Entry into the world of caravanning will soon open your eyes to what can seem like an entire new language (as you have more than likely realised by now). Between abbreviations, jargon and the sheer volume of new equipment you never even knew existed, it can be a lot to learn. Don’t let the technical side of caravanning put you off – just remember we are here with our range of guides to just about everything you need to know. If we don’t have a guide you need, let us know and we’ll do what we can to fill the gap.
For now, here’s the Lifesure guide to breakaway cables.
What is a breakaway cable?
The function of a breakaway cable is pretty much as the name suggests – it is a cable whose purpose is to apply the brakes and then break away should the caravan become disconnected from the towing vehicle. While you may not think this is a regular occurrence, the number of reported instances increased by 80% in 2014.
It is a legal requirement for a breakaway cable to be correctly fitted to all caravans with a maximum technically permissible laden mass (MTPLM) of between 750kg and 3500kg. This applies to all caravans, trailers and similar structures which were manufactured after 1982.
The cable will normally be constructed using a thin steel cable and a plastic coating.
How to fit a breakaway cable
- Make sure the cable is routed directly to the car and through any guides in the caravan’s drawbar
- Loop the cable through the relevant hole and double back on itself. Do not clip the breakaway cable directly to the attachment point, as this may cause it to malfunction. This is permissible only where the cable has been specifically designed for direct attachment. A direct attachment clip normally includes a heavy-duty carabiner.
- If there are no appropriate holes or loops on the towbar, the cable should be looped around the neck of the towbar, under the coupling head and clipped back on to itself. If the ball on the towbar is detachable, seek the manufacturer’s advice before attaching a breakaway cable.
- With some breakaway cables it may be possible to attach to either a permanent part of the towbar or caravan or to a purpose-built attachment accessory. Before using either of these arrangements, check the manufacturer’s guidance.
- Ensure there are no kinks or loops in the cable
- Check that the cable is long enough not to attempt to apply the brakes while the towing vehicle is moving (including around corners) but short enough not to come into contact with the road or become tangled on another object
- The breakaway cable must not be able to come into contact with the electrical cable or any external stabiliser which is in use, as they may become tangled
- Cable which is damaged, no matter how minor, should be replaced immediately
It is recommended to practise the fitting of the breakaway cable at least once prior to your first towing journey.
Maintaining a breakaway cable
As with other equipment, the breakaway cable must be checked regularly for damage, and definitely before each use. The checks which should be carried out include:
- Inspecting both cable and clip for any signs of damage or wear and tear
- Contact the manufacturer or supplier if in any doubt as to the condition of the cable or clip
When attached, the breakaway cable should also be regularly inspected as follows:
- Make sure the cable cannot become tangled with the electricity cable, coupling head, jockey wheel, stabiliser, cycle carrier or any other piece of equipment. It should not be possible for even the slightest snag to occur.
- Ensure that the cable is not so tight that it is at risk of activating the brakes while the towing vehicle is in motion and not so loose that it may drag on the ground
- Check for any signs of damage and replace as necessary
Tools required for replacing a breakaway cable
There has been some discussion over the best tools to use when replacing a breakaway cable, as the rings and clips on different models can differ significantly. As long as the new cable is correctly fitted, the tools you use are not overly important, but here are some of the most common tools we’ve heard mentioned by experienced caravanners:
- A large screwdriver to prise the loop open and a pair of mole grips to close the loop on a new cable
- A heavy-duty set of pliers for closing the new ring
- A small portable engineer’s vice
- A hacksaw to remove the loop of a particularly persistent old cable (be careful!)
Whichever tools you decide are best for the job, remember not to use anything which may damage the cable, or add any extras which may prevent the breakaway cable from doing its job.
It is also highly recommended to buy a reputable brand of breakaway cable, rather than trying to save a small amount of money on eBay or similar sites.
How to hitch up a caravan and car
- Raise the height of the jockey wheel so that the hitch is higher than that of the car towball
- Check that the towball is clean and free from grease and dirt
- Reverse the car into position
- Attach the breakaway cable
- Using the jockey wheel, lower the caravan hitch on to the towball
- Check that the green indicator is visible and give the hitch a good tug to make sure that it is fixed securely to the towball
- Engage the stabiliser
- Attach the electrics
- Release the caravan handbrake and retract the jockey wheel fully, securing it into its traveling position
- Make sure that the electrics are fully working by checking all of the rear lights on the caravan
When you arrive on site (or at home), follow the instructions above in reverse, making sure that the breakaway cable is the last thing that you do before you move the car away. That way should the caravan or trailer move unexpectedly backwards, the brakes will be activated immediately.
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