Towing safely

What you need to know if you plan to tow a caravan or trailer

The weight of the loaded caravan/trailer must be within the car's towing ability

The weight of the loaded caravan/trailer must be within the car's towing ability

Unless you're very experienced and confident, experts recommend that the weight of the loaded caravan should not be more than 85% of the car's Kerb Weight. Following a few simple rules will help you to stay safe and on right side of the law while towing this summer.

In detail the rules about towing a caravan (or trailer) can get quite technical but the principles are very simple if you want to stay safe and on the right side of the law.

Towing weights

  • You mustn't overload the car or caravan
  • The weight of the loaded caravan/trailer must be within the car's towing ability
  • The combined weight of the loaded car and loaded caravan/trailer must be below the maximum 'train' weight for the car

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.

To find out how much the 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'

More detail about car and caravan weights »

Mass in running order

Mass in running order

Outfit matching

For safety reasons experts recommend that the weight of the loaded caravan should be no more than 85% of the car's kerb weight – a figure you'll find in the handbook.

Specialist clubs – Caravan Club, Camping & Caravanning Club – have large libraries of technical information and can help you 'outfit match' cars with caravans to make sure you end up with a safe combination.

It's important to check again if you change your caravan or car in the future.

Your driving licence

Your driving licence shows the categories of vehicle you may drive including the size of caravan/trailer that you're allowed to tow.

Older drivers are at an advantage here as the rules changed in 1997.

If you passed your driving test before 1 January 1997 then you will most likely be entitled to drive a vehicle and trailer up to a combined Maximum Authorised Mass (MAM) of 8.25 tonnes.

If you passed your driving test after 1 January 1997 then, unless you have taken an additional driving test – the 'B+E' car and trailer test – you may only drive a category B3 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 unladen weight of the car.

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 centres rather than a normal driving test centre.

You take the test in an unladen category B vehicle towing a suitably braked, unladen trailer of at least one tonne MAM.

The vehicle must be fitted with:

  • External mirrors on both sides for use by the examiner or any person supervising the test
  • A device (audible or visual) to show that trailer indicators are operating correctly

The trailer must have a closed box body at least as wide and as high as the towing vehicle so that the view to the rear must be by the use of external mirrors only.

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

Tow brackets

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

Cars registered since 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 detailing the type approval number and the vehicle for which it is an approved fitment.

Some vehicles are not rated for towing by the vehicle manufacturer – no gross train weight will be shown on the VIN plate – and are not able to have a towbar fitted. An example is the Ford KA which has no declared train weight, and no mounting points for a tow bar.

Check with the vehicle manufacturer if you intend to tow but are unsure if the vehicle is suitable.

For tow bracket fitting we recommend using a business approved under the National Trailer & Towing Association's (NTTA) Quality Assured scheme.

Unbraked trailers

The maximum you may tow – combined weight of trailer and load – using an unbraked trailer is 750 kg.

The towing vehicle must have a kerbside weight at least twice the loaded weight of the trailer.

Trailer width

Until recently UK regulations on trailer width were different to the rest of Europe – the maximum width allowed here was 2.3m compared to 2.55m across the channel.

UK rules changed from April 2010 and you are now permitted to tow a trailer or caravan up to 2.55m in width behind a car or goods vehicle weighing less than 3500kg.

Towing on an A-frame

An A-frame or recovery dolly can only be used 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 below 750kg don't have to be fitted with braking systems, but if a braking system is fitted to a trailer of any weight – as is clearly the case for a car – then the braking system must operate correctly. This is not 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 the fitting and use of a secondary coupling system to ensure that the trailer is stopped automatically if the main coupling separates while the trailer is in motion or, in the case of trailers, up to a maximum mass of 1,500kg that the drawbar is prevented from touching the ground and 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 make sure you don't exceed the towing car's Maximum Permissible Towing Mass and the Gross Train Weight (maximum permitted weight of car and trailer combined) specified by the car manufacturer.

Weights

Caravan

The actual laden weight of the Caravan must be less than its Maximum Technically Permitted Laden Mass (MTPLM)1, the new term for gross weight shown on the caravan 'weight plate'.

The caravan's Maximum Technically Permitted Laden Mass (MTPLM) must not be greater than the towing car's Maximum Permissible Towing Mass (MPTW) defined by the car manufacturer.

Mass in Running Order (MRO) is the unladen 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 caravan data carefully to make sure you know what's been included in the MRO figure quoted.

Tow car

You must not exceed the Maximum Authorised Mass2 (MAM) – the weight of the car fully laden including passengers, luggage tow bracket and the nose-weight of the caravan.

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 is defined by the vehicle manufacturer and 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.

(5 December 2011)


1 Also known as Maximum Authorised Mass (MAM)

2 Also known as Maximum Permissible Weight (MPW) or Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW)

3 (up to 3500kg Maximum Permissible Weight (MPW) with up to 8 passenger seats including the driver)