Confusion On Towing Weights Remains In Place

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In a recent article, in September 2014, we outlined the changes to UK driving licences, since January 1997, and their impact on our ability to tow larger units.

Although this legislation is now clear, there remains a huge amount of confusion as to what the legal physical capacity of a towing vehicle currently is.

In an attempt to clarify this, we have spoken to both the DVLA, and VOSA, neither of whom were able to help, which is quite incredible when you bear in mind the importance of this matter, and the financial and other implications of getting it wrong.

DVLA were able to offer us an email address to write to, in an attempt to clarify this matter, and, hopefully, we will be reporting on this soon, with, fingers crossed, some sort of definitive official response.

The email we wrote to the Department For Transport is reproduced below. We hope it will illicit a response soon.

Dear Sirs,

I’m hoping you can help with a matter that is proving to be hugely problematic at the moment, for both myself, and many people towing on UK roads today.

Our aim is to try and help as many people as possible understand their legal rights and responsibilities when towing. There was a huge amount of confusion surrounding the changes in licensing laws in 1997, and, again, in 2013, however, that information is, largely, available online, if you know where to look. Unfortunately, the answer to my next question isn’t!

The question arises from an uncertainty as to the maximum towing weight of any given vehicle.

Much of the semi official information available (from organisations such as the Caravan Club etc) states that no towing vehicle may tow a trailer, caravan etc that exceeds its own kerb weight. Indeed, whilst not a legal requirement, these organisations, also, all recommend that the trailer should not exceed 85% of the kerb weight of the towing vehicle, in order to be safe.

Myself, and the vast majority of those I speak to, believed that 100% of kerb weight is a legally enforceable limit, however, there is much evidence around to show that this may not be the case. For example, we regularly hear of individuals towing heavy agricultural or industrial equipment, on a trailer, that significantly exceeds the kerb weight of the towing vehicle. The often quoted other example is that of a Land Rover towing an identical Land Rover, on a heavy duty trailer. By definition, the load must exceed the weight of the towing vehicle.

All official sources say (taking the Gov.UK web site as an example) is that; “Most cars have a maximum weight they can tow. It’s usually listed in the handbook or specification sheet”.

That’s fine, in isolation, but, what no one has been able to tell us yet (and I have spoken, on more than one occasion, to both DVLA and VOSA) is what happens when the car’s maximum weight exceeds its own kerb weight. (We all know, for example, that a top end BMW or Mercedes may well have a ‘safe’ top speed of 150mph, according to the manufacturers, and that is fine if you’re on the Autobahn in Germany, but, in the UK, you are bound by the 70mph motorway limit, which over rides the car’s actual ‘safe’ capacity). What we need to know is; does the 100% of kerb weight limit over ride the manufacturer’s maximum tow weight figure, or do we use the latter?

For example;

I am currently looking at one of the available towing web sites, uktow.com, and I’m looking at their page on the Land Rover Defender 110, 2007 model. This page shows three weights, in kilos. They are;

Kerb Weight:                                     2,053kg

85%                                                        1,745kg

Towing Capacity                               3,500kg

This is where the confusion arises. The vast  majority of people I am speaking to believe that the maximum legal  weight this Land Rover can tow is 2,053kg (100% of kerb weight). They also believe that the 85% is shown on this web site is there because that is the recommended safe weight to tow at (as confirmed by the likes of uktow.com, Parkers, The Caravan Club etc).

Others, however, believe that the maximum legal weight you can tow is the 3,500kg specified as ‘towing capacity’. If this is true, then how can it be so far away from the recommended towing limit. (In this case, towing capacity is almost exactly double the recommended limit).

Could you please clarify what, in this example, would the Land Rover be legally able to tow on UK roads, and why?

I find it quite incredible that no one I have spoken to, at DVLA or VOSA, has been able to answer such a fundamental question. Neither does it appear to be available anywhere online, and yet this is an issue that affects, potentially, thousands of drivers in the UK, some of whom may be driving illegally, without realising it.

As mentioned; we are fully aware of the licensing restrictions placed on drivers in 1997 and 2013, but this appears to be a matter totally outside of that, unless, of course, the kerb weight restriction is something else that was only introduced for post 1997 license holders. Pre 1997 licence holders are able to tow; ‘a vehicle with a trailer, with a combined weight of 8.25 tonnes’ but there is no mention in there of the required car to trailer weight ratio, or, even, if one is applicable. If not, then we may have found our answer, but, as yet, no one has been able to confirm anything for us.

Whatever the reason, your clarification of this would be greatly appreciated, so that we can get the message out to those who need to know, as, at present, no one seems able to do that.

Thankyou, in anticipation of your assistance in this matter.

Kind regards,

Alan Young

(We’ll keep you informed as to how it goes).

UPDATE

On 2 March, almost a month after the original email, we have received a response, clarifying the current legislation. We will be reporting this in a post, shortly, once we have completed our revised towing guide.

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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
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