It’s one of the smallest items on your caravan, but it carries a huge responsibility. It may surprise you to learn that instances of caravans detaching themselves from the towing vehicle are on the rise. To give you a better idea of how frequent claims of this kind are becoming, we compared the number of detachment claims recorded in recent years – shockingly there were 80% more made 2014 than in 2010.
Detachment is a serious consequence of poor towing practice. It’s important to check that the breakaway cable has been correctly fitted before each journey to avoid serious accident or injury. Here’s the very latest on breakaway cables.
What is a breakaway cable and what does it do?
This is a straightforward device that acts in an emergency to engage the brakes of a caravan should it become detached from the vehicle that’s towing it. In doing so, it’s likely it will detach itself from the caravan and/or its clip will straighten out.
The breakaway cable works by actually breaking itself. Hence, once operated, it should be replaced immediately.
It has been a legal requirement since 1982 to have a breakaway cable fitted to a car and caravan outfit. Do note this article refers to braked caravans weighing over 750kg.
But don’t worry. The cost of a breakaway cable? Less than a fiver. Industry body the NCC (National Caravan Council) is stressing that replacement breakaway cables are OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) and/or approved by your caravan’s manufacturer, arguing that non-OEM products might not be sufficiently robust for their intended purpose.
It is possible to accidentally set off the breakaway cable – for example by driving off and forgetting it’s still attached. It’s always worth thinking about carrying a replacement.
Two types of clip
They might look similar in these images, but there are two types of breakaway cable suitable for car/caravan outfits – one with a standard clip, for looped attachment; the other a more heavy-duty carabiner for direct attachment to a designated point.
Keep an eye on your breakaway cable
Needless to say, the correct attachment of caravan to car is your responsibility, as the driver of the outfit. It’s also up to you to ensure it is “fit for purpose”.
Checking the condition of the breakaway cable is also part of the annual service requirement for any caravan, again as specified by the caravan trade body the NCC (National Caravan Council).
Meanwhile, however, if it looks damaged or worn, get it replaced. As we say, it’s only costs around £5 to get a replacement.
Do note, also, it’s a condition of your annual caravan service that the breakaway cable is inspected and, if required, replaced. Most workshops will replace it if there are signs of fraying, damage to the clip, any wear and tear etc.
New designs of towbar are now approved to UNECE Regulation 55, instead of usually confirming to Directive 94/20EC (Reg 55 was always an accepted alternative). The relevance of this to breakaway cables is that Reg 55 requires the towbar to have a designated breakaway cable attachment point, which 94/20 never included.
How should a breakaway cable be fitted?
If you haven’t already, best practise is to have a rehearsed procedure for hitching up your caravan to your car.
It’s best to fit connect the breakaway cable after you’ve made sure the caravan’s tow-hitch is correctly attached to the towball.
Some towbars have special attachment rings for the breakaway cable. Or, you’re advised to loop it around the bar. In essence, the attachment should be as close to the towball as possible.
The cable can be looped around the towball neck if there is no other obvious way of connecting it. However, do make sure it doesn’t foul the coupling head.
It’s is vital there is sufficient slack in the breakaway capable to ensure it doesn’t accidentally apply the brakes, for example when you’re cornering. Also ensure it doesn’t drag on the ground when you’re driving along.
The Caravan Safety & Security Group, a cross-trade initiative, points out:
*It is a legal requirement that a breakaway cable is fitted and properly attached.
*Ensure that the cable is routed directly to the car without loops or kinks and through any guides in the caravan drawbar. Always replace any damaged cable with the relevant manufacturer’s spare to ensure the correct function.
*The cable should be looped through the large diameter hole or loop in or on the towbar and then clipped back on itself. The cable hook should NOT be clipped directly to that hole as this may lead to premature failure, unless the cable is designed for direct attachment.
*If there is no suitably sized hole or loop in or on the towbar, the cable should be passed around the neck of the towball beneath the coupling head and then clipped back to itself.
*The breakaway cable should be long enough that it does not attempt to apply the brakes whilst in motion, particularly around corners, but not so long that it can contact the road or become wrapped around some part of the front of the caravan when in use. Ensure that the cable is not or cannot be entangled with the electrical cable and/or any external stabiliser in place.
The Carlos Test
A new test for towbars was introduced towards the end of 2012, aimed at bringing them more into line with car manufacturing standards. Called the Carlos Test, it’s a three-axis assessment that’s more arduous than the original type approval single-axis shunt test, which didn’t really take into account vehicle body fatigue.
It also includes a pull test of the breakaway cable attachment point, with limitations on the maximum distortion permissible at such points.
Find out more
An information sheet, published by the NCC, can be accessed here:
Correct attachment of breakaway cables
The UK’s leading towbar manufacturer, Witter, has published news about the Carlos Test – see here for details.
You can also find out more about towbars for vans/van conversions on the Witter website.
For more about the European Directive EC94/20, see the Tow Trust website.
Over to you…
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Note: All details correct at time of publication but may be subject to change.