Not only is a breakaway cable an essential, life-saving piece of kit when towing a caravan (or any other braked trailer), it’s also a legal requirement to have one fitted to your outfit.
It’s the one thing that will apply the caravan brakes should your tourer become detached from your tow car when towing. It’s therefore really important to check your breakaway cable has been correctly fitted before every caravanning trip to avoid a serious accident or injury, as detachments are more common than you might think!
Here at Caravan Guard, we’ve dealt with detachment claims where the breakaway cable has failed and on roadside checks breakaway cables are regularly are incorrectly attached to the tow bar or not at all!
In this video, Leisure Vehicles Officer and caravan safety expert Tim Booth goes through how important the breakaway cable is when caravanning; the different types of breakaway cables available, and how to attach them to different types of towbars and the importance of looking after your caravan’s breakaway cable.
Why do you need a breakaway cable?
Legally, if you’re towing a trailer over 750kg it needs to have a breakaway cable to activate the braking system in the event of a detachment. A caravan breakaway cable is designed to take a two tonne strain.
Different types of breakaway cable
There’s a new standard for 2018 caravans – all breakaway cables will have the carabiner clip, with a view to helping users in the correct fitting of this caravanning safety device. This type of breakaway cable can either clip to a dedicated mounting point on the towbar – or pass around the towbar assembly and clip back onto the cable.
The other type of breakaway cable is a spring clip, which always has to go back onto the cable and cannot be connected to a fixed mounting point.
This is because the ‘tug’ on the cable can cause the clip to stretch rather than activate the handbrake, whereas with the cable ‘clipped’ around the whole tow bar assembly the cable will achieve its potential of pulling the handbrake on.
How does the breakaway cable work?
A caravan breakaway cable is designed to snap after it’s pulled on the caravan’s handbrake and brings your caravan to a standstill in the event of a detachment, leaving it in a safe position, so it doesn’t cross or leave the road or carriageway and cause injury to other road users, pedestrians or nearby properties.
When should I connect the breakaway cable when I’m hitching up?
When hitching up it’s important not to lose control of your caravan or trailer tent so if YOU connect your breakaway cable to your towing vehicle before connecting the electrics etc, it’s unlikely the caravan or trailer will roll away. If you’re hitching up on a slope it’s essential that you make that connection before releasing the handbrake.
What’s the best practice when connecting the breakaway cable?
It’s best practice to make sure the breakaway cable is fitted to the designated mounting point or around the framework of the tow bar and to also make sure that it’s in a straight line so it can work most effectively.
Also make sure the cable goes through the guide on your caravan chassis as this helps to keep it in a straight line so it can apply the handbrake if it’s pulled with force. Also make sure that the cable isn’t or can’t be entangled with the electrical cable and/or any external stabiliser in place.
The breakaway cable should be long enough so that it doesn’t attempt to apply the brakes when towing, particularly around corners, but not too long or slack that it drags on the road or becomes wrapped around some part of the front of the caravan when in use.
Looking after your caravan’s breakaway cable
The breakaway cable is an important part of the braking system of your caravan therefore it’s essential that it’s properly maintained. Before your caravanning trips, always check the cable for any signs of wear and tear. Be careful when running your fingers over the cable as any damage to the plastic might expose the wire, which will be sharp.
Also, check the connection where the carabiner or spring clip is attached. If there are any loose wires then you need to replace the cable. When replacing the cable make sure it’s as similar as possible to the original. Look for the thickness of the cable and the protective coating to make sure it’s going to effectively take the strain of your caravan and apply the brakes.
Fitting a breakaway cable to different tow bars
To make sure a breakaway cable does its job correctly it needs to have the correct connection to your tow car – otherwise it will fail and not apply the caravan brakes.
- A detachable tow bar with no dedicated connection point – The breakaway cable must be looped around the tow ball and clipped back on itself when using a cable with a carabiner or spring clip.
- A bolted tow bar with no mounting point – Pass the breakaway cable through the tow bar assembly and over the top before looping the carabiner or spring clip back onto the cable, so the cable is fastened to the tow bar assembly and tow car’s chassis.
- A bolted tow ball with mounting point – Hook a carabiner style breakaway cable to the attached mounting point to get a secure fixing. If you have a spring clip breakaway cable DON’T attach it to the mounting point, but instead loop it around the tow ball and clip it back onto the cable.
For more information and advice about hitching up and breakaway cables look at the National Caravan Council caravan towing guide.