Features, Spotlight

Towcar of the Year: The difference between reviewing and testing

A driver behind the wheel of a car

CaravanTimes’ Dan Cartwright is a judge for the annual Caravan and Motorhome Club’s Towcar of the Year (TCOY) competition. Ahead of the 2023 results, he spoke exclusively to us about the difference between reviewing towcars and truly putting them through their paces.

Testing conditions

The panel of judges for the Caravan and Motorhome Club Towcar of the Year is made up of car and caravan reviewers who are real experts in their field. All of them regularly carry out towcar reviews, but there’s a big difference between reviewing an outfit and testing it for the annual competition.

Dan said: “Both offer valuable information, but the difference is quite stark. And as somebody who does towcar reviews for a job, I understand why it’s so important to caravanners across the country.

“When you get given a towcar to review for a publication, it’s very unlikely that you’re going to have a rig that is suitable and available. If you do, it’s very unlikely that it’ll be properly and fully weighted and that goes for the car too.

“To make it fair, this would need to be weighted to the equivalent of a family and the stuff they take on holiday. It’s very unlikely you’re going to be able to drive it and test it on things like 70 per cent inclines and all the different terrain that Millbrook offers.”

All of the testing for the Caravan and Motorhome Club Towcar of the Year is carried out at the Technical Union for the Automobile, Motorcycle and Cycle Industries’ (UTAC) Millbrook Proving Ground. Here, the judges spend a week putting the vehicles that have been submitted for the award through their paces.

A fair playing field

Dan went on to say: “Even if you were to get the perfect-sized caravan, weight the car to the equivalent of a family and weight the caravan to 80 per cent of the maximum towing weight, you wouldn’t then be able to jump straight into the next one.”

The judge believes that having the rig created for a side-by-side direct comparison is what makes this competition so important. Reviewers can use their experience to write reviews that draw on their knowledge of how you’d expect a towcar to behave, but the level of granular detail and scrutiny put into the rig before the judges even get behind the wheel is what sets this event apart.

Dan added: “You know that it’s a completely fair comparison and the track at Millbrook means you can go over so many different types of road conditions. They vary from hill starts to bends to apexes to heavy braking to motorway situations, so you really can get a very good condensed idea as to the towcar.

“That ability to test them side-by-side over a week period as opposed to over the years as a tester, it might take you ten years to get through the number we get through in a week. Instead, everything is fresh in your mind and you can jot down the details from specific areas.

“That’s what these awards bring to the general public. They’re not asking you to make a decision on towcars based on inaccurate data; it is as close as you can get to a fair competition. As there’s such a large number of judges you get a fair breadth of opinion.

“It’s interesting to see where things are particularly good, all the judges tend to think so, regardless of class, and if something really struggles then all the judges tend to pick up on that as well. So, that’s the difference between reviewing and testing.”




Photo credit: Unsplash/Darwin Vegher