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Guide to towing a car

February 16, 2018

In this guide, we take a look at the legal and practical requirements for towing a caravan or trailer with a car.

Driving Licence rules

Towing rules differ depending on when you passed your test. Remember you can check the details of your driving license by using the government’s online driving database.

  • For licences issued from 19 January 2013, car drivers can tow small trailers weighing up to 750kg. They can also tow a trailer weighing over 750kg so long as the combined weight of the trailer and car doesn’t exceed 3,500kg.
  • For licences held from 1 January 1997, car drivers can tow a trailer weighing up to 750kg in a vehicle weighing up to 3,500kg. They can also tow a trailer that exceeds 750kg as long as the combined weight of the trailer and vehicle doesn’t exceed 3,500kg.
  • For licences held before 1 January 1997, the maximum weight for a vehicle and trailer combination is 8,250kg.

Width and weight limits

For a towing vehicle weighing up to 3,500kg, the maximum trailer length is seven metres and the maximum trailer width is 2.55 metres (for any towing vehicle).

It’s likely that your car will have a defined maximum weight it can tow, which should be available in the handbook. If not, check the car’s vehicle identification number (VIN) plate where you can find the car’s gross train weight, which is the maximum weight of the fully loaded car and fully loaded trailer that can’t be exceeded.

Equipment

  • Tow bars: Your tow bar must be ‘type approved’, which means it must be designed for your car model if your car was first used after 1 August 1998. Check your tow bar’s label to see details of the vehicles it’s been approved for.
  • Tow mirrors: It’s essential that you have a reasonable view of the road behind you when towing. If your trailer or caravan is wider than your towing vehicle, you should fit some towing mirrors. Driving without the appropriate mirrors could lead to police prosecution, three points on your licence or a £1,000 fine.
  • Trailer brakes: Trailers weighing over 750kg, including their load, must have a brake system. Make sure these brakes are kept in good working order.
  • Number plates: You must fit the same number plate as your towing vehicle to the back of your trailer.

Towing tips

Driving while towing a vehicle isn’t much different to regular driving. Your trailer or caravan should follow wherever you lead it. However, it’s important to give yourself more time and space than usual to make sure you’re always in control.

  • Turning: Corners and roundabouts can be tricky when you’re towing since your unit won’t take exactly the same path as your car. For this reason, you should take a wider path on turns so that the back of your caravan or trailer makes the turn unobstructed.
  • Speed: You can drive up to 60mph in a towing vehicle on a motorway or dual carriageway, and up to 50mph on other roads unless lower limits apply. Towing vehicles aren’t permitted to use the outside lane of the motorway, even when overtaking. Bear in mind that speed limits just set the upper limit of how fast you can travel on a given road and it’s often safer and more economical to drive slower when towing. For instance, when towing a vehicle downhill at high speed, any instability can be tricky to deal with.
  • Braking: When braking a towing vehicle, you’ll generally take around 20 per cent more distance to stop. Leave plenty of space between you and the vehicle in front and avoid sudden braking.