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How To Shop For A Towbar

As you’d expect when I run a camp site, I see a wide range of vehicles throughout the year that have different towbars. It’s not just cars that tow caravans, but sometimes we host guests with motorhomes that tow vehicles or trailers. I’ve only seen fixed towbars installed to motorhomes rented by our guests. But in the case of cars I’ve seen a range of fixed, detachable, and in the last few years retractable towbars. So for this post I’m thinking I’ll discuss the different towbar types. This information could be useful for new caravan owners or who are looking to upgrade their tow car. I’ll discuss some example towbars to look at together with some of the pros and cons that come with fixed detachable or retractable towbars.

In the next post, I’ll go over how to prepare your new tow ball that you have on your towbar for towing a caravan. If you’re using your vehicle to tow caravans or trailers, you will need to learn to clean your towball after you use the trailer. I’ll tell you why further down.

As you would imagine, there is a significant difference in product and installation cost based upon fixed, retractable and detachable bar which needs to be considered. Also, if you purchase a second-hand car with a towbar and towball already fitted you want to get it checked before you tow a caravan.

It’s as odd as it sounds as it sounds, certain towbars and even towballs are not actually designed for towing!

A brief introduction Towbars and Towballs

As I’ve said before that there are three primary categories of towbar, they are either fixed, retractable, or detachable. But, within each of these groups, there are a variety of alternatives. In the case of a swan neck towball, for instance. could get a towball that bolts on for instance, or even a Swan Neck towball.

In addition, there are manually retractable, as well as electric motorised towballs. I’ve seen more guests in these past few years arriving using motorised retractable towballs that are the most elegant option available.

Don’t be fooled by the idea that motorised retractable towed balls are the reserve of only top-end BMWs or Range Rovers. One of my guests recently bought an Ford Kuga and they were offered an electronic retractable option for their towball.

If a Towball/Towbar is not appropriate to Tow

If you’re purchasing a second-hand car and you notice what appears to be an towbar in the back do not assume it’s suitable for towing. It may very well be a “bike carrier towbar’. This type of towbar is no capacity to tow rated. This means that if the car it self is capable of towing the bike this towbar must be removed and replaced with an appropriate towbar prior to you pull a trailer/caravan.

Fixed Towbar Pros and Pros

The cheapest option is a fixed towbar available using either bolt-on/flange ball or a swan neck. Apart from being the least expensive option, there’s another benefit to fixed towbars versus detachable or retractable options: ease of use.

With detachable towbars, there are spring clips/pins that ensure they stay in their place. When you have retractable towbars, there are hinges and even electric motors. It is important to note that with a fixed towbar as long as the bolts/welding are robust and in good condition, there is any other components which could break or get stuck.

In terms of the downsides of fixed towbars, a few people don’t like how they appear. Therefore, when their vehicle isn’t towing a caravan or a trailer, they think that the towbar is a hindrance to the design of the car. For some, this might seem trivial. But, with cars being the second largest purchase that people make, I would say it’s an important issue. However, there is actually another disadvantage of fixed towbars, aside from how they look and that’s ergonomics.

The most significant issue with fixed Towbars

Ergonomics is the study of how an object is made for human use. In other words how effectively and safely can someone interact with the object. While a fixed towbar can work excellently as a device for towing, ergonomic problems are evident when it’s not in use.

We are using a fixed towbar on our Nissan X-Trail. I’m quite adept at doing a bit of DIYwork, and I’ll often get the car and take heavy cement bags etc . and then load them into the back of the car. The number of times I’ve hit my knees or shins on the fixed towbar is countless.

Now, you may not have a passion for DIY, however the same issue that you face that a fixed towbar presents is applicable to loading your shopping in the back of the car. Thus, even if like how a fixed towbar appears on your vehicle. You may want to think about how it will impact your use of the 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 choice, the first option to consider is whether to opt for the bolt-on/flange fitting or a Swan neck towball? It is true that towbars mounted with bolts-on/flanges are usually considered by some as the ugly alternative since more components are on display.

Fixed swan neck swan towbar is considered to be the least ‘discrete’ option. However, as discussed above, if vehicle aesthetics is your primary concern You’ll probably be better off opting for a detachable or retractable tow bar.

Something that is worth noting is that with certain shorter-necked bolt-ons towballs, there might be a problem with the caravan stabiliser hitch being properly connected. With a swan neck the issue is not present.

Now, arguably fitting the bumper protector plate to a bolt-on-towball makes an ugly towbar worse. It’s a subjective opinion, but it’s certainly a benefit. We have an extra bumper protector fitted onto our towbar that bolts on.

When we’re away from our car for caravans, I’ll usually have a trailer mounted on the back of the vehicle, and go towards the recycling centre (tip) for example. When I am pulling the trailer into the cars tow hitch, I do it by hand. the bumper protector simply makes sure I don’t cause damage to the car.

If a swan or bolt-on neck fixed towbar is the best option for your car will usually depend on the rear bumper design. If you choose a towbar with a bolt-on, rear bumpers, modifications to the design of the bumpers, and possibly cutting might be needed.

With a swan neck towbar its less likely that the car’s rear bumper will need to be cut or modified. If you were planning to take off the towbar prior selling your car in the future it could affect your decision.

Affixable Towbar Pros and Pros and

If the appearance of your vehicle is a concern for you or do you not want to hit your knees or thighs against a fixed towbar , the next step is to get the detachable towbar. There are numerous manufacturers offering detachable towbars.

The benefits as we’ve discussed previously of a detachable towbar is that it can be relatively easily removed in situations where towing isn’t needed. This means you don’t have to worry about banging your legs against the towbar while going to the shops. Furthermore, other than the towbar’s fixing point when the detachable towbar is not installed, the car maintains its original appearance.

Concerning the disadvantages of a detachable towbar versus an fixed towbar, it is clear that you are going to have pay more to get the privilege. For a fixed towbar, only for the kit, you will have spend around PS200. If you want a towbar that can be detachable it will cost you upwards to between PS300-400.

Also, the condition of all kinds of towbar needs to be examined. If it is a towbar that has been removed requires some more care. Make sure that the spring fixing/release mechanism operating properly. The manufacturer’s guidelines may suggest 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 are operated by hand, where you have to kneel down, release it and turn it back to its original position.

But, the most luxurious option is an electric motorised deployable towbar. In the past couple of years, we have been able to host a few guests who have Land Rover Discoverys equipped with electrically deployable towbars. However, some manufacturers like Ford have begun to offer the possibility of an electronic towbar that can be deployed.

The benefits of a motorised towbar is its discreet appearance when it’s not when it is in use. This is obviously an advantage of a detachable twbar. However, with an electrically deployable towbar, you don’t need to get knee-deep to place it in the right position.

A towbar that is deployable is quicker to position and hide as compared to a detachable one. Finally, there is an advantage in that you don’t need to locate the space in your vehicle for storing the towball like is the situation with a detachable.

What are the pros and cons? There are two of them. I’m certain you’re not going to be dissapointed by the first con, and that’s the price. For a manual retractable towbar, it costs typically about PS500.

For an electric motorised retractable and retractable towbar the cost can be quite a bit higher. It could be that you are looking at the cost of approximately PS1,000, potentially, even more, depending on the brand and model of the vehicle. The second con is complexity/reliability.

How Reliable are Electric Retractable Towbars?

With added convenience and user-friendliness for a towbar that is discrete using electric motors or hinges There are a lot of components to be susceptible to failure at some time. As electric retractable towbars are relatively new there’s currently very no information on their durability.