Caravans and trailers - towing in the UK and abroad

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When it comes to towing there are strict rules concerning the licence you hold and the weight of the unit you're towing

car-towing-a-caravan

As summer approaches, holidaymakers will be travelling across the UK and Europe - and many of them will have a caravan or trailer in tow. With more Brits buying a caravan than ever before, it’s important to be clued up on towing regulations before you set off on your journey.

Does my driving licence cover me for towing?

There are two rules when it comes to a towing licence:

Anyone who passed their driving test before 1st January 1997 can drive a car and caravan/trailer up to 8,250kg, a motorhome (or minibus) up to 7,500kg and a motorhome with trailer up to 8,250kg.

For those who passed after 1st January 1997, the permitted combined weight is much lower - you're restricted to a car and caravan/trailer up to 3,500kg, a motorhome up to 3,500kg and a motorhome and trailer up to 4,250kg (where the trailer weighs up to 750kg).

If you wish to tow something heavier, you will need to pass a Category B+E test

Check what your driving licence entitles you to drive.

Can I tow using my car? 

The vehicle you use to pull your trailer must be adequate for the job. Simply, you must make sure that your car is as heavy as possible. To work this out roughly, experts recommend that the weight of the loaded caravan should not be more than 85% of the car's Kerb Weight - otherwise you may find your caravan 'takes control' of your car. However, this is only a rough guide. 

If you’re short on time, there are online towing calculators available so you can work out the maximum weight your car can carry. 

You should also check your brakes are powerful enough to stop the vehicle and unit safely, and crucially you should make sure that the unit's gross weight does not exceed the towing capacity of the towing vehicle.

What tow bar should I use? 

European laws state that if your car was registered before 1st August 1998, you can use a tow bar tested to BS AU 114b. However, on younger cars the tow bar must meet the European Union 94/20 directive standard. This means that it needs to be ‘type approved’, displaying an approval number and details of the vehicles it’s approved for.

Do I need to fit new mirrors to my car when I’m towing? 

Yes, legally, you should be able to see clearly an area that is 4 metres wide from the side of and 20 metres behind. You can be fined up to £1,000 and get 3 penalty points for failing to use suitable towing mirrors.

What should your tyre pressure be when towing?

This depends on the car’s make and model. You will be able to find your vehicle’s recommended tyre pressure in your vehicle handbook.  However, according to Maxxis International, “the rear tyres should be set at the 'fully laden' pressure. Where full load pressure does not differ from that for normal driving, the rear tyre pressures should be increased by 4 to 7 psi (0.3 to 0.5 bar).”

What is the maximum speed you can drive while towing?

United Kingdom

When towing in the UK you are automatically restricted to a maximum speed of 50mph on single carriageways and 60mph on dual carriageways and motorways, except where a lower general speed limit applies.

However, when driving on motorways with three lanes or more, you are not permitted in the outside lane.

Europe

Towing speed limits in Europe vary, so it’s important to become familiar with the limits in the countries you'll be visiting.

It’s also important to make sure you’re carrying all of the correct documentation and kit for your chosen country. In most places, this will usually include a warning triangle, spare bulbs, first aid kit, spare glasses and your vehicle registration documents.

A number of European countries also require high-visibility waistcoats or jackets to be carried in the passenger area and used by every adult in case of breakdown.

For more information, read our Driving in Europe guide.

Make sure to stick to the speed limit wherever you are, and if make sure you have a valid breakdown cover, as the recovery of a trailer or caravan is usually time-consuming and expensive.

What essential checks should I do before towing?

Towing is a useful and fun way to travel, however, before you set off, you should ensure that you have made some essential checks:

  • Close gas taps and lift connectors off the gas bottle(s)
  • Switch off all interior lights and other electrical equipment
  • Disconnect the mains supply and carefully stow the cable
  • Empty the fresh and waste water tanks.
  • Stow all loose equipment and belongings with heavy items as low as possible
  • Make sure windows and roof lights, doors, hatches and aerials are secured
  • Lift all the prop-stands and make a final check of nose-weight
  • Check that all the caravan's road lighting functions are working

By law you should also have a visual or audible warning on your vehicle to show the caravan indicators are working. 

How can you determine a safe towing weight?

Experts recommend the weight of the loaded caravan should be no more than 85% of the car's Kerb Weight. If you don’t adhere to this, you may find your caravan 'takes control' of your car. You will be able to find your car’s kerb weight in your vehicle handbook. 

If in doubt, there are online resources which can help to easily calculate the towing limit of your car.

How can you find a safe outfit match for your caravan?

The experts at Caravan Club and the Camping & Caravanning Club have large libraries of technical information that can help you 'outfit match' cars with caravans to make sure you end up with a safe combination. They also offer courses on towing training.

To find out how much the loaded caravan weighs you can take the caravan to a local weighbridge, you can weigh everything separately and add it to what's known as the caravan's 'Mass in Running Order'.

Do I need an extra registration plate when towing?

Yes, you should display your number plate on the back of your trailer or caravan. This should show your car's registration number, conform to the relevant British Standard and be illuminated at night.

Should you fit extended mirrors when you’re towing?

Having a good view of the rear of your unit is always advisable. This usually means seeing an area 4 metres wide from the side of and 20 metres behind. You can be fined up to £1,000 and get 3 penalty points for failing to use suitable towing mirrors. These can be found online and are readily available.

However, don't forget to remove the mirrors when you're not towing - it's illegal to have them fitted if you don't need them.

What tow brackets should you use when towing?

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

How often should you check your trailer or caravan tyres?

We’re all accustomed to checking our car tyres, but how often do you check your caravan tyre pressure? Perhaps because it's on the road less frequently, caravan or trailer tyres can be taken for granted. However, it is important that you pay attention to them, especially before a long journey. In order to prevent a blowout on the road, make sure the wheel nuts are tightened before setting off, check tyre pressures regularly and make sure you change them if they're more than five years old.

Storing caravan or trailer tyres is also important. Take the wheels off if you won't be using the caravan or trailer for a while, and store them out of direct sunlight to avoid deterioration.

How should you drive safely when towing?

Depending on your driving licence, you may be covered to tow a trailer or caravan without taking any further tests. However, always check this before you get behind the wheel. 

When towing, it is important to drive at a slower pace and remember to take corners wider, allowing for the extra width and length. Account for the size of your load by leaving a bigger gap when pulling out, and leave a larger distance between you and the vehicle in front. 

Remember it takes longer to get going and longer to stop, so slow down earlier for junctions and roundabouts.

Is towing in bad weather conditions dangerous?

You should have increased vigilance when towing in wet, icy or windy weather conditions as you are at increased risk. Avoid towing in these circumstances if you can, but if you have no choice then be careful when driving downhill or round a tight bend. When you’re turning, engage a lower gear to give you more engine braking.

How can I make sure I’m properly insured while towing?

It is essential that you take out the correct cover for you when you’re towing a caravan or trailer in the UK or abroad. With Admiral Car Insurance, your trailer or caravan will be protected under Third Party Only cover when attached to the car. For more information, check out our guide to insuring your caravan or trailer.  

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