Tow with EV

Can an electric car tow a caravan? Depending on who you’ve asked this question to, you might have heard the answers “yes”, “no”, or “maybe”.

There is every reason for wanting an electric towing vehicle for your caravan. As rural holidays continue to rocket in popularity among Brits, outdoor enthusiasts are drawn to environmentally-friendly automobiles. Economical, efficient and eco-conscious; electric vehicles appeal to those with a love for nature, but can they be used in tandem with a caravan?

In this blog, we get to the bottom of the issue. We speak to the experts, ask for some official advice, and look at the options for caravanners intending to ‘charge and go’ this year.

What is the status quo?

As of 2019, there is a scarcity of pure electric vehicles – that is, cars which run exclusively from their batteries – which are able to safely tow a caravan.

Legally, whether you can tow a caravan with an electric vehicle comes down to type approval when a particular model comes on the market. If the manufacturer has not provided certification which shows that the electric car is approved for towing, you should not attempt to tow a caravan with it. At the time of writing, most pure electric vehicles are not approved for towing – in fact, only one is presently: The Tesla Model X.

The official word

The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) monitors vehicle safety. It is part of the government’s Department for Transport. We asked the DVSA for their guidance on the subject of using an electric vehicle for towing.

The DVSA had the following advice for drivers: “One element of ensuring that your vehicle is safe to tow is to check that it is type approved to do so. This goes for fully electric vehicles also, therefore you must ensure that your EV is approved for towing the weight of your caravan or trailer.”

Technical tantrums

We are up to speed on which pure electric vehicles can be used for caravanning – but what is the reason for the lack of suitable electric towing vehicles?

Caravan safety guidelines often quote the ’85 per rule’. That is, the stipulation that the full weight of a loaded touring caravan must not exceed 85 per cent of the vehicle’s kerb weight (the total weight; inclusive of fuel and oil, but exclusive of passengers and cargo). Relatively, electric vehicles are typically heavier than their fuel-consuming cousins due to the weighty batteries which they possess - so why don’t they have an easier job towing?

It comes down to the way an electric car operates, in contrast to a standard vehicle. Regenerative braking uses kinetic energy from the car’s momentum – the energy is recovered by the electric motor, and can be utilised immediately or stored.  The additional weight attached to an electric car has the potential to disrupt the vehicle’s electronics, which could lead to complications with the regenerative braking system.

A long way to go?

Then there is the issue of range. Caravanning typically involves lengthy journeys, and that could be prohibitive for holidaymakers with electric vehicles. Not only is the range of an electric towing vehicle shortened by the additional weight of the caravan, but finding enough charging points along a route could also prove a challenge.

As of April 2019, there are over 21,000 charging points in the UK according to Zap Map. In 2018, data scientists found there to be shortfall in the number of charging stations, reporting that over 83,500 more are needed by the year 2020 in order to meet demand from electric vehicle drivers. But could caravan sites be part of the solution, rather than the problem?

Sarah Wakely is the editor of Practical Caravan magazine.  She believes that caravan sites are well placed to provide charging stations. Sarah explained: "One aspect of caravanning that really suits electric cars is the availability of electric hook-up points. After all, the vast majority of campsites have bollards for caravanners to connect to as soon as they're on site. Because the technology of electric cars is still very much in its infancy, it's not entirely clear whether campsites will be able, or willing, to provide car-charging facilities. But it's certainly going to be interesting to find out."

Why is the Model X ‘the special one’?

So what makes the Tesla Model X different from the pure electric vehicles which are not type approved for towing? The 713 lb-ft of torque offered by the vehicle is certainly a major factor in its towing capacity of 5,000 pounds, and so is the Trailer Sway Mitigation feature, which applies an electronic stability control system when trailer sway is detected.

But just because the Tesla Model X is currently the only pure electric vehicle type approved for towing in the UK, that doesn’t mean that we won’t see other manufacturers follow their lead in the future. And as we will see in the next section, there are already several  hybrid electric vehicles which you can tow with.

Hybrids can tow, too!

There are a limited range of hybrid electric vehicles which are type approved for towing in the UK – these include:

-        Audi Q7 e-tron

-        BMW X5 40e

-        Kia Optima PHEV Sportswagon

-        Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

-        Mercedes GLE 500e

-        Volkswagen GolfGTE

-        Volvo XC90 T8

-        Volvo XC60 T8

 

 

Neil Greentree is a towing expert who worked with Mitsubishi in testing on the Outlander PHEV. We asked him to explain why creating a hybrid vehicle fit for towing is a challenge for manufacturers.

Neil said: “The answer to the question is very long one. It’s based around the combustion side vs the electric side. This balance must be right to get enough towing  power, enough driving recharge facility, and still be economical.”

Of the hybrid vehicles approved for towing, luxury SUVs tend to have the highest towing capacity. With its braked trailer limit of up to 2,000kg, the Mercedes GLE 500e is currently cited as the hybrid vehicle with the highest towing capacity.

Electric vehicles and towing – warranty considerations

The most important thing to remember when considering using an electric vehicle for towing – whether it’s a pure or hybrid version – is not to risk towing with a vehicle that hasn’t been type approved. Even if you think your electric car is physically capable of towing, if isn’t approved, don’t try it. If you tow with a vehicle which the manufacturer has not given the green light to, that alone could be enough for warranty issues to arise.

When you do use a type approved electric towing vehicle, close attention should be paid to two figures on the specification list provided by the manufacturer. Those are the maximum weights for pulling an unbraked and braked trailer. As with any towing vehicle, you shouldn’t exceed these limits. If a fault occurs because your trailer was too heavy, this can void the electric towing vehicle’s warranty.

Electric towing vehicles: The future?

So what of the future? Considering that the Tesla Model X is currently the only approved pure vehicle, is this evidence that manufacturers are wary of getting electric vehicles type approved for towing because of some unknowns?

Towing expert Neil Greentree believes that the limited distances pure electric vehicles can travel could be seen as an obstacle by manufacturers.

He explained:  “I think range is the stumbling block (for pure electric vehicles) at the moment. That and the fact that towing simply is not high enough on the ‘eco’ radar. Buyers will generally not be buying an EV to tow. This is why my conclusions see plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) vehicles featuring far more in towing moving forward.“

For manufacturers of hybrids, neglecting to produce cars which are type approved for towing could mean missing out on a potentially lucrative piece of the pie. According to Practical Caravan magazine’s Sarah Wakely, the synergies between the electric vehicle market and Britain’s caravanners are hard to ignore.

Sarah said: "I think there's a natural affinity between caravanners and electric-car drivers. Not only do they both love the great outdoors, but they're also usually very environmentally aware; caravanning holidays don't involve the carbon footprint that you get with a package holiday abroad, for example. What's more, you need a car to tow a caravan, and what better way to combine both by choosing an economical electric or hybrid car to transport you on your next tour?"

We might have to wait a little longer for more pure electric vehicles to be designed for towing, but as the number of charging stations around the country increases, it would seem natural that the Tesla Model X will encounter some rivals. For now, caravanners towing with hybrids can enjoy their holidays in the knowledge that they are limiting the carbon footprint on the natural environment which they cherish.  

Considering a suitable caravan to tow with your electric vehicle? Browse the leading Salop Leisure range of new touring caravans here.