DriveArchive Article 184

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The Essentials of Towing Safely

Whether it’s a trip to the dump, a visit to the beach with your boat, or a caravan holiday, there’s a good chance you will want to tow something behind your car at some point. Two key things to consider are the legal requirements and your own capabilities.

What weight can you legally tow?

You must have a full UK driving licence, but what you can tow depends on when you passed your test. Pre-1997 licence holders can drive a vehicle and trailer with a combined weight up to 8.25 tonnes, while post 1st January 1997 licence holders have a weight limit of 4.25 (tow vehicle being 3.5 tonnes, trailer up to 750kgs) or 3.5 tonnes (for trailers weighing over 750kgs).

It means older drivers have an advantage in that they can tow considerably heavier loads, for example, a Range Rover with a horse trailer behind. To be able to tow this kind of load on a post-1997 licence, you will need to pass the car trailer driving licence.

Other requirements

There are a couple of other things you need to make sure of before towing:

  • The weight of the trailer and its load mustn’t exceed the total weight of the towing vehicle
  • Find out the towing capability of your exact model of car (capabilities of different models can be significantly different). Maximum load weights will be listed in the car’s handbook or look online at the manufacturer’s website.
  • Check the maximum weight your trailer can carry, which is stated on the information plate. If you can’t find a plate, take the trailer to a DoT weighbridge where it can be assessed.
  • Check your trailer’s maximum nose weight, to make sure the weight being exerted on the tow bar doesn’t exceed the towing vehicle’s limit. You may find your load needs to be redistributed to achieve this.

Other legal considerations

Trailers cannot be wider than 2.55 metres or longer than 7 metres if the towing vehicle is below 3.5 tonnes in weight. Towbars fitted after 1998 need to be EU approved and will be labelled or plated to prove they meet EU regulations. Towing mirrors wouldn’t be necessary for towing a small goods trailer, but for a large caravan, or anything that restricts your rear vision, they are a legal requirement. Trailers over 750kg must have independent braking systems, and all trailers should have lights and indicators

Mirror, signal, manoeuvre

Of course, possessing a licence doesn’t automatically make you capable of towing, so it’s vital to learn how to drive while towing and make sure your driving is up to the job. The knowledge and skills required to tow safely are straightforward and easy to find out - Caravan clubs and trailer retailers can assist with the vehicle and trailer set-up, and the Caravan Club runs local training courses on hitching up, towing and manoeuvring.

Being able to tow a trailer is a very handy skill to have, which can broaden your horizons and enable you to be more independent.

© Deb Fanner 2018