For some, a caravan holiday is the perfect getaway. For others, towing is just part of their job. But in either case it pays to be clued up.
Here’s everything you need to know about towing a caravan and using a tow trailer. That includes UK towing laws, and how to find out your car’s towing capacity.
What can I tow and do I need a trailer licence?
There's no such thing as a 'trailer licence', but you may need to take and additional driving test if the trailer or caravan you're towing exceeds a certain weight.
Car towing rules vary and depend on when you passed your driving test and got your licence, and what you’re towing.
For more information on driving licence rules, see our guide on driving licence categories and codes.
How much you can tow is measured in maximum authorised mass (MAM).
In other words, MAM is the total weight of a vehicle when it’s loaded and represents the absolute limit a car can safely tow.
It’s also sometimes referred to as gross vehicle weight (GVW). Just like MAM, it shows the maximum weight that you can carry safely.
The rules on what you can and can’t tow are changing in Autumn 2021. The rules won’t affect drivers who passed their test before 1 January 1997.
At the moment, the rules for drivers with licences issued on or after 1 January 1997 are:
- You can drive a car or van of up to 3,500kg MAM while towing a trailer of up to 750kg MAM, with a combined total weight of 4,250kg.
- You can tow a trailer of over 750kg MAM as long as the combined MAM of the trailer and towing vehicle is no more than 3,500kg.
This will change in Autumn 2021 and drivers who passed their test on or after 1 January 1997 will be able to tow trailers up to 3,500 kg MAM.
The exact date hasn’t yet been confirmed, but you can sign up for updates or find out more at GOV.UK.
When the rule changes, you'll get the BE driving licence code on your driving record. The DVLA will automatically add this category to your licence when your new photocard comes through.
As we mentioned, rules for drivers with licences issued before 1 January 1997 won't change in Autumn this year. The rules are:
- You can drive a car or van and a trailer or caravan of up to 8,250kg MAM.
- You can drive a minibus while towing a trailer of over 750kg MAM.
If you need to tow even heavier vehicles, you’ll have to:
- Apply for a provisional licence for a medium-sized lorry and trailer
- Pass the lorry theory test
- Pass the actual driving test, also known as the C1+3 driving test.
This’ll allow you to tow a combined weight of up to 12,000kg MAM.
How much can my car tow?
If you don’t have your manual at hand, your vehicle’s ‘gross train weight’ or VIN might be on the driver’s door or under the bonnet.
If not, there’s an easy way to work out how much your car can tow. The caravan, or trailer, needs to weigh (including cargo) less than 85% of your car’s kerb weight.
If what you’re trying to tow is heavier than your car, then you shouldn’t attempt driving at all as it won’t be safe.
Cars have an official maximum weight they can tow safely.
If you’re looking for the best cars for towing caravans you’ll need to look at the weight a car can tow as this will depend upon the make and model
Here's how much weight some of UK’s most popular cars can cope with:
Ford Fiesta – up to 900kg
Nissan Qashqai – up to 1,200kg
Volvo XC90 – up to 2,700kg
Kia Sportage - up to 2,200kg
BMW X5 – up to 3,500kg.
When packing, ensure the weight is evenly spread and avoid overloading a particular side. This way the car and the caravan/trailer should remain more stable when in motion.
UK towing and trailer regulations
Your trailer and caravan needs to comply with certain rules before you set off:
Trailer width - The government says that the maximum width for a caravan or any towing vehicle is 2.55 metres.
Trailer length - Your caravan or trailer shouldn’t exceed seven metres if you’re towing it with a vehicle weighing up to 3,500 kg.
Towing bars - The tow bar you use for your car needs to be ‘type approved’. This means it meets EU regulation and is designed for your car.
If your tow bar is type approved, it should have:
- An approval number
- Details of the vehicle it’s approved for
Your tow bar doesn’t need to be type approved if your car was first used before 1 August 1998.
Towing mirrors - you must be able to see the road behind you, so fitting suitable towing mirrors to your trailer or caravan is essential.
If you don’t you could end up with a fine of £1000 and three penalty points.
You should look for towing mirrors if the caravan or trailer is wider than the rear of your car.
Number plates - Your trailer or caravan should have the same number plate as your car.
Trailer lights - You should make sure all the lights are working on your caravan or trailer. It should have:
- two red side lights
- two red break lights
- amber indicators
- a pair of triangular red reflectors at the rear of the trailer.
If your trailer is over 1.3 metres wide you should have a fog lamp.
Trailers made after 1990 need to have white reflectors at the front unless they're over 1.6m. If it's over 1.6 metres you'll need front position lamps.
How to weigh a caravan or trailer
The easiest way is to use a public weighbridge. You can search for a nearby weighbridge on GOV.UK. They’re usually privately owned, and it’ll cost around £20 to weigh your vehicle.
It’s worth weighing your caravan or trailer before you load it. That’s if you’re unsure of the exact weight and there isn’t another way of finding that information.
Then, you can use a weighbridge again after you’ve loaded it. You can then calculate the MAM and see if your car will be able to cope and if it’ll be safe to drive.
Am I insured to tow a caravan?
Most insurers should still cover your car when you're towing a caravan. It's best to get in touch with them and let them know you plan on using your car for towing.
That way they'll be able to let you know of any exclusions to your policy.
Although the policy should still cover your car, it's less likely that your caravan would also be covered.
If you own a campervan, it might be worth looking into a campervan insurance policy to make sure it's properly protected.
How do I tow a horsebox?
To transport your horse in a trailer, you won’t need a specific trailer licence from Autumn 2021.
But the British Horse Society (BHS) strongly advise that people seek out training before they take their horsebox out on the road. Particularly if it’s their first time towing or driving a horse box.
You'll need to know how much your horse weighs before you hook up your trailer. Remember: a small pony can weigh 200kg all the way up to 1000kg for heavy horses like Shires.
Make sure you have an MOT for the vehicle you’re towing with, or if you transport horses in a lorry.
You may not need to get an MOT for a trailer that attaches to your vehicle, but you should make sure it’s safe and roadworthy. It’s worth getting it serviced regularly too.
Having the correct horsebox insurance policy is also important so you know you're covered against damage or theft.
All of the towing and trailer regulations apply to horseboxes, but you should take extra care when you’re driving as you’ll have your horse in the trailer.
You can find out more information on horseboxes on the BHS website.
Do I need trailer insurance or caravan cover?
It makes sense to think about getting covered, even though caravan insurance isn’t mandatory.
You can check if your current car insurance policy covers you. And – if it does – make sure you know exactly what’s included in it.
For example, many insurers tend to include third-party cover for trailers, but they might not cover caravans.
Additional cover might be available as an extra that can be added to your existing policy or it may be worth approaching a specialist insurer.
Also, some home insurance policies may include ‘away from home’ cover. This might allow you to claim if something gets stolen from your caravan.
Compare car insurance quotes
Do caravans need an MOT?
You don’t need an MOT for a caravan, but you do need to make sure it’s in good working order and it’s safe to be on the road. You can do this by getting it regularly serviced.
What’s the speed limit for towing a caravan or trailer?
You can’t go at the same speed as other cars if you’re towing a caravan or a trailer as it would not be safe.
There are specific speed limits for towing :
30 mph in built-up areas
50 mph on single carriageways
60 mph on dual carriageways and motorways.
Improve you towing skills and experience
It can be daunting getting out on the open road with your caravan or trailer for the first time. Luckily, there are courses available that can help you build experience.
The Caravan Club offer two different types of caravan courses in 14 different locations across the country.
The first course is a practical caravanning course. You’ll cover topics like ‘hitching’ up, manoeuvring, the caravans ‘load’ and how it affects towing and safety checks.
The second course is about manoeuvring specifically, including straight line reversing, curved reversing and levelling.
For more information on these courses as well as cost visit the Caravan Club website.
Our quick tips for safe and legal towing
Here are some other tips and things to consider when towing:
If you’re fitting a tow bar, it needs to meet ‘type approved’ EU regulations.
Your number plate needs to show your car’s registration and be lit up at night.
If you’re towing a trailer, you must display the same number plate as the car you’re towing it with.
The maximum dimensions for a caravan in the UK are 2.3m in width and 7m in length.
Caravans or trailers that weigh over 750kg need their own braking system.
Always allow extra space around you and take more time for manoeuvres.
The extra weight your car will be pulling. This will result in a longer stopping distance, so brake earlier than you usually would.
Pack heavier items near to the axel and try to pack as lightly as possible.
Before you set off, always check the lights panel at the back for any faults.
Never have passengers in a trailer or caravan if you’re towing it.