As you’d expect, running a campsite I have the opportunity to view various vehicles each year with different towbars. There aren’t just cars towing caravans but occasionally we also host guests with motorhomes that tow vehicles or trailers. I’ve never seen fixed towbars fitted to motorhomes rented by our guests. However, in the case of cars I’ve seen many fixed, detachable and more recent times retractable towbars. In this article, I thought I would discuss the different towbar types. This information could be useful for those who are new to caravans or who are looking to upgrade their tow car. I’ll go over some towbars you might want to consider along with some of the pros and cons for fixed and detachable, and retractable towbars.
Later in the blog, I’ll also talk about how you can prepare the new ball for your towbar transporting a caravan. If you’re using your vehicle for towing caravans and trailers you will need to get used to cleaning your towball after you use the trailer. I’ll tell you why below.
As you can imagine, there could be a substantial difference in product and installation costs depending on fixed, detachable and retractable tow bar which should be taken into consideration. Additionally, when buying an used car that has an towbar and towball installed, you should have it checked out before you tow a caravan.
As bizarre as it is as it sounds, certain towbars and even towballs are not actually appropriate for towing!
The introduction of Towbars and Towballs
As I’ve said before there are three major types of towbars, they are fixed, detachable , or retractable. In between those categories, there are other alternatives. In the case of a swan neck towball, for instance. can use a bolt-on towball, for instance, or even a Swan Neck towball.
Furthermore, there are manually retractable and electric motorised retractable towballs. I’ve noticed more guests over the last few years arriving having motorised retractable signs which are the most elegant option available.
However, don’t think motorised retractable towballs should be the exclusive property of the top BMWs or Range Rovers. One of my guests recently bought a Ford Kuga and they were able to choose an electronic retractable option for their towball.
When a Towbar/Towball is not suitable to Tow
If you’re purchasing an old car that you spot what appears to be a towbar mounted on the back, do not think it’s appropriate for towing. It may very well be a “bike towbar’. This type of towbar is no capacity to tow rated. Thus, if the vehicle its self is even actually capable of towing the bike this towbar must be removed and replaced with the proper towbar before you pull a caravan/trailer.
Fixed Towbar Pros and Pros
The cheapest option is to use fixed towbars that come that has a bolt-on/flange tow ball or swan neck. While it isn’t the most expensive option, there is another benefit of fixed towbars versus detachable or retractable options: convenience.
With detachable towbars, there are spring clips or pins to ensure they stay in their place. When you have retractable towbars, there are hinges and electric motors. What’s important is that with a fixed towbar , as long as the welding bolts are strong and in a good condition, there is no other components that could fail or become stuck.
In terms of the downsides of fixed towbars, some individuals do not like the way they look. So, if their vehicle isn’t towing a caravan or a trailer, they are of the opinion that the towbar degrades the aesthetics of the car. To some, this may be trivial. But, with cars as the second most expensive purchase that people make, I think its an appropriate concern. But there’s another drawback to fixed towbars aside from the way they appear, and that’s ergonomics.
The most significant issue with fixed Towbars
Ergonomics is the study of how an object is designed for human use. Also, how efficiently and safely can a person interact with an object. While a fixed towbar performs very well as a tool for towing, problems with ergonomics can be seen even when it is not being used.
We have a fixed towbar on the back of our Nissan X-Trail. I’m quite adept at doing a bit of DIY, therefore I’ll often drive the car and gather heavy cement bags etc ., and then put them into the back of the car. The number of times that I’ve banged my shins/knees in the fixed towbar is endless.
There’s a chance that you won’t be a DIY person, but the same problem with a fixed-towbar is relevant when it comes to loading your shopping in the back of the car. Therefore, even if you aren’t averse to how a fixed towbar appears on your car. It is worth thinking about the impact it has on your use of the car when its not towing your trailer or caravan.
Click here for trailer towballs.
Bolt-on/Flange Towbars , or Swan Neck Towbars?
If you still wish to choose the fixed towbar option the next step to take is whether to opt for the bolt-on/flange fitting or a towball with a swan neck? It is true that towbars mounted with bolts-on/flanges are typically considered by a few to be the most ugly option as more of the components are displayed.
The fixed neck of a swan towbar is considered the more ‘discrete’ option. However, as was mentioned earlier in the case of aesthetics for your vehicle, if it is an issue for you then you’re probably better off going with a detachable or retractable towbar.
One thing to be aware of is that on some shorter-necked bolt-ons towballs, there might be a problem with the caravan stabilizer hitch connecting properly. With a swan neck, the issue is not present.
It’s possible that putting a bumper protector plate with a bolt-on towball can make the towbar that’s ugly less attractive. This is obviously subjective, however, it does serve a purpose. We have bumper protector plates that are attached to our bolt-on towbar.
If we’re non-using our tow car to transport the caravan, I’ll typically carry a trailer in the back and be going into the nearest recycling center (tip) for instance. When I am pulling the trailer onto the car tow hitch using my hands, the bumper protector just makes sure I don’t cause damage to the car.
The choice of whether a bolt-on or swan neck fix towbar would be the best option for your car will depend on the design of the rear bumper. When you have a towbar that bolts on, bumpers can be modified, or cutting might be needed.
With a swan neck swan neck, it’s less likely that the cars rear bumper would need to be modified or cut. If you were planning to take off the towbar prior to selling the car in the future this may affect your choice.
Towbar that can be detached Towbar Pros and Cons
If vehicle aesthetics are a concern for you or are you afraid of rubbing your knees/shines on a fixed towbar , then the next step is an adjustable towbar. There are numerous manufacturers on the market providing detachable towbars.
The benefits as we’ve discussed previously with a detachable twbar are that it can be relatively easy to remove when towing isn’t required. Therefore, you won’t have to bang your legs on the towbar while going to the store. Apart from the towbar fixing point, when the detachable twbar isn’t fitted, the vehicle retains its original appearance.
With regards to the cons of a detachable versus one fixed towbar, you are going to have to pay a bit more to get the benefit. If you purchase a fixed towbar only for the kit you’ll need to pay around PS200. If you opt for a detachable one prices increase to around PS300 to 400.
Furthermore, while the condition of every kind of towbar needs to be examined. When a towbar is detachment requires some extra attention. Making sure the spring fixing mechanism and release mechanism are functioning correctly. The instructions of the manufacturer may suggest an occasional spray with WD40/Silicon lubricant.
Retractable/Deployable Towbar Pros and Cons
The ‘poshest’ towbar that a car can be fitted is a retractable/deployable towbar. Some are manually operated which requires you to get on your knees to release the bar and then rotate it back to its original position.
However, the true ‘poshest option is an electric motorized deployable towbar. In the last few years, we have received a number of visitors with Land Rover Discovery models that have electrically deployable towbars. However, some manufacturers such as Ford have begun to offer the possibility of an electronic towbar that can be deployed.
The advantages of a motorised towed bar are its discrete appearance when not operating. Now, that’s obviously also applicable to a detachable model. With an electrically detachable towbar you don’t need to get down on your knees in order to place it in the right position.
A deployable towbar is also quicker to position and hide as compared to a detachable one. Finally, there is the benefit that you don’t need to locate the space within your car to keep the towball in storage as is the scenario with a detachable.
What are the cons? Well, there is a couple, and I’m certain you’re not going to be surprised by the first con which is the cost. If you want a manual retractable towbar, the cost is generally around PS500.
If you want an electric motorised retractable-towbar, the price can be significantly higher. There is a chance that you will be paying the cost of approximately PS1,000 or more, depending on the vehicle or brand. The second con is complexity/reliability.
How reliable are electric Retractable Towbars?
With added convenience/ease of use for a towbar that is discrete with the use of electronic motors and hinges, there are more components to potentially fail at some point. Because electric retractable towbars remain relatively new , there is no information on their reliability.