Whether you are looking to tow a caravan or tow something for work, rules vary on what you are allowed to tow. Before you start, it is worth getting clued up on the requirements and laws that surround towing.
In This Guide:
Do I need a trailer licence to tow?
There isn't actually a 'trailer licence' that you can apply for.
If you have a driving licence, then you can tow already! But there are rules on what you can and can't tow weight wise.
If you aren't sure what type of driving licence you have and what vehicles you are allowed to drive, see our guide on driving licences explained. You can also check on the government website.
What am I allowed to tow?
What you are allowed to tow largely depends on when you passed your driving licence.
If you have a standard full driving licence
If you passed your licence on or after the 1st of January 1997, you are allowed to tow trailers up to 3,500kg MAM.
If you passed your test before the 1st of January 1997, you can drive a car/van and a trailer/caravan with a weight of up to 8,250kg MAM. You can also drive a minibus with a trailer over 750kg MAM.
If you are looking to tow something heavier
If what you are looking to tow exceeds the above MAM weights, you will need to apply for a medium-sized lorry and trailer licence. This will include a lorry theory test, and a lorry driving test (the C1+3 driving test).
Passing this will allow you to tow up to 12,000kg MAM.
You can find our more about applying for a provisional HGV or bus licence here.
What does MAM mean?
MAM (or Maximum Authorised Mass) is the maximum loaded safe weight of a vehicle or trailer when it is being used on the road. It is also often referred to as the Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW).
How much can my car tow?
Disregarding limits on what you can tow according to the type of driving licence you have, there are often limits in terms of what your vehicle can tow too.
Whatever this limit is will usually be specified in your vehicle handbook or spec sheet.
If you don't have this on hand, then the maximum towing weight can usually be worked out by looking at the vehicle identification number plate (VIN). You will be able to locate this inside the driver's side door or sometimes under the bonnet.
On the VIN plate there will be four weights noted:
- The maximum authorised mass (MAM) / gross vehicle weight (GVW)
- The gross train weight (GTW) - this is the maximum that both the car and trailer can weight, combined
- The maximum axle load for the front of the car
- The maximum axle load for the read of the car
To work out how much your vehicle can tow, you need to subtract the MAM from the GTW.
Here are some of the maximum towing weights for some of the more popular cars in the UK:
||Maximum towing weight
|Land Rover Discovery or Defender
|BMW X5 or X6
As a general rule, anything that you decide to tow with your vehicle should weigh less than 85% of your car's unladen weight.
Can I tow a caravan?
This depends on a few things:
- How much the caravan weighs
- How much your vehicle weighs
You actually need to find out the weight of both the vehicle and caravan fully laden; this includes any luggage and passengers.
The weight of a car and caravan individually can vary quite considerably. You can find out the weight of either by looking in the manufacturer's handbook.
If you don't have these, then the car weight can be worked found on the VIN plate. The weight of a caravan will usually be listed inside or near the door frame.
If you can't find these details, we recommend you contact the manufacturer.
Working out how much your fully packed vehicle and caravan can be problematic - if you have a lot of stuff packed then calculations can quickly get out of hand.
If you aren't sure whether you have worked this out properly, or your calculations put you near the limit of what you are allowed to tow, we recommend you either:
- Purchase a portable caravan weighing scale and measure the weight at home
- Drive to your local weighbridge and weigh your car and caravan there (there might be a charge involved in this!).
Is towing insurance included in my car insurance policy?
Before you start towing, it's important to know what your insurance policy actually covers you for. While all cars driving on UK roads must be insured, you're not obliged to have towing insurance for your trailer.
Some policies may include towing, but some may offer no cover whatsoever.
Towing insurance is often referred to as an optional extra / add-on, so be aware of that when you take out a new insurance policy for your vehicle.
In addition to this, if towing is included in your policy, you should also be aware that the level of cover may not be as fully comprehensive as your main vehicle policy – you might only be covered for Third Party damage.
Instead, you may want to take out additional cover for your trailer, especially if better safe than sorry is your mantra!
Can I take out trailer insurance?
If you have a caravan, trailer or boat, consider taking out a separate trailer insurance policy.
Should there be an incident on the road which is your fault – let's say your trailer becomes detached – then without insurance any damage could be extremely expensive to repair. It can be even more expensive to get a replacement trailer!
Even Third Party cover – if that's what your policy offers – will only help cover accidental damage costs to any other involved party.
While it's a start, not being entitled to a pay-out when your lovely caravan lies deconstructed at the roadside, or has gone exploring a ditch, is a bit too much salt in the wound. Avoid it by covering your back, too.
Again, it's worth checking the fine print of your policy, not only to ascertain what you're covered for but also to gauge what sorts of things could invalidate your policy. For example, did you know there are certain regulations regarding how you load up your trailer?
What to know before you tow
So, here's our round up of what to know before you tow:
- Check if you're covered by insurance.
- Ensure that what you're towing has the right specifications for your licence.
- Make sure you have the correct tow bar and, critically, have told your insurance provider about it. This is because it's considered a modification and can affect your quote.
- If you're going abroad, be sure you know the towing laws of the land.
- Double check and make sure you meet the government's guidelines on towing before you begin your journey.