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Introduction to Towbars and Towballs

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As you can imagine, running a campsite I have the opportunity to view an array of vehicles each year with different towbars. There aren’t just cars towing caravans, but sometimes we host guests with motorhomes that tow trailers or cars. I’ve only seen fixed towbars installed to our guest’s motorhomes. However, with regard to cars I’ve seen a range of fixed, detachable and over recent times retractable towbars. So for this post I’m thinking I’ll review the various towbar styles. This article could be of use for caravan beginners or those who are looking to upgrade their tow car. I’ll go over some tow bars you could consider along with some of the pros and cons that come with fixed detachable and retractable towbars.

Later in this post, I’ll go over how to prepare your new tow ball on your towbar for transporting a caravan. If you’re using your vehicle for towing caravans and trailers you’ll need to learn to clean your towball after towing the trailer. I’ll tell you the reasons below.

As you can imagine, there is a significant variation in the installation and product cost based upon fixed, retractable or detachable tow bar which should be taken into consideration. Also, when purchasing an used car that has the towball and towbar installed, it is important to have it tested prior to using it to take it tow with a caravan.

As bizarre as it is it may sound, certain towballs and towbars are not suitable for towing!

An introduction to Towbars and Towballs

As I’ve already stated, there are three main categories of towbar, they are either fixed, detachable or retractable. But, within each of these groups, there are a variety of alternatives. You could get a towball that bolts on for instance, or even a Swan Neck towball.

In addition, there are manually retractable and electric motorised towballs. I’ve observed more guests over the past few years coming using motorised retractable towballs that are the most stylish alternative available.

Don’t be fooled by the idea that motorised retractable towballs should be the only option for top-end BMWs or Range Rovers. One of my guests recently purchased an Ford Kuga and they were able to choose an electronic retractable option for their towball.

When a Towbar/Towball is not suitable for Towing

If you are purchasing an old car that you notice what appears to be a towbar mounted on the back, do not assume it’s suitable for towing. It could very well be a “bike towbar’. This kind of towbar comes with no rating for towing capacity. This means that if the car itself is capable of towing your bike, the carrier towbar would need to be removed and replaced by a ‘proper’ towbar before you pull a caravan/trailer.

Fixed Towbar Pros and Cons

The cheapest option is a fixed towbar available with either a bolt-on/flange ball or swan neck. In addition to being the most affordable option, there’s another advantage of fixed towbars over detachable or retractable alternatives: simplicity.

For detachable towbars there are spring clips and pins that ensure they stay in their place. For retractable towbars there are hinges as well as electric motors. What’s important is that when using a fixed-towbar, so long as the bolts/welding is strong and in a good condition, there is any other components that could fail or be seized up.

In terms of the downsides of fixed towbars, some individuals do not like the way they look. This is why, when their car isn’t towing a caravan or a trailer, they think that the towbar is a hindrance to the appearance of the vehicle. To some, this may seem like a minor issue. However, with a car as the second most expensive purchase that people make, I believe it’s an important issue. But, there’s another downside to fixed towbars, aside from how they appear, and that’s ergonomics.

The Most Significant Problem with Fixed Towbars

Ergonomics describes how well a product is designed for human use. Also, how efficiently and safely can an individual be interacting with an object. While a fixed towbar can work very well as a tool for towing, design and ergonomics are a problem even when it is not being used.

We have a fixed towbar for our Nissan X-Trail. I am a lot of home-based work, which is why I often drive the car and take heavy cement bags etc ., and then put them into the rear of the vehicle. The number of times that I’ve hit my knees or shins on the fixed towbar is numerous.

You might not have a passion for DIY, however the same issue that you face with a fixed towbar is relevant when it comes to loading groceries into the back of your car. Therefore, even if you like how a fixed towbar appears on your vehicle. You may want to think about how it will impact the use of your car in the event that it is not towing your trailer or caravan.

Bolt-on/Flange-on Towbars or Swan neck Towbars?

If you’re still deciding for a fixed towbar option , the next choice you’ll need to make is whether to choose an flange-bolt fitment, or a bolt-on towball that has a swan neck? It is true that towbars mounted with bolts-on/flanges are generally considered by some as the ugly alternative since more parts are visible.

Fixed swan neck is considered to be the least ‘discrete’ alternative. However, as was mentioned earlier, if vehicle aesthetics is your primary concern it is probably best selecting a retractable or detachable retractable towbar.

Something that is worth noting is that for some short-necked bolt-on towballs, there may be a problem in the caravan stabiliser hitch coupling up properly. When using a swan neck the issue is not present.

The idea of combining an extra bumper protector plate a bolt-on towball makes the towbar that’s ugly more ugly. This is obviously subjective, however, it does serve a purpose. We have a bumper protector plate fitted onto our towbar that bolts on.

If we’re non-using our tow car for the caravan I’ll often have a trailer mounted on the back, en route towards the recycling center (tip) for instance. When I load the trailer on the cars tow hitch, I do it by hand. the bumper protector is there to make sure I don’t cause damage to the car.

If a swan or bolt-on neck fixed towbar is the most suitable option for your vehicle will often depend on the design of your rear bumper. With a bolt-on towbar rear bumpers can be modified, or cutting may be necessary.

With a swan neck towbar its less likely that your car’s rear bumper would have to be modified or cut. If you wanted to remove the towbar before you sell the car in the future this may affect your choice.

Detachable Towbar Pros and Pros and

If vehicle aesthetics are important to you or are you afraid of rubbing your knees/shines on an unfixed towbar, the next step is to get the detachable towbar. There are numerous manufacturers on the market providing detachable towbars.

The advantages as mentioned above with a detachable towbar are that it is easy to separate when towing is not needed. So no more banging your legs on towbars when you’re going to the shop. In addition, aside from the towbar’s fixing point when the detachable twbar is not fitted the car retains its original appearance.

With regards to the cons of a detachable versus one fixed towbar, you’ll have to shell out a little more to get the benefit. For a fixed-towbar, just for the towbar, you will have spend around PS200. For a detachable towbar costs increase to around PS300-400.

Additionally, the condition of all kinds of towbar must be checked. If it is a towbar that has been removed requires some more care. Making sure the spring fixing mechanism and release mechanism are operating properly. The manufacturer’s instructions may recommend an occasional spray with WD40/Silicon oil to lubricate the spring.

Retractable/Deployable Towbar Pros and Cons

The ‘poshest’ towbar that a car can be fitted is a retractable/deployable towbar. Some of them are manually operated that requires you to get on your knees, release it and turn it to the desired position.

However, the best ‘pretty option is an electric motorised towbar that can be deployed. In the last few years, we’ve received a number of visitors with Land Rover Discovery models that have electronically deployable towbars. But, even companies 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 when it is in use. It’s also an advantage of a detachable twbar. But, with an electrically detachable towbar you don’t need to get down on your knees to place it in the right position.

A towbar that is deployable is more convenient to set up and hide than a detachable towbar. There is also the added benefit of not having to have to find the space inside your vehicle for storing the towball like is the scenario with a detachable.

What are the cons? Well, there is two, and I’m certain you’re not going to be surprised by the first which is the cost. For a manual retractable towbar towing cost is typically about PS500.

If you want an electric motorised retractable towbar, the cost can be significantly higher. You may be looking at the cost of approximately PS1,000 and possibly, more, depending on the brand and model of the vehicle. The second con is complexity/reliability.

How reliable are electric Retractable Towbars?

In addition to the convenience and ease of use of a separate towbar that makes use of electric motors or hinges There are more parts that could fail at some point. Since retractable electric towbars are relatively new , there is limited information available on their reliability.