Towing insurance and rules explained

Find out about towing weights, licence requirements and how driving laws apply to towing a trailer or caravan.

Amy Smith

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What you can tow

Never just assume you have cover to tow a trailer or caravan on your car insurance. Double check your documents to see what's allowed.

Key points

  • Levels of cover vary between policies
  • Tow bars are regarded as 'modifications' by insurers and need to be declared
  • Check to see if you meet the towing requirements before setting off

If you passed your car driving test on or after 1 January 1997, you can:

  • Tow a trailer up to 750kg
  • Tow a trailer which weighs more than 750kg, so long as the combined weight of the trailer and towing vehicle isn’t more than 3,500kg.

For licences issued before 1 January 1997, you can drive a vehicle and trailer combination of up to 8,250kg.

Towing anything heavier means you’ll have to apply for a category C1+E licence and pass the theory and practical tests. This allows you to drive vehicles and trailers with a combined weight of up to 12,000kg.

Most cars have a maximum weight they can tow, which will be in the handbook or specification sheet.

Alternatively, your vehicles ‘gross train weight’ can be found on the vehicle identification number (VIN) which is found under the bonnet or inside the driver-side door.

The gross train weight is the maximum limit of the full car plus a full trailer, and it shouldn’t be exceeded.

If your car doesn’t have a train weight, you shouldn’t use it for towing.

Other towing rules

Trailers can be up to 2.55 metres wide and 7 metres long (not including the A-frame).

Your trailer must have the same number plate as your towing car. If you’ve got more than one trailer, put the number plate on the back trailer.

The tow bar must meet EU regulations, have a label with an approval number and details of the vehicles it’s approved to be used on.

Towing mirrors are a must if your trailer or caravan is wider than your car.

It must have a working brake system if your trailer is heavier than 750kg and a secondary coupling (breakaway cable) just in case the tow bar fails.

Towing and car insurance

Just because you have comprehensive car insurance it doesn’t mean you’ll be covered for towing - check your policy details to make sure.

Some policies offer third party protection for trailers or caravans but won’t cover damage to your trailer or its contents.

You can get standalone caravan insurance, but, unlike car insurance, it’s not compulsory.

If you don’t have caravan insurance, and the caravan was written off in an accident that wasn’t your fault, the other drivers’ car insurance may cover the costs.

If the accident was your fault, it’s likely you’d have to foot the repair and replace bill, without an insurance pay out.

Every insurer and policy is different, so read your car insurance documents very carefully.

The contents of your caravan might be covered by your home insurance policy while you’re away, so make sure you check to avoid doubling up on cover.

Speed limits are different when towing a vehicle:

  • Built-up areas - 30mph
  • Single carriageways - 50mph
  • Dual carriageways - 60mph
  • Motorways - 60mph
  • You also can’t drive in the right-hand lane of a motorway that has more than three lanes

Towing a caravan

There’s no such thing as a ‘caravan licence’, but the weight and length restrictions for towing a trailer also apply to caravans.

For safety reasons, the loaded weight of your caravan (or trailer) should only be a maximum of 85% of your kerb weight - the weight of your car without passengers or luggage. You’ll find it on your car’s VIN plate.

When loading up your caravan, pack items centrally, above the axle, and place the heaviest items in the car boot. Not packing correctly could invalidate your car insurance.

Towing with a motorbike

If you need to tow with a motorbike, check this is covered by your insurer first. Some providers offer specific cover, either as standard or as an add-on.

You might be able to insure the value of your trailer by declaring it as an accessory - just make sure your insurer knows it’s a trailer.

Towing abroad

The laws for towing are different in each country, so you’ll need to read up on this before you set off.

General driving rules abroad vary too, like speed limits and where you can park. You might need to carry extra equipment in your vehicle, like a reflective jacket or torch too.

Towing tips

It takes a lot of practice to tow with confidence, so here are a few tips to help you right from the start:

  • Check your vehicle handbook

    For the towing capacity of your car and safe weights

  • Get the right tow bar

    Every vehicle has different requirements

  • Load trailers and caravans correctly

    It’ll make towing easier and safer

  • Make sure all luggage is well secured

    To prevent damage and uneven loading

  • Don’t carry passengers in your caravan when towing it

    It’s illegal and dangerous

  • Drive steadily and don’t overload your trailer

    To prevent snaking and pitching

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