Trailer towing – and that includes caravans, horseboxes and even jet skis ‑ is a legal minefield. The minimum you need is a full driving licence to tow anything. What you tow is limited by the combined weight of the trailer and the towing vehicle. The size of the trailers you can tow without a special licence is also limited. Read on to find the nitty gritty.
When you passed your driving test is important
If you passed your driving test before 1997, you can tow heavier trailers. The Maximum Authorised Mass (MAM) of car and trailer is how much the combination should weigh when fully loaded. In this case it’s 8.25 tonnes. That will cover most trailer towing eventualities considering the average family car weighs between 1.5 and 2 tonnes.
If you passed your test after 1997, the MAM is 4.25 tonnes. But that’s only with a tow vehicle of 3.5 tonnes. If the trailer is to weigh more than 750kg, the combined weight drops to 3.5 tonnes. And the trailer’s MAM must be less than the vehicle’s. Bearing in mind that a large SUV such as a Land Rover Discovery or Mercedes-Benz GLE weighs no more than 2.5 tonnes, that still enables you to tow pretty much any caravan or trailer.
Check your car’s user manual to see what weight of trailer you can legally tow. It should tell you the exact weight that you can tow with your make, model, engine size and specification of car.
Trailer towing: how big can they be?
The maximum width of any trailer towed by a vehicle that weighs less than 3.5 tonnes is 2.55m. The maximum length is 7m. It doesn’t matter what the tow car is, these dimensions remain.
A relatively new trailer should have a plate on it that says how much weight it can carry and how it should be loaded.
Towbars, mirrors and number plates
Assuming the vehicle is registered post 1998, you must have an EU-approved tow bar that’s suitable for your towing vehicle.
You must have a clear view of the road behind. If you’ve got a smaller car and large trailer/caravan, you may have to fit mirror extensions.
The trailer must show the same number plate as the car. And that number plate must be illuminated at night. Flouting these regulations can result in up to three penalties points and fines.
Brakes and lights
If the trailer weighs more than 750kg, it must have an independent braking system. The same is true if you’re towing a car: in the eyes of the law a car being towed is a trailer. That means its brakes must work.
To be road legal, trailers must have side lights, working brake lights and indicators. Trailers that are more than 1.3m wide must also have fog lamps. And if a trailer is more than 1.6m wide, it needs white front position lamps.
Can you tow more if you passed your test after 1997?
If you passed your test after 1997 and you want to tow more than 4.25 tonnes, you can take a test. It costs £112 if you’re going to be driving a regular two-axle vehicle. This will give you a Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC), loosely the same sort of thing professional lorry and coach drivers need.
However, because of the pandemic, tests are suspended until 12 April 2021. There’s plenty of useful government advice here.
I’ve been writing about cars and motoring for more than 25 years. My career started on a long-departed classic car weekly magazine called AutoClassic. I’ve since pitched up at Autosport, Auto Express, the News of the World, Sunday Times and most recently the Daily Telegraph. When I’m not writing about cars and motoring, I’m probably doing some kind of sport or working in my garden.