Towing, limits and insurance

If you’re planning on hitching a caravan, horse box or even a small box trailer to your car, there are some things you need to know first. Not least, there are specific rules relating to what weight you’re legally allowed to tow. Then there’s the question of whether you’re insured or not.

If you’re planning on hitching a caravan, horse box or even a small box trailer to your car, there are some things you need to know first. Not least, there are specific rules relating to what weight you’re legally allowed to tow. Then there’s the question of whether you’re insured or not.

Daniel Hutson
From the Motor team
7
minute read
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Posted 18 MAY 2021

What can I tow? 

What you’re legally allowed to tow depends on when your driving licence was issued. 

After passing a standard UK driving test, you’ll be issued with a category B licence. This licence allows you to drive a car, and it also gives you a towing allowance. 

However, the rules have changed over the years and the amount you’re allowed to tow has been reduced on each occasion. So the towing allowance for older drivers is much greater than for those who have gained their licence more recently. 

It sounds complicated, but the easiest place to start is with your driving licence and check when it was issued. 

How much can I tow? 

For safety, the loaded weight of whatever you’re towing shouldn’t be heavier than 85% of your towing vehicle’s kerb weight. The kerb weight is the weight of the vehicle without any passengers, luggage etc. 
 
If you don’t know what your vehicle’s kerb weight is (because, let’s face it, who does?), then you can find some help on the vehicle’s VIN plate. The VIN plate (vehicle identification number) is a 17-digit number that’s stamped onto the chassis of your car. Where it’s stamped depends on the car, but start by looking under your bonnet, or around the car doors when they’re open. Some cars include it at the bottom of the windscreen too, which makes things easier. 
 
Once you find the VIN plate, you’ll often see different weights marked on it, each marked with letters. The top figure (marked A) will be the gross weight. This is the maximum allowable mass (MAM) of the vehicle. Unlike the kerb weight though, this includes any passengers, luggage and even fuel. Under that (marked B) is the gross train weight. This is the maximum weight that includes both your vehicle and the trailer or caravan that you’re towing. So, to calculate how much you can tow, take the MAM weight (marked A) from the gross train weight (marked B). 
 
However, how much you can tow also depends on your licence and when it was issued. 

Licence dates and towing restrictions 

Maximum Authorised Mass (MAM) is the combined weight of the towing vehicle, trailer and the maximum load that can be carried safely on a public road. Let’s look at the various MAM restrictions by date: 

Licences issued before 1 January 1997

If your licence was issued before this date you can: 

  • drive a towing vehicle and trailer combination with a MAM of up to 8,250kg
  • drive a minibus with a trailer over 750kg MAM

To tow heavier loads, you’ll have to pass the category C theory test and the C1+E practical test. This would allow you to drive a rigid lorry up to 7,500kg towing a trailer to a combined MAM OF 12,000kg. 

Licences issued between 1 January 1997 and 19 January 2013 

If your licence was issued between these dates you can: 

  • drive a towing vehicle up to 3,500kg MAM with up to 8 passenger seats, towing a trailer of up to 750kg
  • tow a trailer over 750kg MAM, as long as the total MAM of both the trailer and vehicle isn’t more than 3,500kg 

To tow heavier loads you’ll have to pass an additional B+E trailer test. This will allow you to tow any size trailer. 

Licences issued after 19 January 2013

If your licence was issued after this date you can: 

  • tow a trailer weighing no more than 750kg
  • tow a trailer over 750kg, as long as the total MAM of 
  • both the trailer and vehicle isn’t more than 3,500kg 

To tow heavier loads you’ll need to pass an additional B+E trailer test. This will allow you to tow a trailer with a MAM of up to 3,500kg. 

How to weigh a trailer and caravan 

So, now you know how much you can tow, the next thing to find out is how much your trailer or caravan weighs. You can find this out by taking it to a weighbridge, which are designed to weigh all sorts of vehicles. You can find them up and down the country, so you shouldn’t have too much trouble. They used to be free, but it’s now quite common to pay a small fee. Find your nearest weighbridge here. 
 
When using the weighbridge, you should make sure you weigh both the vehicle and the trailer or caravan when they’re empty (the kerb weight) and when they’re full of everything you need. You should also weigh your vehicle and trailer/caravan both together and separately, making a note of each weight. Once you know all the figures, you’ll find out if they fit the legal requirement. If the weight exceeds the legal limit, it will be illegal to drive and likely void your insurance if you made a claim. So, if you go over the limit, make sure you unload some of the goods before driving away. This could simply involve moving them from your trailer/caravan to the car itself, or you may need someone to help you move some of the weight. 

What other towing rules should I be aware of? 

  1. The maximum width of a trailer should not be more than 2.55m. The maximum length should not be more than 7m.
  2. The number plate on your trailer must be the same as the one on your towing car.
  3. The tow bar must be designed for your car and meet EU regulations.
  4. The speed limits for cars towing caravans or trailers are: 
    -30mph in a built-up area 
    -50mph on a single carriageway 
    -60mph on a dual carriageway or motorway
  5. It’s illegal to tow a trailer or caravan in the outside lane of a three or four lane motorway. 

Towing safety tips

Pulling a trailer, caravan or motorhome can take some getting used to, and reversing one is an art form! Here are some top tips for safe towing: 

  • Check your vehicle handbook to ensure your car has enough towing capacity.
  • Always check your vehicle handbook for safe weights. Never overload your vehicle or trailer/caravan/motorhome. Doing so will compromise stability and potentially make the towing vehicle more difficult to control.
  • Heavy items should be loaded mainly over the axle and you need to ensure a downward load on the tow ball. Again, check your handbook for the recommended maximum weight and tow ball load.
  • Make sure all loads are fastened down securely and that nothing can fly out onto vehicles behind or on other carriageways.
  • Make sure that all doors and catches are secured properly. Check any cables and make them secure.
  • Make sure you’re using the right tow bar. Different vehicles have different requirements, so it’s important you get this right.
  • Check your tyres and make sure they’re at the right pressure. If they’re underinflated, towing a caravan or motorhome can cause a tyre to blow out.
  • Fit towing wing mirrors. This is a legal requirement when towing a caravan, motorhome or trailer, if they’re wider than any part of your vehicle.
  • Hopefully this is obvious, but don’t tow a caravan or motorhome while people are inside it. Not only is this illegal, but it’s also very dangerous.
  • Finally, take it easy. Your vehicle will handle very differently when towing a large trailer, caravan or motorhome, so make sure you stick to a safe speed and steer gently. 

Do I need extra insurance to tow a trailer? 

Unlike insuring a car, it’s not a legal requirement to insure a trailer or caravan. However, you should at least consider the extra level of cover, to protect it against damage or theft. Car insurance policies usually cover you for towing trailers and caravans, but won’t cover the trailer or caravan itself against theft or damage. As always, it’s always best to check your policy wording to find out if and what you’re covered for. 
 
If you want more comprehensive cover for your trailer or caravan, you may need to arrange additional cover with your insurance provider, or take out separate trailer or caravan insurance with a specialist provider. 
 
Some other useful types of insurance when towing a trailer or caravan include: 

  • Breakdown cover – because what’s worse than breaking down? Breaking down when you’re on holiday, with half your belongings attached to the back of you.
  • European breakdown cover – for when your journey takes you abroad. 
  • Courtesy car cover – to get you back on the road if your towing vehicle has to go into the garage for repairs. 
  • Personal belongings cover – if you’re driving around with lots of your stuff in a trailer or caravan, you should think about protecting it against theft or damage. 

Is towing covered on my car insurance policy? 

Don’t assume that because you have car insurance you’re covered for your trailer and its contents in the same way. 

Most standard car insurance policies will cover trailers or caravans, but only at a third party level. This means the trailer or caravan you’re towing will only be covered for the other party’s damage and injuries if you’re involved in an accident where you were at fault. It doesn’t cover any damage to your trailer or its contents. However, your car may still be covered with comprehensive cover. If you need to protect your trailer or caravan fully, you’ll need to get extra insurance. 

If you’re taking a caravan on holiday, check to see if the contents are covered under your home insurance while you’re away.

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