drove from St. Ives, Cornwall to London in non traffic condition, so it happens - barely any car!). So most of the time I will drive behind some HGV, and as I understand those are limited to 56 mph. Keeping relatively good distance

Regarding mentioned downhill, this is something I am already have in mind. I am going to control speed there very, very carefully. Luckly, I did my fair amount of mountain driving :)

Thanks for all the post and sharing your experience - it really, really helps. The tram lines are something I will keep in mind.
I don’t think that you have understood the concept of 85% ratio. It is based on a car at kerbweight and a caravan at MTPLM. So loading the car doesn’t come into the figure. Adding load to the car will improve things but the starting point of any ratio be it 85% or 100% is car at kerbweight and van fully loaded.

Even unloaded you can get surprises from the caravan. Some vans are nose heavy when unloaded so care needs to ensure that the noseweight does not exceed the towbar/car limits. Mine was 30 kg over my cars 80kg towbar when the van was unloaded. So I had to ballast behind the axle by using water containers at the back.

Be aware that a battery comes out of the payload limit. Allow around 23 kg. The mover would also come out of payload. Allow 32-35 kg. Weigh everything that goes into the van. I use spreadsheets to make up different types of trip. Good idea to have fully laden car and van taken to weighbridge to ensure both are within limits.
 
Jul 18, 2017
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TBH I rather have the caravan loaded than unloaded when towing as I think i gives the caravan more stability. This is my personal opinion and I may be incorrect.
 
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Nov 16, 2021
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I don’t think that you have understood the concept of 85% ratio. It is based on a car at kerbweight and a caravan at MTPLM. So loading the car doesn’t come into the figure. Adding load to the car will improve things but the starting point of any ratio be it 85% or 100% is car at kerbweight and van fully loaded.
Oh, I see. So in my case, car is 1580 and MTPLM is 1480, and it gives 93% ratio. Not ideal, but I am not in position to change the tow car now. I might take a look at different vans though. It is something to think about.
 

JTQ

May 7, 2005
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Don't get overly hung up on the 85% "thing".
A heavier trailer is in itself a bit more stable than a light one, an inertia thing, just that an unstable heavy mass is that much more able to store and inflict its energy on the tow vehicle, again an inertia thing.

Hugely dominant in stability & instability is the inertia related to the "flywheel, pendulum effect". the van yawing about. Here getting significant masses away from the ends, particularly the free rear end and towards the centre, and low down is so important. Not obeying the physics, the van yaws more slowly and in turn is so much more likely to meet disturbances nicely matched to its inherent tendency to yaw. We then have the snake.

Load low down close to the wheel's axis, plus set with as high a resulting noseweight as your kit can tolerate; then keep within the legal speed level, not go faster downhill than uphill, and your unlikely to get any personal experience of a snake.

Without doubt the van will move about, occasionally quite a bit, that comes with the territory of trailer towing, the vital bit is the set up and driving speed needs to be such that inherently the whole needs to recover, not build on these disturbances.
Load distribution, speeds and tyre pressures [definitely including the car's rear] are the big players.
 
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Nov 16, 2015
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OG, as JTQ says don't get too hung up on the 85% ratio, if your outfit is 93% it is probably ok. A lot depends on where your main weight is, forward of the axle to give you a noseweight suitable for your car. Don't push to hit that 60 mph, sit back at 55mph its a nicer tow.
The "tram lines" on the roads are bad and car transporters are the worst for buffeting.
 
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JTQ

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Nose weight - its the same as "Maximum permissible vertical load on the coupling device" as per car manual?
Yes, provided the caravan also can accept that. In my case it is the caravan's nosewieght limit that dictates the maximum not the car, or even the van's hitch, but its chassis.
So, the maximum that keeps within the limits of every bit involved. Car, towbar, hitch and chassis.
Again don't get overly concerned about the absolute precision of these, they are only quoted as "static" values, in real life the dynamic loading is way higher, a fact known and allowed for in the design.
 
Jan 31, 2018
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I'd say 93% will be absolutely fine; it really isn't worth getting hung up re the kerb weight-load the car as you say . Our over 100% ratio towed far better than our 90% ratio outfit(same car, lighter caravan). ATC on the lower ratio van too! It's clearly not an exact science! Treat your first trip out as experimental-be speed cautious and build up from there!
 
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If I was in your position I would put your plans on hold and book onto a towing course. This will give you the knowledge and confidence to tow safely.
 

Parksy

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The national speed limit for any vehicle towing a trailer or a caravan is 60mph on motorways and dual carriageway unless a lower limit is indicated.
The national limit for towing vehicles on a single carriageway is 50mph unless otherwise indicated.
Stay within the limits.
Towing vehicles are prohibited from using the outside lane on motorways.
There's no doubt that you'll see idiots breaking these rules, but don't be intimidated by other motorists.
Provided that your vehicle is legal and you have a driving licence you have as much right on the roads as the light flashing nutters.
Snaking is not inevitable, correct loading, tyre maintenance and a sensible approach to driving should keep you safe and your caravan shiny side up.
 
Mar 14, 2005
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You are right to be concerned about snaking, if not managed correctly it can become very serious. Snaking is essentially the caravan swinging from side to side (oscillating) and its caused by characteristic called Yaw Inertia. snaking needs kinetic energy to feed the oscillations and that is derived from the speed of the vehicle and or severe changes in speed or direction, and the essential way to bring a snake back under control is to slow down which reduces the energy feeding the snake.

There are many factors that can trigger a snake. and and of course the the risk of a snake is changing as the conditions change. so you must be continually vigilant and drive according to the conditions, but the common factor is always speed.

As always prevention is better than cure, so preparing your vehicles and and driving habits is always positive thing to do.

But if you feel the outfit is becoming unsteady SLOW DOWN gently and avoid sudden steering.

Someone has suggested you can "accelerate to pull it out of the snake" That is a very risky and it is not recommended by any of the professional driving organisations, and it makes no scientific sense either as you are adding speed which increases the kinetic energy of the outfit, and that will feed the oscillation.

Only drive as fast a necessary and as has already been suggested consider speed limits as limits and not targets.
 
Nov 16, 2021
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Thanks. As mentioned, I will try to stick to some HGV on the motorway and continue with his speed (keeping distance).
So speed won't be an issue. Thanks for the warnings about wobbling here and there - I am sure I will learn to relax when it happens, and moreover, I will use this as a chance to get into the custom of slowing down.
I watched and will watch 100 more times this:
View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fCh6vTTZbm8


And 'Practical Caravan: Towing Masterclass' series.
 

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