Everything You NEED to Know About Tow Bars

A guide to choosing and fitting tow bars

People use their cars for different reasons. Some love nothing more than the independence they provide and the ability to go anywhere, anytime; while others look at their cars as a way of getting to and from work or to take the family wherever they need to go. From time-to-time, however, you find that you need to do other things with your car and quite often those tasks involve the use of tow bars.

While some vehicles will have these attached as standard, others will need to have them fitted at a later date in order for you to tow things like trailers full of garden waste to the recycling centre or a caravan to the beach for a family holiday.

If you’re already fortunate enough to have a tow bar fitted to your car then you don’t need to worry about how to choose a new one; but for those looking to invest in tow bars it’s vital that you consider various factors before you go spending any money and before you start attaching one to your vehicle.

Important considerations when choosing tow bars

The first thing that you need to consider when it comes to buying tow bars is just how much weight you are likely to be towing. If you know that you will never need to tow a caravan, for example, but you might need a trailer, then you could go for a smaller tow bar. However, you don’t just need to factor in the weight of the trailer – but the contents too.

A very common mistake is to plan for the weight of the actual vehicle, such as the trailer or caravan, without considering how much heavier they will be when they are fully loaded. As such cars have had their bodywork ripped away driving down the road which results in expensive repair work.

Having considered the various options it is also important that you are aware of all of the legal requirements relating to towing. You can’t just attach a tow bar to a vehicle, hitch up the trailer or caravan and hit the road.

First and foremost, you need to ensure that the tow bar you have chosen complies with EU regulations for its construction so that the part itself, just like other car parts, is road legal and safe.

You also have to ensure that you can see around whatever you are towing. For some this will be easy because of the height of the vehicle and the relative height of the trailer in comparison; but for others it’s much more difficult to see what is behind you. As such you need to make sure that you have fitted towing mirrors to your existing wing mirrors.

In the majority of cases they simply clip on to the edge of your wing mirrors and they instantly provide a much greater field of vision so you can not only keep an eye on what you’re towing, but you can also see the traffic and any hazards behind you.

The trailer should also have a clear number plate that matches the vehicle registration. This is so that police and ANPRs can check that you are road legal, that the trailer is safe for towing and so that you can be contacted if you are caught speeding or driving dangerously. The plate should be fitted to the rear of the caravan or trailer.

On a similar note, it’s vital that you correctly connect the electrics such as the brakes and brake lights so that other road users can see your intentions. A common oversight by many first-time or inexperienced drivers who tow trailers or caravans is to simply hitch up whatever they’re towing and to hit the roads.

If people behind you cannot see your brake, reversing or indicator lights – because they are obscured by the trailer or caravan – then you are putting their safety, and your own, at risk as they cannot react if you brake.

Finally, but by no means least important, you need to check that you are licensed to tow anything on the roads. Learner drivers, for instance, cannot legally tow anything on a British road and depending on when you received your driving license will determine just what you can tow and how heavy it can be – so be sure to consult your license and even contact the DVLA for clarification before you tow for the first time.

How to choose and fit a tow bar

When you have decided just how much you’re likely to be towing you can start to think about choosing the right tow bar for you. There are three main types – the fixed flange ball tow bar (which is the most common in the UK), the detachable swan neck tow bar and the fixed swan neck tow bar.

The fixed flange model is used for towing heavy trailers and caravans and comes complete with an adjustable height setting and bumper protector. As the name suggests, the detachable swan neck model comes off the vehicle, so you don’t have to have it on your vehicle all year round.

While it’s not as popular with British drivers as it is in Europe, the detachable feature does make reverse parking less stressful. Fixed swan neck tow bars are again popular on the continent but not so much in the UK as it is not compatible with other towing-related fittings and accessories.

In terms of fitting your own tow bar, it’s only a job that you should do if you are confident in your own ability at DIY. If you’re not entirely certain on what you’re doing or how to do it then you should get help from a professional mechanic.

The process itself takes between an hour and an hour and a half depending on the tow bar itself and your own DIY skills, and it’s particularly useful to have access to either a ramp, inspection pit or at least a couple of jacks so that you can safely work underneath the vehicle.

Before you get started be sure to read the instructions fully as different manufacturers will have different ways of building their tow bars and, as such, they may fix to your car differently. Then, offer up the tow bar to the vehicle to see if any of your car parts might be in the way (many people experience issues with exhaust parts here). If they are then, again depending on your own ability and confidence, you may have to remove the parts and fit them again later so that you can fit the bar.

Once you have clear access to the chassis of the car, be sure to follow each instruction step-by-step, as each tow bar is different and affected by different makes and models too. When it comes to fixing any bolts or fastenings, don’t worry too much about getting them tight until the tow bar is fully attached as you may have to go back and loosen them slightly anyway.

For more information on a wide range of car parts including exhausts, headlights and tow bars; don’t hesitate to get in touch with the experts at Euro Car Parts. We can help you to understand the best parts and accessories for all makes and models, and will even deliver the parts to your door.