A Guide to Towing and Trailering

 A Guide to Towing and Trailering

For the majority of people in the motor trade, especially dealers, car jockeys, repossession agents and breakdown specialists, there is often the thorny question of towing and trailering. Where once a small length of strong rope, some hazard lights and a lot of brazen luck would suffice on UK highways, the penalties today far outweigh the risks.

In the wrong hands, towing and trailering can be a potentially hazardous, not to say fatal, occupation. So, follow our essential guide to towing and trailering to keep you and fellow users safe on our busy roads.

A Word on Insurance

It’s important that you are insured for towing your trailer. You may be able to add your trailer onto your motor trade insurance policy depending on the type of trailer you have and the way that you use it.

Insurance coverage you might consider includes liability, collision, and comprehensive. While you aren’t specifically driving your trailer, it can still become unhitched and cause damage to other people or vehicles. Check that you are covered for liability insurance before you tow.

As part of your motor trade or van insurance, check that you can include your trailer for collision cover to protect you in case of an accident, while comprehensive insurance will provide cover for theft, vandalism or even storm damage.

Towing: The Legal Basics

Let’s look at the basics. What you can you legally tow? Well, that depends on the type of vehicle you’re driving and what exactly you’re towing. And what you tow can be different depending on when you passed your driving test.

Take a look at your driving licence to see if you’re allowed to tow in the first place. If you passed your driving test on or after January 1st, 1997 you can:

  • drive a car or van up to 3,500kg Maximum Authorised Mass (MAM)* towing a trailer of up to 750kg MAM
  • tow a trailer over 750kg MAM as long as the combined MAM of the trailer and towing vehicle is no more than 3,500kg

*MAM is the limit on how much the vehicle can weigh when it’s loaded. If you want to tow anything heavier, you’ll have to pass the car and trailer driving test. Remember too, your trailer MAM must be lower than the tow vehicle’s weight.

For those of you with driving licences issued before 1 January 1st, 1997 you’re usually allowed to drive a vehicle and trailer combination up to 8,250kg MAM but you’ll need to check your driving licence information. You’re also allowed to drive a minibus with a trailer over 750kg MAM.

For those in the motor trade, if you want to tow heavier combinations you’ll need to apply for provisional licence for a medium-sized lorry and trailer (category C1+E). You also have to pass the lorry theory test, plus the C1+E driving test and take extra Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC) tests if driving the medium-sized van or truck is the main part of your job. Once you’ve done this you can drive vans and trailers with a combined weight of up to 12,000kg MAM.

If you want to tow something with a MAM above 4.25 tonnes, you must take the additional car and trailer driving test (known as the B+E test), which is run through DVSA bus and lorry test centres. It costs from £115-£141 depending on what day of the week you take it. 

Check your limits

Most cars and vans have a maximum weight they can tow. You can normally find this information in the vehicle’s handbook or spec sheet. The vehicle’s ‘gross train weight’ can also be found on the vehicle identification number (VIN) plate on the van, normally just under the bonnet or inside the driver’s door. The gross train weight is the weight of the fully loaded car plus fully loaded trailer and must not be exceeded. If your VIN plate doesn’t list a train weight, you shouldn’t use your van for towing.

Then there are length and width criteria. Length: The maximum length for a trailer towed by a vehicle weighing up to 3,500kg is 7 metres. (This length doesn’t include the A-frame). The maximum trailer width for any towing vehicle is 2.55 metres.

Trailers and towing equipment

Remember, you can be fined up to £2,500, be banned from driving and get 3 penalty points on your licence for using a vehicle in a dangerous condition. It pays to carry out some simple safety checks to make sure you’re using the trailer and equipment legally.

If you get a towing bar for your van, it needs to be ‘type approved’ so that it adheres to EU regulations. It also must be designed for your van. Type-approved tow bars normally have a label with an approval number and details of the vehicles it’s approved for.

You must always have a clear view of the road behind you. To ensure this you should fit suitable towing mirrors; and you can be fined up to £1,000 and get 3 penalty points for towing without proper mirrors. 

If your trailer weighs over 750kg when loaded, it must have a working brake system.

Some smaller trailers also have brakes, but these are discretionary. Any brakes must be in good working order. You must use a breakaway cable or secondary connection in case the trailer becomes detached from your car. Dollies used by recovery vans are exempted by government guidelines when towing broken down vehicles at low speeds. 

You must display the same number plate on your trailer as on your towing van.

If you tow more than one trailer at a time, fix the number plate to the trailer at the very back. The number plate must be illuminated if driving at night.

Regarding lights, a road trailer must have two red sidelights, two red brake lights, amber indicators, and a pair of triangular red reflectors at the rear. Trailers more than 1.3m wide are also required to have fog lamp. Trailers built after 1990 must also have white reflectors at the front (excluding boat trailers).

By following theses simple safety tips, you can avoid placing you motor trades business in jeopardy, stay legal and safe for yourself and other UK road users.

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