Towing a trailer: What do I need to know

Towing a trailer

There are times when the spaciousness of our vehicle just doesn’t suffice. Be it a family camping trip during summer, or the demands of your profession requiring the transportation of bulky equipment, the solution often lies in attaching a trailer.

However, the road has its rules, and towing isn’t exempt from them. Venturing into the world of trailer towing demands understanding and adherence to certain regulations.

Let’s delve into the nitty-gritty of towing a trailer. We’ll cover the legal nuances and potential additional driving assessments, and offer some tried-and-true advice to ensure your towing experience is both smooth and compliant. Buckle up and let’s get started!

What am I legally allowed to tow?

When considering what you are legally allowed to tow, various factors come into play. It’s not just about hitching a trailer to your vehicle and setting off.

Understanding the legal regulations is essential not only to comply with the law but also to ensure safety on the road.

Why Are There Regulations?

Driving and towing regulations are governed by organisations such as the DVLA to promote safety. These rules aim to ensure that vehicles on the road are not overloaded beyond their capabilities, potentially leading to dangerous situations. Both drivers and other road users benefit from these precautions.

Towing Based on When You Passed Your Driving Test:

After 1st January 1997

If you secured your driving licence on or after this date:

  • You can drive a vehicle (like a car or van) with a maximum authorised mass (MAM) up to 3,500kg while towing a trailer of up to 750kg MAM.
  • For trailers heavier than 750kg, you’re allowed to tow them, but the combined MAM (vehicle + trailer) shouldn’t exceed 3,500kg.

What is MAM?

MAM (maximum authorised mass) refers to the maximum weight the vehicle or trailer is allowed to weigh when fully loaded. This value is specific to each vehicle or trailer model. It’s typically documented in the vehicle’s manual, or you can find it on a plate or sticker attached to the vehicle.

If you intend to tow heavier setups, you’d need to pass the car and trailer driving test (B+E test). This test evaluates your practical abilities. You won’t deal with theory in this one.

But to pass, you must demonstrate proficiency in towing in diverse road conditions, adhere to the Highway Code, and understand specific rules associated with towing.

It’s recommended by DVLA to familiarise yourself with the national standard for driving cars and take the B+E test only when confident in your skills without requiring further instruction.

Before 1st January 1997

If you got your driving licence before this date:

  • You can drive a vehicle and trailer combination with a MAM of up to 8,200kg.
  • Additionally, you have the legal clearance to operate a minibus towing a trailer over 750kg MAM.

When thinking about towing, always keep safety at the forefront and ensure you’re abiding by the relevant legal requirements. Not only will this protect you, but it will also contribute to the overall safety of road users.

What if I want to tow something heavier?

Should you wish to expand your towing capabilities and handle heavier loads, there’s a set process you need to follow.

Towing skill and safety

Towing isn’t just about power, but also skill, safety, and adherence to regulations.

Get a Category C1+E Provisional Licence

To begin with, you’ll need the appropriate provisional licence, specifically the Category C1+E. This permits you to operate a medium-sized lorry coupled with a trailer.

  • Order forms D2 and D4 from the DVLA. The D4 form specifically will require input from a medical professional, so ensure you schedule an appointment to have this form filled out by a doctor.
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Apply for a Category C1+E provisional licence

Pass the Lorry Theory Test

Before you hit the road with heavier loads, understanding the theory behind safe and efficient lorry driving is crucial.

  • The test consists of a multiple-choice section and a hazard perception segment. You can book them separately, but it’s convenient to attempt both on the same day.
  • For the multiple-choice part, a score of 85 out of 100 is the pass mark.
  • For hazard perception, you should achieve a score of 67 out of 100 to pass.

Book lorry theory test

Pass the C1+E Practical Driving Test

Once you’re armed with the theoretical knowledge, it’s time to demonstrate your practical skills.

  • The test duration is approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes.
  • The assessment covers safety queries, practical on-road driving, and specific off-road manoeuvres.
  • You’re allowed up to 15 driving faults. Exceeding this will result in a failure.

Book practical test

Additional Considerations:

If you’re contemplating using your medium-sized lorry driving capabilities for professional purposes, there’s more:

  • Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC) Tests: These are mandatory for those wishing to drive lorries as a profession. Ensure you undergo and pass these tests to comply with industry standards.

Book Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC) Test

End Result:

After navigating through these stages, you’ll be qualified to drive vehicle-trailer combinations with a total maximum authorised mass (MAM) of up to 12,000kg.

Remember, each step is not just a regulatory hoop but a measure to ensure you’re equipped with the skills and knowledge to handle heavier vehicles safely.

Always prioritise safety, and keep yourself updated with any changes in the regulations.

Towing rules and requirements

Weight Restrictions

The weight you tow shouldn’t exceed your vehicle’s towing capacity. This is essential for safety reasons. Your vehicle’s handbook typically provides this information.

If not available, the DVLA suggests checking the vehicle identification number (VIN) plate, which might be situated under the bonnet or inside the driver’s door.

Dimensions (Width and Length)

  • Width: Irrespective of your towing vehicle, trailers must not exceed a width of 2.55 metres.

  • Length: Trailers have a maximum permissible length of 7 metres, excluding the A-frame which is used for towing.

Tow Bars

These are crucial for safely towing your trailer.

  • Ensure your tow bar adheres to EU regulations and is tailored for your car.

  • Type-approved tow bars come with labels showcasing approval numbers and the vehicles they’re suitable for.

  • Vehicles first used before 1 August 1998 are exempt from the tow bar type approval requirement.

Lighting

Proper lighting ensures your trailer is visible to other drivers:

  • It should have two red sidelights and two red stop lamps.

  • Two triangular red reflectors are essential.

  • Amber indicators that oscillate between 60 to 120 flashes per minute.

  • Trailers manufactured post 30th September 1990 need front reflectors too.

Mirrors

Drivers must have a clear view of the road behind them:

  • If your trailer or caravan obscures the vehicle’s rear view, install appropriate towing mirrors.

  • Failing to use adequate mirrors might result in a fine of up to £1,000 and a penalty of 3 points on your licence.

Number Plates

Visibility of your vehicle’s number plate is vital:

  • When towing, display the same number plate on your trailer or caravan.

  • If you tow multiple trailers, ensure the rearmost trailer displays the number plate.

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Brake Systems

Brakes are pivotal for controlling heavy loads:

  • Trailers weighing above 750kg (when loaded) should be equipped with operational brakes.

  • Though smaller trailers may possess brakes, they aren’t mandatory.

  • Use a breakaway cable or a secondary coupling to prevent accidental detachment.

Speed Regulations

Being mindful of speed ensures safety:

  • Abide by 30mph in built-up zones, 50mph on single-carriageways, and 60mph on dual-carriageways and motorways.

  • Remember, these are upper limits. Adverse weather or heavy traffic might necessitate slower speeds.

Always stay informed and periodically review towing regulations. Ensuring you adhere to these guidelines not only keeps you compliant with the law but also ensures a safe towing experience for all road users.

Driving safely when towing a trailer

Driving safely when towing a trailer

Before you set off

Before you embark on your journey with a trailer, conducting thorough safety checks is a must.

Trailer checks before setting off

The thrill of the open road is best enjoyed with the assurance of security. Here are some critical steps to ensure that your trip doesn’t meet an unexpected twist:

Check the Tow Ball

A secure tow-ball connection is foundational. Before you accelerate on the freeway, ascertain that your trailer is connected securely. Envisioning a loose trailer on a bustling motorway underscores the importance. Always adhere to the manufacturer’s instructions; towing isn’t a realm for experimentation.

Make sure the breakaway cable is in place

This safeguard activates the trailer’s brakes if it unintentionally detaches. Examine its condition; any signs of wear or damage should be addressed.

Ensure the cable has enough slack, preventing inadvertent brake engagement. Uncertain about its setup? Always refer to the manufacturer’s guide or seek assistance from someone experienced.

Inspect your tyres

Consistent tyre checks, every few weeks, are fundamental for safety. This isn’t just for your vehicle but extends to your trailer as well. Here’s a simple checklist:

  • Tread Depth: Ensure each tyre, including the trailer’s, possesses a tread depth of a minimum of 1.6mm.

  • Surface Inspection: Scout for cuts, bulges, or anomalies.

  • Pressure Levels: Inflate tyres to the prescribed PSI, considering the load they bear.

Balanced weight distribution

While the car manufacturer provides weight guidelines, judicious discretion is essential. Adhering to the maximum authorised mass (MAM) isn’t a mere suggestion—it’s a necessity.

Moreover, simply because you can load up to the limit doesn’t mean you should. Wisely distribute the load across the trailer, ensuring its stability. Recheck that all items are firmly secured, preventing unforeseen shifts during transit.

Final Thought:

Towing doesn’t just challenge your driving skills but demands a higher level of responsibility. Roads become safer when every driver is cautious and informed.

Whether you’re setting off on a short jaunt or an extended voyage, these checks aren’t just best practices—they’re life-saving habits. Safe travels!

Once you’re on the move

Towing a trailer or caravan demands a significant shift in driving techniques. The added weight and size can have an impact on how your vehicle responds.

Staying in the correct lane when you are towing a trailer

Whether you’re a novice at towing or just need a refresher, here are some essential guidelines to bear in mind:

Acquaint Yourself with Towing

If you’re new to the experience, consider getting accustomed to it before venturing on a long drive. Having an experienced friend or family member accompany you initially can boost your confidence and provide valuable insights. Drive around a spacious, empty parking lot or a quiet neighbourhood first to feel the difference.

Accelerating

The added weight from the trailer means you can’t accelerate as quickly as you’re accustomed to. This lag means overtaking becomes trickier. Always ensure there’s a substantial gap before attempting to overtake. Better yet, if you’re not in a rush, stay in your lane and prioritise safety over speed.

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Braking

With more mass to control, your vehicle will need more time and distance to come to a complete stop. Thus, maintain a more generous distance from the vehicle in front. If the weather conditions are less than ideal—like rainy or snowy roads—extend that gap even further to account for possible skidding.

Reversing

Reversing with a trailer is like learning a new dance. The trailer might seem to have a mind of its own, often moving in the opposite direction you intend. Stay patient, practice often, and steer promptly to correct its path. This can help you avoid any unfortunate collisions or jack-knifing.

Stick to the correct lane

For those who might’ve forgotten, there’s a lane restriction on motorways. Vehicles towing trailers must avoid the far-right lane on motorways with three or more lanes. This ensures smoother traffic flow and enhances safety for everyone.

Cornering and Turning

An additional tip is to remember that turns and corners need a wider berth when towing. The trailer doesn’t follow the exact path as your car, so taking turns too tightly can result in the trailer clipping the curb.

Stay Alert to Swaying

At times, especially during strong crosswinds or when being overtaken by larger vehicles, the trailer might sway. It’s crucial to stay calm, reduce your speed gradually without slamming the brakes, and correct your steering.

Frequently asked questions

The DVLA offers a straightforward online tool that allows you to access your driving licence details. Simply visit their website, and within a few moments, you can confirm your towing permissions!

With a regular car licence, you’re allowed to tow trailers up to 750kg. However, if the total weight of your car and trailer doesn’t exceed 3,500kg, you can tow a more substantial trailer.

Your vehicle’s maximum authorised mass should be listed in its handbook or manual. Additionally, the DVLA mentions that this information might be displayed on a plate or sticker attached to the vehicle.

If these sources don’t provide the details, consider checking online.

The cost varies based on the timing of your test. During weekdays, it’s priced at £115. However, if you opt for an evening, weekend, or bank holiday slot, the fee rises to £141.

The theory test has a total cost of £37, split between the multiple-choice section at £26 and the hazard perception test at £11. For the practical test, it’s £115 if taken on a weekday. If you choose an evening, weekend, or bank holiday slot, the fee is £141.