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Can you tow a caravan or trailer with an electric or plug-in hybrid vehicle?


The topic of the day is, are electric vehicles (EVs) able to tow caravans or trailers? We explore the possibilities and realities of the question that has been rattling the brains of many caravan readers.

Car manufacturers are desperately trying to get their electric designs up to the standard of petrol or diesel alternatives in terms distance travelled on a a single charge.

  • Can electric cars tow?
  • How towing affects the EV range?
  • Purchasing an electric vehicle for towing
  • Why some electric cars aren’t suited for towing?
  • Can plug-in hybrids tow?

The one major advantage of electric vehicles is power delivery. Electric motors deliver full power instantly, as opposed to a petrol or diesel that need to rev to achieve increased power. The most important point of a tow car is how much extra weight in the form of a caravan or trailer it can accommodate moving at a slow speed.

You can also expect your battery range per charge to drop drastically while towing a heavy load, but this is no different when compared to driving a petrol or diesel vehicle. The towing capacity of an electric vehicle may vary with not many approved for towing at all, however, hybrids are well suited to towing caravans or trailers. Let’s take a look:

Can electric cars tow a caravan or trailer?
According to an RAC Electric Expert, not all EV’s can tow and it is always best to check the specific make and model for compliance, however, EV’s that can tow have an advantage over conventional vehicles as they produce maximum torque as soon as its electric motor/s start turning. This makes electric vehicles capable of pulling away from a standstill while towing a heavy load or overtaking on the long road safely.

On the other hand, a majority of electric cars are not designed for towing a trailer let alone a caravan. Electric motors may offer maximum torque instantly, but not all electric cars have lots of power.

By how much does towing a caravan affect the EV range?
Towing, as we all know, negatively affects the impact of fuel efficiency on petrol and diesel vehicles, or in this case, it affects the battery range of an electric car and can have a major impact on how far you can actually drive. According to the experts, towing a lightweight, sleek, and aerodynamic trailer will cut an EV’s range around 25 to 30%, while towing an actual caravan will drop an EV’s range to 50%.

Do your homework before purchasing an electric vehicle
It is important to make sure that your electric vehicle is certified to tow the trailer you have or are thinking of requiring. It is always better to go for the vehicle that is more capable as it could save you from needing to upgrade at a later stage to compensate for a bigger trailer or caravan. Check your weights.

It is important to know the maximum technically permissible laden mass – MTPLM – of the trailer or caravan. The figure should not exceed 85% of the vehicle weight: divide the MTPLM by 0.85 to find the target weight of the car. However, heavier electric cars could have an advantage in the future. How? Well, a heavier vehicle such as EVs because of its large battery packs, when compared to the caravan’s weight, could avoid any unexpected situations such as swaying and snaking.

Never tow a trailer or caravan that is heavier than the vehicle. Of course, if you live life in the towing lane, it makes more sense to buy a diesel vehicle than to deal with the decreased range and increased fuel consumption of a plug-in electric or hybrid. You should also consider your own abilities and what your driver’d  licence allows you to tow.

Why some electric cars are not suited for towing?
There are many reasons why electric cars aren’t approved to tow or cannot tow much. The biggest one is type approval: a process that each and every vehicle has to go through before being put on showroom floors. Manufacturers decided whether or not the vehicles are approved for towing or not. Drive around a city: piece of cake; attach a trailer to the towbar: no. It’s just not a priority and if EV manufacturers did seek the approval for towing, it would decrease their efficiency and reduce their range and that’s some bad publicity electric cars do not need.

The extra weight can cause the vehicle’s motor and brakes to struggle and electric cars are already heavier because of its battery pack, placing more strain on some parts such as brakes and suspension. Let’s take a look at why else it is a great disadvantage for electric cars to tow a trailer or caravan:

The regenerative braking system slows an electric car to recapture kinetic energy as electricity and charges the battery. Just lifting off the accelerator pedal in some electric vehicles creates a braking effect. Due to the extreme settings of these systems, the trailer can behave in an expected way when the car begins to slow down. This certainly could overwhelm the electrical system of the vehicle.

Towing a caravan with an electric car also reduces the car’s overall range and because of this, towing capacities for electric cars vary and few electric vehicles are certified for towing heavy caravans or trailers. If you own an electric car that hasn’t been approved for towing, don’t use it to tow as this could invalidate both your warranty and insurance, and it could start swaying, or struggle to come to a stop in an emergency. You could face a heavy penalty if you’re pulled over by authorities or involved in an accident.

Can plug-in hybrids tow?
Hybrids are the best option for anyone wanting to use an alternative-fuel vehicle for towing. Experts say that have the best combination of both performance and economy for towing.

Picture: Caravan SA

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