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What's A Braked Caravan? How Braking Works For Caravans

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Even when pulled behind another vehicle, caravans need brakes in order to be safety-compliant. But what's a braked caravan, and what types are there?

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  • What's A Braked Caravan? How Braking Works For Caravans

In the UK, all caravans must have brakes, with the exception of caravans and trailers that weigh a total gross weight of less than 750 kg. The vast majority of modern caravans and medium-sized trailers weigh significantly more than 750 kg, so they're legally required to have brakes.

In this context, a "braked caravan" is one that can apply its own, independent set of brakes whenever you press the brake pedal in your towing vehicle. However, there are many different kinds of brakes that can be sold with or installed into a caravan.

Choosing the right set can impact your driving performance, safety, and the lifespan of the caravan. It can also raise or lower your chances of successfully passing an MOT with your caravan.

That's because the weight of modern cars alone is often between 1 and 2 tonnes. Having an extra 750 kg or more attached to the car will significantly affect your own braking, let alone the stopping power of the caravan behind you.

Let's explore what brake types you need, and their advantages, down below:

What's An Un-Braked Caravan?

Un-braked caravans and trailers are usually attached to the towing vehicle with a rigid hitch. As such, the towing vehicle's brakes have to compensate for the added weight. This is rarely an issue when the driver drives at a lower, more controlled speed to compensate. However, it can be a safety hazard in any other event.

What Brake Types Do Most Caravans Have?

Braked caravans in the UK almost always have what's called an "over-run braking system." It's described as a passive braking system insofar as it's not directly controlled by the towing vehicle's brakes.

Because there is so much variety in caravan and vehicle combinations, it's not cost effective to make specific, expensive modifications to all towing vehicles for each particular caravan. Instead, the over-run braking system is the simplest way to have a braking system that's universally usable across all caravan and trailer hitches – without needing particular, brand-specific couplings.

How Do Over-Run Brakes Work?

Unlike a rigid hitch for small trailers, an over-run brake hitch features a telescoping end. The ball socket joint is attached to your car's tow bar as usual, but the bar sits inside a structure that lets it move in and out.

As you brake with your towing vehicle, the trailer or caravan is pressed against your car due to inertia. Because of this, the hitch bar gets pressed through the housing into a lever, which tensions the caravan's brakes. Your car's brakes and the caravan brakes now work together to slow down until you stop.

As you pull forward from stationary, the hitch bar is pulled back out of the housing, which releases the lever and deactivates the brakes – allowing you to drive on with your caravan.

In short, the over-run brakes work in a similar way as your car's handbrake. However, instead of you pulling a lever (the handbrake) upwards in order to tension the connecting cable, said cable is tensioned by the hitch itself.

What's A Breakaway Cable?

In case of emergencies, caravan hitches have what's called a breakaway cable. This is usually a steel cable that's fastened to the towing vehicle's tow bar via a carabiner clip. This clip is attached to the same lever that the hitch bar itself activates. If the hitch detaches from the tow bar, the breakaway cable will be tensioned and activate the brakes.

Getting Caravan Brakes At Autofusion

If you need new brakes for your caravan or towing vehicle, would like to schedule a safety inspection, or have questions about performance, budget, handling, and more, get in touch with your local Autofusion centre. Our professional mechanics are happy to lend their expertise and insight to ensure your driving experience with a caravan is safe, enjoyable, and efficient.