Want to hitch up a caravan, trailer or even a horse box to your vehicle? Then you’ll need to know the rules for towing and if your motor insurance covers you.
You can tow trailers up to a certain weight with an ordinary car driving licence.
The weight you’re allowed to tow depends on when you passed your test, as well as what car you drive. Not all cars are capable of towing a caravan.
If you got your licence before 1 January 1997, you can usually drive a vehicle and trailer with a combined weight of 8,250kg maximum authorised mass (MAM).
If you got your licence from 1 January 1997, you can tow a trailer up to 3,500kg MAM.
You’ll also need to know the towing capacity of your car - the maximum weight your car is allowed to pull safely and legally. You can find this information in your driver’s manual.
Alternatively, look for your vehicle identification number (VIN) plate, situated under the bonnet, at the bottom of the windscreen or around the passenger door frame.
This may show the gross train weight, which is the maximum weight a fully-loaded vehicle with a fully-loaded trailer can be.
To find out the weight of your caravan, check the handbook or ask the manufacturer. You can also buy a portable caravan weighing scale and weigh your caravan at home or go to a public weighbridge to ensure your caravan isn’t overloaded for a trip away.
The maximum width of a trailer for all towing vehicles is 2.55 metres.
And the maximum towing length of the car and caravan or trailer together is seven metres.
Speed limits are also different when towing a vehicle:
Of course, this is only if there are no signs showing lower temporary speed limits in these areas.
You also can’t drive in the right-hand lane of a motorway with three or more lanes.
You need a full driving licence to tow any trailer, caravan or horse box.
But as of December 2021, you don’t need to pass an additional car and trailer driving test to get a towing licence to tow a trailer up to 3,500kg MAM, if you passed your driving test from 1 January 1997.
It’s still a good idea to train with a driving instructor if you’re new to towing. Look for providers of towing familiarisation courses and B + E accreditation schemes at the National Register of LGV Instructors, the Safe Towing Scheme and Skills for Logistics. You won’t need to take a test, but these courses can provide invaluable experience and improve your safety on the roads while towing.
The government announced new towing rules in December 2021 for people in England, Scotland and Wales.
This means that if you passed your driving test from 1 January 1997, you can now tow trailers up to 3,500kg MAM (raised from 750kg MAM) without having to take an additional car and trailer test.
The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) will automatically update your driving licence record to show that you’re allowed to tow trailers, with the new BE category.
People who passed their driving test before 1 January 1997 have always been allowed to drive a vehicle and trailer up to 8,250kg combined without an additional test.
The car and trailer test has been scrapped in order to free up HGV test slots, to tackle the HGV driver shortage in the UK.
Check your car insurance policy before you tow as not all policies will cover it.
If your policy does allow it, then there may be restrictions on the size and weight of what you can tow.
Towing a caravan that’s bigger or heavier than permitted in your policy will invalidate your insurance.
It’s important to be aware that your trailer or caravan will usually only be covered on a third party basis - even if you have a fully comprehensive policy.
This means that if you caused a traffic accident, you’d be covered for injury to another person or their property. But the policy wouldn’t pay out for damage to your caravan or trailer, or its contents.
If the accident wasn’t your fault, the other driver’s insurance might pay for the damage, provided they’re adequately insured.
To make sure you’re covered for all eventualities, you might want to consider specialist caravan insurance. It could pay out if your caravan is stolen or damaged while being towed, or when it’s parked.
Also, remember that tow bars are regarded as modifications by insurers and need to be declared. If you don’t, your insurance could be invalidated.
Check carefully the weight and length restrictions for your car and caravan.
If you’re not used to towing, experts recommend that the fully laden weight of your caravan should be no heavier than 85% of the kerb weight of your car - this is known as the 85% towing rule.
If your towing car is heavier than the load it’s pulling, then you’ll be able to control it more easily while driving.
Make sure tyres are correctly inflated and that the car and caravan are safely loaded with items secured safely. Keep heavier items in the car boot and low down, close to the caravan’s axle.
You can use a motorbike of 125cc or above to tow small trailers. But check that your insurer allows towing before you set off.
The trailer must be no more than one metre wide and the loaded trailer must weigh no more than 150kg, or two thirds of the bike’s kerbside weight (the weight of the motorbike including a full tank of fuel), whichever is lighter.
As is the case when towing a caravan, you need to be sure your vehicle has the towing capacity to safely pull your horse box and its precious cargo.
Horse box insurance can cover theft or damage of the horse box. Additional cover can protect its contents too, like riding tack and saddles.
The laws for towing are different in each country, so you’ll need to check for up-to-date information before you set off.
It may also be a requirement that you carry extra equipment in your vehicle, like a first aid kit, high visibility jacket and warning triangle depending on where you’re visiting.
Always perform basic safety checks before towing, like ensuring the trailer is correctly coupled to the tow bar or pin, the brake lights and indicators are working correctly and all tyres are correctly inflated. This video from the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency is helpful. You can also get a free safety check on your trailer from the National Trailer and Towing Association.
It’ll make your caravan more stable and towing safer. Heavier items should go low down and over the axle. You can use cargo bars and nets to keep items secure.
When you’re towing a caravan or trailer, give yourself extra time to complete your journey. Speed limits are lower and manoeuvres take longer to perform.
Going too fast or overloading your caravan (or not loading it correctly) can cause snaking. Slow down in plenty of time before junctions or when approaching bends or hazards. Don’t brake harshly on bends as it can make your caravan unstable and cause jack-knifing. If your trailer does start to snake, reduce speed gently by easing off the accelerator and gearing down.
You should be able to see a position that’s 20 metres to the back of your caravan and four metres outside of it. Towing mirrors allow you to see this position behind the caravan and beyond the blind spot that your ordinary mirrors can’t reach.
It’s illegal and extremely dangerous.