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Do I Need A Fixed, Detachable Or Retractable Towbar?

As you might imagine managing a campsite, I see many different vehicles with various towbars. Not only do cars tow caravans but occasionally we also host guests with motorhomes that tow trailers or cars. I’ve only ever seen fixed towbars installed to motorhomes rented by our guests. But when it comes to cars I’ve come across a variety of fixed, detachable and in recent times retractable towbars. In this article I’m thinking I’ll review the various towbar styles. This information could be useful for those who are new to caravans or upgrading their vehicle tow. I’ll discuss some example towbars to look at as well as some of the advantages and disadvantages of fixed, detachable or retractable towbars.

In the following post, I’ll also discuss how to prepare the new tow ball on your towbar for caravan towing. If you’re using your vehicle to tow trailers and caravans you’ll have to be used to cleaning your towball after towing the trailer. I’ll explain the reasons below.

It is likely that there could be a substantial difference in product and installation prices based on fixed, retractable or detachable tow bar which is something to consider. When purchasing the second hand car that comes with a towball and towbar already installed, it is important to have it checked out before you use it to pull an RV.

As strange as it sounds, some towbars and towballs aren’t really appropriate for towing!

Introduction to Towbars and Towballs

As I’ve stated above, there are three main categories of towbars. They are fixed, detachable , or retractable. But, within each of these categories, there are other alternatives. As an example, one could choose a bolt-on as well as a Swan Neck.

There are also manually retractable, as well as electric motorised towballs. I’ve noticed more guests over the past few years coming having motorised retractable signs, which are the most ‘fancy’ alternative available.

However, don’t assume that motorised retractable towballs should be the reserved for only the most expensive BMWs or Range Rovers. I have one guest who recently bought an Ford Kuga and they were offered an electronic retractable towball.

When a Towbar/Towball is not suitable for Towing

If you’re purchasing an old car that you spot what appears to be a towbar mounted on the back, don’t presume its suitable for towing. It may very well be a ‘bike carrier towbar’. This type of towbar has no rating for towing capacity. Thus, if the vehicle its self is even actually capable of towing the bike that towbar will have to be replaced with an actual towbar before you can pull a trailer or caravan.

Fixed Towbar Pro and Cons

The most affordable choice is that of fixed towbars, which come using either bolt-on/flange ball or a swan neck. While it isn’t the most expensive option, there is another benefit of fixed towbars, compared to detachable or retractable options: ease of use.

When you have detachable or retractable towbars, there are spring clips or pins to keep them in place. For retractable towbars there are hinges, and even electric motors. What’s important is that when using a fixed-towbar, so long as the welding bolts are robust and in good condition, there are no other components that might fail or become stuck.

Concerning the disadvantages of fixed towbars, a few people are not happy with how they appear. This is why, when their car isn’t towing a trailer or caravan, they think that the towbar is a hindrance to the look of the car. For some, this may seem trivial. However, with a car being the second largest purchase most people make, I think its an appropriate concern. But, there’s another drawback to fixed towbars aside from the way they look , and that’s ergonomics.

The biggest issue with fixed Towbars

Ergonomics describes how well a product is designed to be used by humans. In other words how safely and efficiently can a person interact with the object. While a fixed towbar works perfectly well as a device for towing, its ergonomic issues are present when it’s not in use.

We have a fixed towbar on the back of our Nissan X-Trail. I’m quite adept at doing a bit of DIY, therefore I’ll often take the car and collect heavy bags of cement etc ., and then put them into the rear of the vehicle. The amount of times I’ve knocked my knees/shins against the towbar fixed is innumerable.

There’s a chance that you won’t be a DIY person, but this same issue that a fixed towbar presents is relevant when it comes to placing shopping bags in the back of the car. Thus, even if do not mind the way the appearance of a fixed towbar on your car. You might want to think about the impact it has on your use of the car even when it’s not towing your caravan/trailer.

Bolt-on/Flange Towbars , or Swan Neck Towbars?

If you decide to choose the fixed towbar choice, the first decision you have to make is whether to select a bolt-on/flange fitment or a swan neck towball? For starters, towbars with bolt-on/flange mounts are typically considered by a few to be the most ugly option since more parts are visible.

A fixed swan neck swan towbar is generally considered to be the more discrete alternative. But, as we’ve discussed earlier, if vehicle aesthetics is an issue for you it is probably best selecting a retractable or detachable retractable bar.

A thing worth mentioning is that for some short-neck bolt-on trailer towballs there could be a problem in the caravan stabiliser hitch being properly connected. With a swan neck, the issue is not present.

Now, arguably fitting a bumper protector plate with a bolt-on towball makes the towbar that’s ugly worse. That’s obviously subjective, but it does serve a purpose. We have a bumper protector plate fitted onto our towbar that bolts on.

When we’re away from our vehicle for caravan use, I’ll frequently have a trailer on the back and be going to the local recycling center (tip) for instance. When I load the trailer onto the cars tow hitch, I do it by hand. the bumper protector is there to make sure I don’t accidentally damage the car.

The choice of whether a bolt-on or swan neck fix towbar would be the right choice for your vehicle will depend on the rear bumper design. When you have a towbar that bolts on, bumpers can be modified, or cutting could be required.

With a swan neck towbar its less likely that the vehicle’s rear bumper would need to be modified or cut. If you were planning to take off the towbar before selling the car in the future this might affect the decision you make.

Affixable Towbar Pros and Pros and

If aesthetics of your vehicle are important to you or do you not want to hit your knees/shins against an unfixed towbar, the next step is to get a detachable towbar. There are several manufacturers on the market providing detachable towbars.

The pros as discussed above of a detachable towbar is that it is easy to remove when towing is not required. Don’t worry about banging your legs on the towbar while shopping. Furthermore, other than the fixing point for the towbar when the towbar detachable isn’t fitted, the vehicle retains its original appearance.

In terms of the disadvantages of detachable or detachable over a fixed towbar, you’ll have to pay a little more for the privilege. For a fixed-towbar, just for the towbar you’ll need to pay around PS200. If you want a towbar that can be detachable costs increase to about PS300-400.

In addition, the condition of every kind of towbar should be inspected. With a detached towbar, it will require some more care. Making sure the spring fixing/release mechanism functioning correctly. The instructions of the manufacturer 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 and require you to kneel, release it and turn it to the desired position.

The most expensive’ option is to have an electric motorised towbar that can be deployed. In the last few years, we have been able to host a few guests who have Land Rover Discoverys equipped with electrically deployable towbars. However, some manufacturers such as Ford are now offering the option of an electronic deployable towbar.

The advantages of a motorised towed bar is its discreet appearance when it’s not when it is in use. This is obviously applicable to a detachable model. However, with an electrically detachable towbar it’s not necessary to get down on your knees in order to move it to the desired position.

A deployable towbar is quicker to position and hide than a detachable towbar. Additionally, there’s the advantage that you don’t need to locate the space in your vehicle to store the towball , as is the situation with a detachable.

What are the cons? Yes, there’s two of them. I’m certain you’re not going to be astonished by the first and that’s the cost. For a retractable manual towbar, it costs usually around PS500.

For an electric motorised retractable towbar, the price could be significantly higher. You may be looking at the cost of approximately PS1,000 or, possibly, higher, depending on your vehicle or brand. The second con is complexity/reliability.

How Reliable are Electric Retractable Towbars?

With added convenience and user-friendliness for such a discrete towbar using electric motors/hinges There are many more components to potentially fail at some point. As electric retractable towbars are still relatively new, there’s few details available about their reliability.