Towing insurance and limits explained

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.

Rory Reid
Car and technology expert
11
minute read
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Last Updated 5 SEPTEMBER 2022

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? 

Your car’s manual should tell you how much you’re able to tow. For safety, the loaded weight of whatever you’re towing shouldn’t be heavier than 85% of your towing vehicle’s kerb weight – also known as the 85% rule. The kerb weight is the weight of the vehicle without any passengers, luggage and so on.

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.

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 the weight of the trailer you can tow, take the MAM weight (marked A) from the gross train weight (marked B). Be careful to factor in the weight of any additional cargo you’ll be carrying inside the trailer and in the car.

Two maximum towing weights may be shown, one for braked and one for unbraked trailers. Trailers above 750kg in weight when loaded must be fitted with a braking system.

However, how much you can tow also depends on your licence and when it was issued.

What size trailer can I tow?

Towing vehicles with a gross vehicle weight of 3,500kg are restricted in terms of the size of trailer they can tow. The trailer must be no bigger than 7m long and 2.55m wide.

Does my car insurance cover towing a caravan or trailer? 

Usually, your car insurance policy will only cover towing a caravan or trailer for third-party damage. This means if your caravan or trailer damages another vehicle or property, your insurance could cover the other person’s costs. However, it won’t normally cover the repair costs to your caravan or trailer. You’d need separate or additional insurance to cover these costs. 

If you’re at all unsure whether you’re covered, it’s best to check your policy wording or ask your provider.

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. Consider taking a friend with you to the weighbridge, just in case.

What other towing rules should I be aware of? 

  1. Trailer width and length: the maximum width of a trailer should not be more than 2.55m. The maximum length should not be more than 7m.
  2. Number plate: the number plate on your trailer must be the same as the one on your towing car.
  3. Tow bars: the tow bar must be designed for your car and meet EU regulations.
  4. Speed limits: the speed limits for cars towing caravans or trailers are: 
    -30mph in a built-up area, unless otherwise stated. 
    -50mph on a single carriageway 
    -60mph on a dual carriageway or motorway
  5. Motorway lanes: it’s illegal to tow a trailer or caravan in the outside lane of a three or four lane motorway.
  6. Towing mirrors: if your caravan or trailer is wider than any part of your vehicle, you’re legally required to use towing mirrors.
  7. Trailer lights: all lights should be working, including side lights, brake lights, indicator lights, as well as a pair of red reflectors on the back of the caravan or trailer. If your trailer is wider than 1.3m, you should also have a fog light. Finally, trailers made since 1990 must have white reflectors at the front, unless they’re taller than 1.6m, in which case, you’ll need front lights.

Towing safety tips

Pulling a trailer, caravan or motorhome can take some getting used to, and reversing one is an art form. If you’ve never done it before, you might want to practice in a quiet field before you have to do it under pressure with people watching and waiting.

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, steer gently and check your blind spots often.

Do I need extra insurance to tow a caravan or 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.

Frequently asked questions

Do I need to tell my insurance provider if I tow a caravan?

While you shouldn’t need to tell your car insurance provider that you’re planning on towing a caravan or trailer, it’s a good idea to get in touch with them. This is so they can advise you about how your policy covers you, your car and caravan. If there are any policy exclusions, they can advise you of any extra cover available, so you feel comfortable with your level of protection.

Does home contents insurance cover a trailer?

For the trailer itself, you could be covered for third-party with your existing car insurance policy. If you want to protect the trailer against damage, you’ll likely need a separate trailer insurance policy. 

If you have a home contents insurance policy, there’s a chance that the possessions you’re towing in your trailer could be covered already. However, this could depend on the level of cover you have. As always, it’s best to check your policy wording, or talk to your provider, first and look at additional cover options if you need them.

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