If you are planning to hitch a trailer or caravan to your car, then it’s vital to know what the legal requirements are before setting off.
On 16 December 2021 the UK towing rules were amended, so even if you are a seasoned caravaner it is important to know how these changes might affect you.
This guide covers everything you need to know, from driving licence requirements to maximum allowable towing weights and sizes, as well as some useful tips to keep you and other road users safe on the roads.
Whether you intend to tow a horsebox, caravan, trailer or boat behind your car you will need a full driving licence to do so, as of 16 December 2021 you do not need an additional towing licence as long as the trailer’s maximum authorised mass (MAM) does not exceed 3,500kg.
If you passed your driving test before 1 January 1997 then you have always been allowed to drive a vehicle and trailer with a combined maximum weight of 8,250kg
However, if you completed your driving test on or after 1 January 1997 you would have to pass an additional car and trailer driving test to tow heavier caravans or trailers. The changes to the towing laws on 16 December 2021 mean that you are now allowed to tow trailers up to a 3,500kg MAM (up from 750kg MAM) and mandatory car and trailer driving tests have now been stopped.
Previously, driving licences issued between 1 January 1997 and 18 January 2013 allowed for a maximum of 4,250kg for the vehicle and trailer, where the trailer weighed no more than 750kg. If the trailer was heavier than 750kg (but not more than the unladen weight of the towing vehicle) a 3,500kg MAM for the trailer and towing vehicle was imposed.
Licenses issued from 19 January 2013 until 15 December 2021 were subjected to the same restrictions, however, when the trailer weighed more than 750kg there was no longer a stipulation that it could not weigh more than the towing vehicle. The likelihood of this was extremely unlikely in any case, and the maximum MAM for towing vehicle and trailer remained at 3,500kg in this instance.
Knowing the maximum allowable towing weight according to the law is important, but hooking up a six berth caravan to your tiny hatchback is not going to end well. To find out the maximum permissible towing weight of your particular car, you will need to check its handbook or the manufacturer’s website.
It should have a figure showing the maximum allowable trailer weight. If not, you can calculate it by deducting the maximum allowable mass (MAM) figure from the vehicle’s kerb weight. Some manufacturers list this maximum allowable mass as GVW or ‘Gross Vehicle Weight’.
Another commonly used acronym is GTW or ‘Gross Train Weight’. Remember that these maximum allowable mass figures apply not only to the car and trailer but also to the passengers and luggage as well.
While your standard driving licence now allows you to tow a trailer up to 3,500kg (MAM), any trailer that weights over 750kg still needs to be braked regardless of the vehicle that is towing it. Caravans start at around 1,000kg and top out at over 2,500kg so all are braked.
As an example, the popular Vauxhall Corsa can tow up to 1,200kg, aside from the base 75bhp 1.2-litre model which is limited to 500kg. The larger figure will accommodate some of the smaller two berth caravans although once you have accounted for luggage and passengers, it may creep over the maximum allowable figure. That is why most smaller hatchbacks and city cars are better suited to towing small trailers.
The Nissan Qashqai SUV offers between 1040kg-1800kg of towing capacity depending on the engine/drivetrain configuration, making it more suitable for heavier loads as well as large caravans.
A mid-sized luxury SUV like the BMW X3 can tow up to 2,000kg, with the 510bhp X3M Competition model capable of a slightly heftier 2,400kg maximum. This is enough for a large horse box or big caravan.
The Land Rover Discovery SUV is one of the most capable tow cars you can buy, it can pull up to 3,500kg which covers just about anything from a horse box to a mid-sized boat, car or the largest caravans around.
A trailer can be at most 7 metres in length and 2.55 metres wide. If the trailer is wider than your car, then it will have to be fitted with mirror extenders. The maximum height is not as clear cut, most sources recommend that you don’t exceed 1.7 times the track of the trailer. This is the distance between the middle of the wheel treads and is usually not more than around 3 metres.
If you need to carry something unusually tall for a short distance, just bear in mind that the minimum clearance under most UK bridges is 5 metres.
For a safe towing experience, there are a number of checks you should carry out before embarking on your journey.
Firstly, you need to check what the maximum towing weight of your particular vehicle is. This can be done by looking at the owners’ manual, handbook or on the manufacturer’s website.
A maximum speed of 60mph is allowed on dual carriageways and motorways, and 50mph on other types of roads unless otherwise indicated.
If the item being towed is wider than the vehicle towing it, then you will need to fit mirror extenders.
Most towing experts recommend that the mass of the trailer is no more than 85% of the vehicle’s kerb weight. Much more than this and the ability to accelerate, brake and turn can be compromised.
Reversing with a trailer or caravan requires a degree of skill, it is worth practising this manoeuvre before setting off.
Any trailer that weighs over 750kg needs to have its own braking system and all trailers need to display the same number plate on the rear as the car towing it.
Any towbar fitted to the car needs to comply with EU regulations and be intended for use with the tow vehicle.
if you are unsure opt for some trailer training lessons before you tow
Yes. There are a number of EVs out there that are suitable for towing, their instant torque delivery makes short work of heavy loads, but the electric range can suffer so be sure to have access to charging spots along your route.
EVs and towing: what you need to know
Larger electric SUVs like the Tesla Model X and BMW iX can tow 2,250kg and 2,500kg respectively, while even the smaller Kia EV6 and Hyundai Ioniq 5 are able to tow up to 1,600kg.
Yes. The recent rule changes mean that anyone with a full driver’s licence is now allowed to tow a trailer or caravan up to a maximum authorised mass (MAM) of 3,500kg. The previous towing limit for those who completed their driving licence after 1 January 1997 was 750kg.
You will need to be 18-years or older to tow a caravan or trailer. While it is longer required by law, it is highly recommended to complete a towing course to become familiar with how the vehicle and trailer respond on the road.
You are allowed to travel at a maximum speed of 60mph dual carriageways and motorways. A maximum speed of 50mph is permitted on other roads unless a lower speed limit is in place.
If you have a comprehensive insurance policy it generally covers you for towing but some insurers only do so for third party liability. This means that while you would be covered for injury to people or property, the trailer or caravan itself would not be covered.
It isn’t required by law to have insurance for your caravan but it is still a good idea to get in touch with your insurer to get a quote to have it covered for any potential damage or loss.
Depending on your needs, there are a number of capable towing vehicles to pick from. As a general rule, heavier and larger vehicles equipped with torquey engines are better suited to towing than light city cars with low-powered engines.
Opting for four-wheel-drive can add some extra traction in slippery conditions as well. the Land Rover Discovery and all-electric BMW iX are two great tow vehicles that can tow a wide variety of trailers and caravans.
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