Extendable trailers guide

UK trailer and caravan towing laws: what you need to know

If you are planning to hitch a trailer or caravan to your car, it is essential to know the legal requirements before setting out.

On 16th December 2021 UK towing rules changed so even if you are a seasoned caravanner it is important to be aware of how these changes may affect you.

This guide covers everything you need to know, from driver’s license requirements to maximum permitted towing weights and sizes, plus some helpful tips to keep you and other road users safe on the roads.

Do I need a tow permit?

Whether you intend to tow a van, caravan, trailer or boat behind your car you will need a full driving license to do so, from 16th December 2021 you do not need an additional towing permit as long as the maximum authorized mass of the trailer (MAM) does not exceed 3,500 kg.

If you passed your driving test before January 1, 1997, you were still allowed to drive a vehicle and trailer with a maximum combined weight of 8,250 kg.

However, if you completed your driving test on or after January 1, 1997, you will need to pass an additional car and trailer driving test to tow heavier caravans or trailers. Changes to towing laws on December 16, 2021 mean you are now allowed to tow trailers up to a MAM of 3,500kg (up from 750kg MAM) and mandatory driving tests for cars and trucks. trailers have now been discontinued.

Previously, driver’s licenses issued between January 1, 1997 and January 18, 2013 allowed a maximum of 4,250 kg for the vehicle and trailer, where the trailer weighed no more than 750 kg. If the trailer weighed more than 750 kg (but not more than the empty weight of the towing vehicle), an MAM of 3,500 kg for the trailer and the towing vehicle was imposed.

Permits issued from January 19, 2013 to December 15, 2021 were subject to the same restrictions, however, where the trailer weighed more than 750 kg, it was no longer stipulated that it could not weigh more than the towing vehicle. The probability of this is extremely unlikely in any case, and the maximum MMA for the towing vehicle and trailer remained at 3,500 kg in this case.

What weight trailer or caravan can I tow?

Knowing the maximum towing weight allowed by law is important, but hooking a six-berth camper to your small sedan isn’t going to end well. To find out the maximum allowable towing weight of your particular car, you will need to consult its manual or the manufacturer’s website.

It should have a number indicating the maximum permitted weight of the trailer. Otherwise, you can calculate it by deducting the maximum authorized mass (MAM) from the curb weight of the vehicle. Some manufacturers list this maximum allowable weight as GVW or “Gross Vehicle Weight”.

Another commonly used acronym is GTW or “Gross Train Weight”. Remember that these maximum permissible masses apply not only to the car and trailer, but also to passengers and luggage.

While your standard driving license now allows you to tow a trailer up to 3,500 kg (MAM), any trailer over 750 kg must always be braked regardless of the vehicle towing it. Caravans start at around 1000kg and top out at over 2500kg, so all are braked.

For example, the popular Vauxhall Corsa can tow up to 1,200kg, apart from the base 75hp 1.2-litre model which is limited to 500kg. The larger figure will accommodate some of the smaller two berth caravans, although once you factor in luggage and passengers it may exceed the maximum figure allowed. This is why most small hatchbacks and city cars are better suited for towing small trailers.

The Nissan Qashqai SUV offers between 1040kg and 1800kg of towing capacity depending on engine/transmission configuration, making it more suitable for heavier loads as well as large caravans.

A mid-size luxury SUV like the BMW X3 can tow up to 2,000kg, with the 510hp X3M Competition model capable of a slightly heavier maximum of 2,400kg. This is sufficient for a large horse box or a large caravan.

The Land Rover Discovery SUV is one of the most capable tow cars you can buy, it can tow up to 3500kg which covers just about anything from a horse box to a boat, a car or the largest medium sized caravans.

What size trailer or caravan can I tow?

A trailer can be a maximum of 7 meters long and 2.55 meters wide. If the trailer is wider than your car, then it will need to be fitted with mirror extensions. The maximum height is not as clear, most sources recommend not to exceed 1.7 times the track of the trailer. This is the distance between the middle of the wheel treads and usually does not exceed about 3 meters.

If you need to carry something abnormally tall a short distance, remember that the minimum clearance under most UK bridges is 5 metres.

Tips for towing safely

For a safe towing experience, there are a number of checks you should complete before embarking on your journey.

  • First, you need to check what the maximum towing weight of your particular vehicle is. This can be done by consulting the owner’s manual, manual, or on the manufacturer’s website.
  • A maximum speed of 60 mph is permitted on two-lane roads and motorways, and 50 mph on other types of roads, unless otherwise specified.
  • If the towed item is wider than the vehicle towing it, you will need to install mirror extenders.
  • Most towing experts recommend that the mass of the trailer not exceed 85% of the curb weight of the vehicle. Any more than that and the ability to accelerate, brake and turn can be compromised.
  • Backing up with a trailer or caravan takes some skill, so it’s worth practicing this maneuver before setting off.
  • Any trailer weighing more than 750 kg must have its own braking system and all trailers must display the same rear registration plate as the car towing it.
  • Any towbar fitted to the car must comply with EU regulations and be intended for use with the tow vehicle.

Towing Rules FAQ

Can electric cars tow a caravan or trailer?

Yes. There are a number of electric vehicles suitable for towing, their instant torque helps reduce heavy loads, but electric range can suffer, so make sure you have access to charging points along your route.

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 can tow up to 1,600kg.

Can I tow a caravan or trailer with my licence?

Yes. Recent rule changes mean anyone with a full driving license is now allowed to tow a trailer or caravan up to a maximum permissible mass (MAM) of 3,500kg. The previous towing limit for those who obtained their driver’s license after January 1, 1997 was 750 kg.

Is there an age limit for towing a caravan or trailer?

You must be 18 or older to tow a caravan or trailer. Although the law requires it longer, it is strongly recommended that you take a towing course to familiarize yourself with how the vehicle and trailer react on the road.

What is the speed limit for towing a caravan or trailer?

You are allowed to travel at a maximum speed of 60 mph on dual carriageways and highways. A maximum speed of 50 mph is permitted on other roads, unless a lower speed limit is in place.

Does car insurance cover towing a caravan or trailer?

If you have an all-risk insurance policy, it usually covers you for towing, but some insurers only cover liability. This means that while you would be covered for injury to persons or property, the trailer or caravan itself would not be covered.

The law does not require you to have insurance for your caravan, but it is always a good idea to contact your insurer for a quote to cover it for any potential damage or loss.

What is the best car for towing a caravan or a trailer?

Depending on your needs, there are a number of capable towing vehicles to choose from. As a general rule, heavier and larger vehicles with torquey engines are better suited for towing than light city cars with low horsepower engines.

Opting for four-wheel drive can also add extra traction in slippery conditions. the Land Rover Discovery and the all-electric BMW iX are two excellent towing vehicles that can tow a wide variety of trailers and caravans.

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