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How to tow a caravan

Getting hitched safely

Here's how to safely tow a caravan or trailer

 Towing

 

  • You mustn't overload the car or caravan
  • The weight of the loaded caravan/trailer must be within your car's towing ability
  • The combined weight of the loaded car and loaded caravan/trailer must be below the maximum 'train' weight for your car
  • The Caravan Club or the Camping & Caravanning Club can help you 'outfit match' cars with caravans to make sure you end up with a safe combination

To find out what your loaded caravan weighs:

  • Take the caravan to a local weighbridge, or
  • Weigh everything separately and add it to what's known as the caravan's 'Mass in Running Order'

 

Towing weights

Unless you're very experienced and confident, experts recommend that the weight of the loaded caravan shouldn’t be more than 85% of your car's Kerb Weight

With so much space available it's all too easy to overload – try to keep the caravan as light as possible with the heavier items low down and close to the axle.

Driving licence and towing

Your licence shows the vehicle categories you can drive, including the size of caravan or trailer that you're allowed to tow. The rules changed in 1997.

Passed your test before 1 January 1997?

You’ll most likely be entitled to drive a vehicle and trailer up to a combined Maximum Authorised Mass (MAM) of 8.25 tonnes.

Passed after 1 January 1997?

Unless you’ve taken an additional driving test – the 'B+E' car and trailer test – you may only drive a ‘category B’ vehicle coupled with:

  • A caravan up to 750kg MAM, or
  • A caravan over 750kg MAM as long as the combined weight of the car and caravan is less than 3500kg Gross Train Weight (GTW) and the MAM of the caravan is less than the un-laden weight of the car.

Category B means a vehicle up to 3500kg Maximum Permissible Weight (MPW) with up to 8 passenger seats including the driver.

Read more about driving licence entitlements (Direct.gov)

The car and trailer (B+E) test

You book the car and trailer test in the same way as the standard practical test but will take it at an LGV test centre rather than a normal driving test centre.

You’ll take the test in an un-laden category B vehicle towing a suitably braked, un-laden trailer of at least one tonne MAM.

More about the car and trailer test (Direct.gov)


Tow brackets

Tow brackets have to be tested to British or European standards and must use mounting points recommended by the vehicle manufacturer.

Car first registered after 1 August 1998:

  • Must only be fitted with a 'type approved' bracket tested to European Directive 94/20/EC. 
  • The bracket will have a label, plate, or stamping showing the type approval number and the vehicle for which it is an approved fitment.

Some vehicles aren’t rated for towing by the vehicle manufacturer:

  • No gross train weight will be shown on the VIN plate.
  • They have no mounting points and are not able to have a tow bar fitted.
  • Check with the vehicle manufacturer if you intend to tow but are unsure if the vehicle is suitable.

Towing an un-braked trailer

If your trailer is un-braked, the maximum you may tow (combined weight of trailer and load) is 750 kg or half the kerbside weight of the towing vehicle, whichever is the lower.

Trailer width

Before 2010, UK rules were different to the rest of Europe – the maximum width allowed here was 2.3m compared to 2.55m across the channel.

In April 2010 the UK fell in line with the rest of Europe and you’re now allowed to tow a trailer or caravan up to 2.55m wide behind a car or goods vehicle weighing less than 3500kg.

Towing on an A-frame

You can only use an A-frame or recovery dolly legally to recover a vehicle which has broken down.

If you tow a car that hasn't broken down using an A-frame or dolly, then the law treats the combination as a trailer which must meet the appropriate braking and lighting rules.

  • Trailers under 750kg don't have to be fitted with braking systems, but if a braking system is fitted to a trailer of any weight then the braking system must operate correctly. This isn’t possible for normal systems fitted to cars, particularly the brake servo, which would not be working unless the engine was running.
  • Trailer regulations also require use of a secondary coupling system to make sure that the trailer is stopped automatically if the main coupling fails while you’re towing or, in the case of trailers up to a maximum mass of 1,500kg, that the drawbar doesn’t touch the ground so the trailer has some residual steering.
  • To comply with lighting regulations while being towed, the car (in its capacity as a trailer) would need triangular red reflectors and the number plate of the towing vehicle.

The simplest and safest way to tow a car behind a motorhome is to use a car transporter trailer. This can be done completely legally as long as you don't exceed the towing car's Maximum Permissible Towing Mass and Gross Train Weight.


More about towing weights

Caravan

The actual laden weight of the Caravan must be less than its Maximum Technically Permitted Laden Mass (MTPLM), the new term for gross weight shown on the caravan 'weight plate'.

  • MTPLM is also known as Maximum Authorised Mass (MAM)
  • The caravan's MTPLM must not be greater than the towing car's Maximum Permissible Towing Mass (MPTW).

Mass in Running Order (MRO) is the un-laden weight of the standard specification caravan as it leaves the factory. From 2011 this includes some items that used to be part of the 'user payload' – gas bottles, water in toilet/heating systems, hook-up and battery.

  • Check carefully to make sure you know what's been included in the MRO figure quoted.

Tow car

You mustn’t exceed the Maximum Authorised Mass (MAM) – the weight of the car fully laden including passengers, luggage tow bracket and the nose-weight of the caravan.

  • MAM is also known as Maximum Permissible Weight (MPW) or Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW)

The combined actual laden weight of the car and caravan must not exceed the Gross Train Weight (GTW) – the maximum permitted weight of car and caravan together specified by the car maker.

  • Mass in Running Order (MRO) or Kerb Weight normally includes a 90% full fuel tank, and the driver but no load other than standard equipment/tools.
  • MRO doesn't include the weight of the tow-bracket.
13 February 2017

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