How to tow a trailer or caravan

If your job requires you to drive a vehicle while towing a trailer, or if you are going on holiday with a caravan, it is important that you are aware of towing rules and regulations to ensure you do it safely and correctly.

If your job requires you to drive a vehicle while towing a trailer, or if you are going on holiday with a caravan, it is important that you are aware of towing rules and regulations to ensure you do it safely and correctly.

At Snooper, we know how easy it can be to get bogged down in complexities that often leave you neglecting the basics. But you don't want to be held accountable and face jail time if you cause an accident or your business is fined hefty for not following the law.

In this blog post, we cover the basics of towing safety to ensure you stay on the right side of the law:

Check the limits

Before you even think about towing a trailer or caravan, check your vehicle's manual to see if it's allowed to carry extra weight. Every vehicle, whether with a braked or unbraked trailer, has a towing capacity, which you can find in your owner's manual. Most vehicle manuals are now easily found online with a simple Google search. The permissible towing capacity (combined weight of trailer and load) for an unbraked vehicle is 750 kg or half the curb weight of the towing vehicle, whichever is lower.

Since April 2010, UK and EU regulations on the external dimensions of trailers and caravans have been the same. The maximum trailer width for any towing vehicle is 2.55 metres, while the maximum length is 7 meters (excluding drawbar/A-frame) for a trailer towed by a vehicle weighing up to 3500kg. However, with the dust still settling on Brexit and the country unsure of what will and will not change, that could change. Check out this space for the latest information.

Do you need a tachograph?

A 3.5-ton commercial vehicle doesn't need a tachograph, but adding a trailer means you're entering truck territory, which has stricter laws and a driver's license requirement, also known as an O-license. But there are exceptions to most things, for example if you don't carry goods for a fee (e.g. take rubbish to landfill) or don't travel more than 50km in a day you should be fine. However, neither are legit, so it pays to do your homework before confronting a follower.

Photo of a car with a U HAUL trailer on the back

Use appropriate mounts

To tow a trailer, particularly for work, you must use appropriate brackets which must be tested to British or European standards and use brackets recommended by your vehicle's manufacturer. If you drive a van registered since August 1st, 1998, it must be fitted with an approved mounting bracket according to European Directive 94/20/FC, showing the type approval number and details of the vehicle on which it is mounted should be.

Don't take on too much weight

It's all too easy to overload a trailer, especially with debris and junk, and think everything will be fine. But consider the imprisonment and fine if you are considering taking a trip that you feel may be too risky. Instead, just make two trips and make sure both loads are evenly distributed to keep the trailer stable. Also make sure everything is in the trailer as anything protruding 305mm to the side and more than a meter to the rear could result in a penalty.

Check driver's license

Driver's licenses show what classes of vehicles a person is allowed to drive, including the size of trailer they are allowed to tow. As a driver, it is important that you verify that you are qualified to drive and tow what you are asked to do, while employers must ensure their workers are able to perform their job duties.

Drivers who drove before January 1, 1997 have an advantage as they can drive a vehicle and trailer up to a combined maximum permissible mass (MAM) of 8.25 tonnes. While drivers who passed their test after January 1, 1997 may only drive a vehicle coupled to a trailer up to 750 kg MAM or a total weight (vehicle and trailer) of 3,500 kg Gross Train Weight (GTW), unless because they have the B + E driving test.

Image of a man attaching a camper trailer to the back of his car

Do a security check

Before every ride, it is important that you carry out a safety check. If your journey is particularly long, it is worth doing the same checks regularly. You should look for the following:

  • Make sure that no materials have become loose and could cause the trailer to sway
  • Tire pressure check
  • Make sure all lights work
  • Make sure the number on the tag is not obscured and matches the vehicle you are driving
  • Make sure the wheel nuts are not loose
  • Be careful when driving

If this is your first time towing a trailer, be extra careful as it feels different and may take some getting used to. It might be worth pulling into the local lot and doing a few exercises so you can see how the vehicle feels and behaves with a trailer. You can also take part in specialist driver training.

It is illegal to tow a trailer in the outside lane on the Autobahn. This is something many drivers forget when towing, but you could end up with a hefty fine and penalty points if you're caught in the outside lane.

Remember to drive slower than usual and allow extra room for braking and maneuvering so that if something unexpected happens, you have a better chance of taking control of the situation.