Planning to fit a towbar to your vehicle?
If you find the prospect a little daunting, you're not alone. After all, you need to ensure any new tow bar can do the job safely and effectively - for the sake of you, your passengers, and other road users.
The various terms can be baffling: should you opt for a flange or swan neck? A detachable or fixed?
In this article we'll look at how to choose the right tow bar for your vehicle - and your needs.
If your planning to use your tow bar to tow a caravan, find all all you need to know about caravan towing in our handy guide on how to tow a caravan.
What type of tow bar do I need: Swan neck or flange?
In terms of physical design, you have two tow bar hitch types to choose from: Swan neck and flange.
Swan neck is reminiscent of a swan's neck, and is considered a more elegant choice; it doesn’t display any bolts. The tow ball and tow neck are one single piece of steel.
Swan neck tow bars are generally less obtrusive and are less likely to set off parking sensors when the vehicle is not in towing mode.
Conversely, the flange tow bar is regarded as a rather ugly design, with its bolts clearly visible. Its tow ball and tow neck are two distinct components. Flange tow bars are more common on commercial vehicles.
Fixed or detachable?
You may also be able to choose between a fixed or a detachable tow bar (of either swan neck or flange design).
What about retractable towbars?
You may also be able to purchase a retractable tow bar for your vehicle. These are considered 'luxury' towbars and are usually only available for premium cars.
They may feature a built-in 13-pin electrical e-kit - but are considerably more expensive than a regular detachable tow bar and separate dedicated e-kit would cost combined.
What is a universal tow bar?
There is no such thing as a universal tow bar. While some tow bars can be used on multiple models, there is no one tow bar that can be used on all vehicles.
Choosing the best tow bar for your needs
Arguably, for a private car owner, the best option is a detachable swan neck towbar. This offers more elegance and can be removed when not in use.
Electric kits: required by law
You are required by law to ensure the towing vehicle's electrical system - and its safety features - are connected to the caravan, trailer or cycle carrier.
Universal or dedicated electrical kits?
Universal electrical kits are manufactured to work with a range of makes and models.
Dedicated electrical kits, meanwhile, have been designed to work with what is being towed.
While universal kits are cheaper (£15 - £40), they tend not to work as effectively as dedicated kits (£120 - £160).
Key advantages of dedicated e-kits:
- May assist in optimising fuel efficiency as regards trailer operation
- Ensures manufacturers' warranty is unaffected, while integrating with the manufacturer's safety systems
- Danger alerts visible to driver
- Lane assist for motorway journeys
- ESP trailer stabilisation and reduced risk of "snaking"
7-pin, 7-pin twin, or 13-pin electrics?
Next, you need to select the type of electrics you'll need with your towbar.
This is the most basic choice, and ensures indicators, fog lights, and brake lights work on the rear of what is being towed: be it an old caravan, trailer, or cycle carrier.
Crucially, 7-pin systems will not power anything inside what is being towed - e.g. fridges, lights, batteries etc.
This socket is normally attached alongside the basic 7-pin. It allows batteries and appliances inside a caravan to be powered.
This option works with caravans built before 2008.
All new caravans on the UK market since 2008 have been fitted with 13-pin electrics. This provides power to pretty much everything: the rear lights, fog lights and indicators of the caravan/trailer; and appliances/batteries (in the case of a caravan).
The 13-pin system is the simplest and easiest way to hook up your caravan, trailer or cycle carrier.
How much is a tow bar?
Prices can vary hugely depending on the design (swan neck or flange) and type of electrical kit (dedicated or universal).
The cost is also likely to be higher for a premium-brand model.
For example, a flange tow bar for a Ford Fiesta with 13-pin electrical kit might cost around £260.
At the other end of the spectrum, a swan-neck with 13-pin electrics for an Alfa Romeo Giulia Saloon could cost around £850.
Online retailer search tools: What tow bar fits my car?
Many towbar retailers provide search tools for choosing the right tow bar for your vehicle. You simply enter details such as registration number, make, model and year or registration - then hit search. You’ll then be able to view all the towbars that can be safely fitted to your vehicle.
This is perhaps the easiest way to find a tow bar.
Should you fit a towbar yourself?
It is entirely possible to fit the towbar yourself and our helpful blog explains how to fit a tow bar yourself.
However, many towbar retailers also provide installation services. These do add to the cost, but you'll have peace of mind that the bar has been fitted correctly.