Towing With A Car In The UK. Just What Are The Current Laws?

driver-stopped-no-caravan-towing-mirrors

This is a topic that is cropping up with increasing frequency, especially since the legislation was further changed with effect from those driving tests passed on or after 19 January 2013. In fact, this article has now been viewed well over 100,00 times, so we thought it best to expand it and convert it to a downloadable format, which is why we have, since, created the Definitive Guide To Towing In The UK, which takes the contents of this article, and expands on them, to cover as many aspect of towing as possible.

The weight and nature of trailer you can tow, will, ultimately, depend on the date on which you first passed your driving test, as follows:

Licences Held Before 1 January 1997

If you passed your car test before 1 January 1997 you are generally entitled to drive a vehicle and trailer combination up to 8.25 tonnes MAM. (Maximum Authorised Mass).

This is the weight of a vehicle or trailer including the maximum load that can be carried safely when it’s being used on the road.

You also have entitlement to drive a minibus with a trailer over 750 kg

 Licences held from 1 January 1997

If you passed your driving test after 1 January 1997 and have an ordinary category B (car) licence, you can:

  • drive a vehicle up to 3.5 tonnes (or 3,500 kg) MAM towing a trailer of up to 750 kg MAM
  • tow a trailer over 750 kg MAM as long as the combined weight of the trailer and towing vehicle is no more than 3,500 kg

For anything heavier you need to take a category B+E driving test.

OK, very confusing, so what does that actually mean? The key thing here is the weight of the trailer. If the MAM of the trailer is less than 750 kg, then a combined MAM of 4,250 kg is permitted (3,500 kg vehicle, and 750 kg trailer). If the trailer exceeds 750 kg, then the combined MAM is reduced to 3,500 kg (in line with the maximum ‘actual’ weight allowed).

For example;  if your vehicle has an MAM of 3,200 kg, and you trailer has an MAM of 600kg (total: 3,800 kg MAM) that IS legal, as the trailer is less than 750kg.

On the other hand, if your vehicle has an MAM of 3,000 kg, and your trailer has one of 800 kg, that is NOT legal, even though they have the same combined MAM. The distinction is that the MAM of the second trailer is over 750 kg.

Licences issued from 19 January 2013

From 19 January 2013, drivers passing a category B (car and small vehicle) test can tow:

  • small trailers weighing no more than 750 kg
  • tow a trailer over 750 kg as long as the combined weight of the trailer and towing vehicle is no more than 3,500 kg Maximum Authorised Mass (MAM)

If you want to tow a trailer weighing more than 750 kg, when the combined weight of the towing vehicle and trailer is more than 3,500 kg, you’ll have to pass a further test and get B+E entitlement on your licence.

You’ll then be able to tow trailers up to 3,500 kg.

Still confused? Take a look at the Highways Agency ‘Fit To Tow‘ video. It might make things a little clearer.

Larger trailer? Might be worth checking out the Fit To Tow – Larger Trailer video.

Finally, do you have a caravan, and need to know the specifics? Yet another Highways Agency video might help; Fit To Tow – Caravans

Car Towing Weight And Width Limits

Most cars have a maximum weight of what they can tow. It’s usually listed in the handbook or specification sheet.

Alternatively the vehicle’s ‘gross train weight’ may be listed on the vehicle identification number (VIN) plate on the car. This is normally under the bonnet or inside the driver’s door.

The gross train weight is the weight of the fully-loaded car plus fully-loaded trailer and must not be exceeded.

If your VIN plate doesn’t list a train weight, according to Gov.UK, you shouldn’t use your vehicle for towing.

Width And Length

Most of us are aware of maximum weight limits, even if we’re not 100% sure what they are. Many, however, are not aware of any legal limits on the external dimensions of the trailers and caravans they are towing. The maximum trailer width for any towing vehicle is 2.55 metres. The maximum length is 7 metres (excluding draw bar / A frame) for a trailer towed by a vehicle weighing up to 3.5 tonnes (3,500 kg).

In addition to all the weights and measures, we need to make sure that our towing equipment, also, is compliant with the latest legislation as well.

Some of the key items are;

Tow Bars

ECplate

If you get a tow bar for your car, it needs to be ‘type approved’. This means it meets EU regulations and is designed for your car.

A type-approved tow bar will have a label with an approval number and details of the vehicles it’s approved for.

If your car was first used before 1 August 1998, your tow bar doesn’t need to be type-approved.

Towing Mirrors

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You must have an adequate view of the road behind you. If your caravan or trailer is wider than the rear of the towing vehicle, you may need to fit suitable towing mirrors.

 

If you tow without proper towing mirrors you can be:

  • prosecuted by the police
  • given 3 points on your licence
  • fined up to £1,000

Trailer Brakes

Any trailer weighing over 750 kilograms, including its load, must have a working brake system.

Some smaller trailers also have brakes, although these are optional.

Any brakes on a trailer or caravan must be in good working order.

Number Plates

You must display the same number plate as your towing car on the trailer. If you tow more than one trailer, fix the number plate to the trailer at the back.

A-Frames And Dollies

If you attach an A-frame to a car in order to tow it with a larger vehicle, the car plus A-frame counts as a trailer.

If you use a dolly to tow a broken-down vehicle, the dolly counts as a trailer.

In both cases the usual safety regulations for trailers apply.

You can find out more in the ‘A’ frames and dollies’ fact sheet on the Gov.UK Website

Those are the key laws appertaining to the towing of trailers etc with a car. They will apply to most types of vehicle and trailer combinations, with one notable exception;

American trailers and caravans don’t always meet European safety regulations.

If you want to use an American caravan or trailer in the UK or the EU, you must first check that it’s legal.

Read more in the ‘American caravan/trailer brakes and coupling up to 3500kg maximum laden weight’ fact sheet.

You may also find the following DVLA guides useful:

INF30 – Requirements For Towing Trailers In Great Britain

INS57P – Information On Driving Licences

Source; Gov.UK Towing With A Car

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About Alan Young

MD and owner of the Woodhurst Group, including Praxis Accountancy Limited and Blue Sky Recreation Limited. Also Commercial Director of The Sky visor Group
This entry was posted in News And Information and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

42 Responses to Towing With A Car In The UK. Just What Are The Current Laws?

  1. Pingback: Automotive Aftermarket Sky News Uk | autoksk

  2. This is not correct: For example; if your vehicle has an MAM of 3,200 kg, and you trailer has an MAM of 600kg (total: 3,800 kg MAM) that IS legal, provided, of course, the actual, physical weight of the combination does not exceed 3,500 kg.

    The combination has a MAM of 3800KG so cannot be driven on a category B licence. The combined MAM is taken into consideration when deciding which driving licence is required.

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    • Alan Young says:

      You’re incorrect, there, I’m afraid Jonathan. If the trailer weighs less than 750kg, then a B licence allows you to; “drive a vehicle up to 3.5 tonnes (or 3,500 kg) MAM towing a trailer of up to 750 kg MAM”.

      In other words, with a trailer of less than 750kg, the combined permitted MAM is 4,250kg, NOT 3,500kg (although the ACTUAL combined weight must still be below 3,500kg).

      This is why that combination is legal, where the other one isn’t.

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      • Jonathan says:

        Sorry the point I was trying to make is MAM of the combination is taken into consideration not the physical weight.

        The example you gave does not need to be under 3500kg because the trailer is less than 750kg.

        Partially loading a trailer does not change the licence entitlement required.

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      • Alan Young says:

        Indeed, which is why the MAM is quoted in all of those examples. It is, however, a common misconception that physical weight is the main factor, when it is, actually, the MAM when it comes to licences.

        Weight is, perhaps, a more common sense quantity to use, but that would lead to the impracticalities of weighing every car that was under review, which is not, logistically, possible when a roadside check is being under taken, so it is far easier for police officers, VOSA etc to check the vehicle’s plated MAM, rather than arguing over actual weight.

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  3. By inserting the words “physical weight” into the section relating to category B licence holders you have simply introduced even more confusion.

    Category B licence holders deal with MAM only.

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    • Alan Young says:

      Going to have to disagree with you again there Jonathan. In this context, both are relevant, and, therefore, MUST both be mentioned, in order to give a complete and accurate assessment.

      In the situation described, the maximum MAM allowed is 4,250kg. HOWEVER, you cannot exceed an ACTUAL physical weight of 3,500kg, therefore, both figures are relevant.

      Both are mentioned in the legislation, and, therefore, both are mentioned in this article. Not confusing, simply comprehensive.

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  4. Can you there for quote the legislation for category B licence holders towing a trailer.

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  5. Colin Stubbs says:

    Proved if you get pulled by vosa or police nobody is going to know!!

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    • Alan Young says:

      VOSA / police will always work off MAM / plated weights.

      It isn’t logistically possible to haul every driver down to a weigh bridge, so the reality is, all authorities will work on that basis, as it’s the only practical option.

      Like

  6. Andrea says:

    Can anyone clarify the length of trailer/caravan?
    It say 7 metres hut lots of large vans are longer, so does this mean u need extra entitlements?
    Or is this the length excluding drawbar?

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  7. Nick Moore says:

    The maximum length for a trailer towed by a vehicle weighing up to 3,500kg is 7 metres. This length does not include the A-frame.
    https://www.gov.uk/towing-with-car/car-towing-weight-and-width-limits

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  8. Steve says:

    Like to know how many twin axel caravans exceed the 7 meter rule, perhaps all models that do should be in a list for the unwary !!

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    • Alan Young says:

      The 7 Metres excludes A frame, of course, so the numbers exceeding that are considerably reduced, but I’ve no doubt there are plenty out there, touring around, oblivious to the illegality of their setups.

      Like

  9. Dazlin dal says:

    I think it as a load of crap, why should people have more rites than others regardless of when they pass their test. I think this is called ageism and should not be allowed with all people who have passed there test having the same driving rites.

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    • Alan Young says:

      Don’t shoot the messenger. lol. There is a distinct lack of common sense in certain aspects of the legislation. For example, for post 1997 passers, the heavier the car they drive (and, hence, as a rule, the more capable it is of towing) and the less they are actually able to tow before hitting the 3,500kg limit.

      Like

  10. If you have pass your test in 2015 you can’t pull a trailer as you need to take a trailer test

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    • Alan Young says:

      Not true Phil. If you read the article, you will see you only need to take a test if the trailer / vehicle combined weight is in excess of the specified limits.

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      • Phil Holliday says:

        So how come on my licence I only have a car I took my test in my ford p100

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      • Alan Young says:

        The car is your standard B classification, amd that INCLUDES trailers up to the specified limit. You only have the trailer on your licence if you have the additional E classification, as well (known as a B + E licence). If you have this, it means you can tow heavier trailers. You don’t need it to tow lighter ones. That is a very common misconception.

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      • Phil Holliday says:

        I all ways had my dad driver the trailer as we have a 8ft trailer does that mean i will have to take a test to pull the trailer my self

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      • Alan Young says:

        Probably not, but it will depend on the car and the trailer. If the trailer weighs less than 750kg (fully loaded to it’s max legal capacity) then you can tow it with a car with a gross laden weight of up to 3,500kg (so a total, car plus trailer, of 4,250kg). If the trailer weighs more than 750kg, fully loaded, then you can still tow it, but the combined gross weight of car plus trailer can’t exceed 3,500kg. Worth noting, in all cases, when talking about licences, the ‘weights’ we are referring to are those on the vehicle / trailer VIN plates, not the actual, physical weights.

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  11. Kev says:

    Wow after that start with Allan and Jonathan I think when I get a caravan I’ll just pop into my local cop shop with details of my car and caravan and get written confirmation that they are a match 🙂

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  12. Simon says:

    Is there a definition of what “an adequate view of the road behind you” actually means? I tow a large caravan with a large 4×4 and find no problems at all not using towing mirrors. Equally, when I have used towing mirrors (even the best ones I can find) they vibrate a lot and I end up using the car’s mirrors instead. If however, it is a subjective test at the mercy of a police officer’s interpretation then it’s pretty much impossible to prove that I’ve never cut anyone up or had an issue therefore must have an adequate view. Is there any clarification available?

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    • Alan Young says:

      There is, in fact, a simple road side test we can apply, in order to determine ‘adequate view’. The simple test is; “Is the towing vehicle wider than the caravan”? If it is, then we are, automatically, deemed to have the required rear vision. If not, then we don’t. Of course, this only applies to higher trailers and caravans. My own folding camper is, actually, wider than my car, but I, also, have a large 4 x 4, so I can clearly see over the top of the camper, giving me the required rear view, in spite of the width issue.

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    • I would disagree with the above advice. There is a specification that mirrors have to meet.

      When parked in a straight line the view must cover the full side of the trailer & a distance of 4 meters to each side at a distance of 20 meters back from the vehicles mirror.

      This shows what I mean.

      It is also worth knowing that since January 2010 the law on towing mirrors has also changed, and now states that all new cars and motorhomes registered since this date must carry the ‘e-mark’ indicating that they comply with EEC regulation 2003/97 (in the EU) or UNECE Regulation 46.01 or 46.02 (in the United Nations).

      Like

      • Alan Young says:

        No one was saying there aren’t specific guidelines that have to be met, but the width test is one that is easy to apply and, in actual fact, equates to the same thing. If the car is wider, then it will give you the 4 metre / 20 metre view. If it isn’t it won’t.

        This is, in fact, a very old article, which appears to have found renewed popularity, recently, following a large batch of shares on social media. Our later article; “The Definitive Guide To Towing In the UK”; https://blueskyrecreation.wordpress.com/2015/03/31/the-definitive-guide-to-towing-in-the-uk/ actually leads with a picture showing the standard diagram, clearly indicating the 4M / 20M fields of vision, however, for the purposes of replying to this question, the easiest test, and the one that would be applied, should the poster be stopped by the police etc is the relative width test. Neither response is incorrect. One is simply a more straightforward way of defining the same overall requirement.

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      • Thats ok till the tow vehicle is drastically wider than the trailer.

        Like a van with a 4 foot wide trailer.

        You would have to have the mirrors pointed in so far to see the rear corner of the trailer (if its even possible) that you wont get the 4m wide view.

        This even happens with a standard car & the Halford type trailers.

        Like

      • Alan Young says:

        What???? If the tow vehicle is ‘drastically wider than the trailer’ then there is no problem, end of. You don’t have to be able to physically see the corners of the trailer, provided you have the correct vision behind it. If the trailer is significantly narrower, or lower, then you will, automatically, get the required 4 metre wide view at 20 metres, which is all that is required to ensure safe maneuvering etc whilst driving.

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      • The zone runs down the side of the trailer. You cant have the 4m wide zone not connected to the trailer. That would leave a gap that you cant see what is there.

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      • Alan Young says:

        Indeed, although, arguably, that is no different from the rear view from your car if the trailer were not there. The law requires us to be able to see that 4 metre wide strip down the side of the car, not the side of the trailer, so, whilst I can see what you’re saying, again, that is no different from the view you get every day, when not towing. We need to be able to see, for example, any cars over taking us. That is not possible, if the trailer unit is too wide, as we have a blind spot to the side of the trailer. When the trailer is narrower than the car, we have all of the required rear vision, to see an over taking vehicle, unless, of course, you are suggesting we are likely to be overtaken by a vehicle so narrow that it fits in the blind spot, adjacent to the trailer, and directly behind our car.

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      • You are obviously not thinking about pedestrians or cyclists or reversing.

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      • Alan Young says:

        That’s correct, because I am looking at the legal requirements, when out on the road. What we are required to do, by law, and what is good common sense, unfortunately, are not always the same thing. Absolutely, it makes sense to be able to see what is behind you, when reversing, but that does not come under the remit of the question that was asked here. Also, of course, the original question asked, and replied to, was relating to caravans, so the speculation is, largely, academic, but we need to differentiate between the law and common sense (on which, I think it’s safe to say; we are totally agreed).

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  13. Robert Williams says:

    The definition of maximum trailer length above is not complete. There is an exception for ‘indivisible loads’. An often-seen example of this is a glider in a trailer some of which exceed 9m overall. (Though it’s a bit unclear what the situation is when the trailer is empty!) this can be a stumbling block with car insurances which commonly quote the 7m limit without taking into account the exception.

    Like

  14. Steve Smith says:

    You missed something important for the 97-03 B only licences. The MAM of the trailer must not exceed the MAM of the towing vehicle.

    In practice, just about every large 4×4 + braked trailer combination is illegal without a +E entitlement 2500kg or more is not uncommon as a vehicle MAM in this category. Even some large estate/people carriers could be a problem with a large twin axle trailer.

    Like

    • Alan Young says:

      Not true Steve. That used to be the case, you are right, but not any more. Post 97 licence holders are no longer restricted to a trailer MAM of less than or equal to that of the car. If you check the Government web site, you will see that all reference to this has now been removed (although they weren’t, exactly, very forthcoming in advising us when this happened).

      Like

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