Can I tow a caravan with an electric or a hybrid car?
Camping and caravanning are popular past-times for many Britons. With the rise in the number of electric and hybrid cars on sale, many caravanners are beginning to look towards an electric or hybrid tow car.
In many ways, an electric car should make great sense as a caravan tower. The instant pulling power from their electric motors should make them better at towing than a petrol or diesel engine, while the low running costs should help owners save money during trips, too.
In reality, that’s not always the case – most electric vehicles are not designed to be fit for towing. However, all is not lost...
Why most electric vehicles are not fit for towing a caravan
There are several reasons why electric cars aren’t used to tow caravans, but the biggest one is to do with 'type approval'. Whenever a car manufacturer wishes to introduce a new model to the market, the vehicle in question has to be type approved. During the process, manufacturers can decide whether or not to approve the vehicles for towing – and in most instances, electric cars aren't certified.
There are some very good reasons for this. The first is to do with the weight of an electric car. They already carry a big weight penalty compared to equivalent diesel or petrol-powered cars due to their heavy batteries. Added weight from the caravan or trailer would affect things like the brakes – they wouldn’t be as effective and might struggle to cope with the even heavier load.
As most electric cars today come with regenerative braking – which is only calibrated to the braking force of the vehicle – any extra braking force added by the caravan might complicate the onboard electronics.
Another issue is range. Caravans often do long trips, which can be difficult in an electric car. Not only would drivers have to recharge regularly, but they'd also face significantly shorter real-world range due to the added weight of the caravan. The extra weight could also strain the electric motors.
However, that's not to say an electric car can’t be used to tow. A handful of electric vehicles are now certified for towing: the Tesla Model X is capable of pulling an impressive 2,270kg; Tesla has included a ‘trailer mode' that shuts off some of the car’s driver-assistance features and can apply brakes to individual wheels if it detects the trailer swaying behind.
Can plug-in hybrids be used for towing?
Because plug-in vehicles come with a combination of electric and engine power, the issues that affect pure electric vehicles are less pronounced. In fact, several plug-in hybrid vehicles have been certified for towing, including the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, Volvo XC90 Recharge, Volvo XC60 Recharge and BMW X5 hybrid, among others.
They come with impressive towing capacities, too. The Volvo XC60 Recharge T8 has a 2,100kg limit, going all the way up to 3,500kg for the Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid. Smaller models like the Volkswagen Golf GTE can tow up to 1,600kg. Hybrid cars like the Toyota Prius and Toyota C-HR are also certified for towing, but their limits are smaller still. The Prius is limited to just 725kg, for example.
According to the Caravan & Motorhome Club, hybrid cars are currently the best choice for those looking for an alternative-fuel vehicle to tow a caravan with. Generally, hybrids return the best combination of performance and economy when towing a caravan.
Can an electric car be towed?
If your hybrid or electric car breaks down, it shouldn’t be towed away, but instead placed on a flatbed trailer. This is to avoid harming the electronics on board, such as the traction motor that generates electricity when coasting.
Most manufacturers recommend owners contact their breakdown provider and specifically ask for a flatbed truck. However, in some instances, an electric car can be towed with the front wheels lifted, but this is often limited to a short distance. Consult your owner’s manual to find out what your manufacturer recommends.