The rules on what you can tow are different depending on when you passed your driving test.
View your driving licence information to see if you’re allowed to tow.
Driving licence categories
To drive a particular type of vehicle, you need an ‘entitlement’ for that category on your driving licence.
Your entitlements may have additional restrictions. Check the restriction codes for your driving licence.
Driving licence categories are different in Northern Ireland.
You can drive 2-wheeled or 3-wheeled vehicles with a maximum design speed of over 25km/h (15.5mph) but not more than 45km/h (28mph).
This category also includes light quad bikes with:
unladen mass of not more than 350kg (not including batteries if it’s an electric vehicle)
maximum design speed of over 25km/h (15.5mph) but not more than 45km/h (28mph)
You can drive 2-wheeled vehicles with a maximum design speed of over 45km/h (28mph) but not more than 50km/h (31mph).
Its engine size must not be more than 50cc if powered by an internal combustion engine.
You can drive 2-wheeled and 3-wheeled vehicles without pedals with:
an engine size not more than 50cc if powered by an internal combustion engine
a maximum design speed of no more than 25km/h (15.5mph)
You can drive light motorbikes with:
an engine size up to 125cc
a power output of up to 11kW
a power to weight ratio not more than 0.1kW/kg
This category also includes motor tricycles with power output up to 15kW.
You can drive motorbikes with a:
power output up to 35kW
power to weight ratio not more than 0.2kW/kg
The motorbike must also not be derived from a vehicle of more than double its power.
You can also drive motorbikes in category A1.
You can drive:
motorbikes with a power output more than 35kW or a power to weight ratio more than 0.2kW/kg
motor tricycles with a power output more than 15kW
You can also drive motorbikes in categories A1 and A2.
Light vehicles and quad bikes
You can drive motor vehicles with 4 wheels up to 400kg unladen or 550kg if they’re designed for carrying goods.
Category B - if you passed your test before 1 January 1997
You’re usually allowed to drive a vehicle and trailer combination up to 8,250kg maximum authorised mass (MAM). View your driving licence information to check.
You’re also allowed to drive a minibus with a trailer over 750kg MAM.
Category B - if you passed your test on or after 1 January 1997
You can drive vehicles up to 3,500kg MAM with up to 8 passenger seats (with a trailer up to 750kg).
You can also tow heavier trailers if the total MAM of the vehicle and trailer is not more than 3,500kg.
You can drive motor tricycles with a power output higher than 15kW if you are over 21 years old.
Physically disabled drivers with provisional category B entitlement will also have provisional entitlement to ride category A1 or A motor tricycles.
Able-bodied drivers can no longer ride motor tricycles with a provisional category B licence.
Category B auto
You can drive a category B vehicle - but only an automatic one.
You can drive a vehicle with a MAM of 3,500kg with a trailer.
The size of the trailer depends on the BE ‘valid from’ date shown on your licence. If the date is:
before 19 January 2013, you can tow any size trailer
on or after 19 January 2013, you can tow a trailer with a MAM of up to 3,500k
You can drive vehicles between 3,500 and 7,500kg MAM (with a trailer up to 750kg).
You can drive C1 category vehicles with a trailer over 750kg.
The combined MAM of both cannot exceed 12,000kg.
You can drive vehicles over 3,500kg (with a trailer up to 750kg MAM).
You can drive category C vehicles with a trailer over 750kg.
You can drive vehicles with:
no more than 16 passenger seats
a maximum length of 8 metres
a trailer up to 750kg
You can drive D1 category vehicles with a trailer over 750kg MAM.
The combined MAM of both cannot exceed 12,000kg.
You can drive any bus with more than 8 passenger seats (with a trailer up to 750kg MAM).
You can drive D category vehicles with a trailer over 750kg.
Vehicle you can drive; Agricultural tractor
Vehicle you can drive; Road roller
Vehicle you can drive; Tracked vehicles
Vehicle you can drive; Mowing machine or pedestrian-controlled vehicle
Vehicle you can drive; Electrically-propelled vehicle
Vehicle you can drive; Trolley vehicles
Licences issued from 19 January 2013
Drivers passing a category B (car and small vehicle) test can tow:
Small trailers weighing no more than 750kg
A trailer over 750kg as long as the combined weight of the trailer and towing vehicle is no more than 3,500kg Maximum Authorised Mass (MAM)
If you want to tow a trailer weighing more than 750kg, when the combined weight of the towing vehicle and trailer is more than 3,500kg, you’ll have to get B+E entitlement on your licence.
Licences issued from 1 January 1997
If you passed your car driving test on or after 1 January 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.
You have to pass the car and trailer driving test if you want to tow anything heavier.
Licences issued before 1 January 1997
If you passed your car test before 1 January 1997 you’re usually allowed to drive a vehicle and trailer combination up to 8,250kg MAM. View your driving licence information to check.
You’re also allowed to drive a minibus with a trailer over 750kg MAM.
Towing heavier combinations
Apply for provisional licence for a medium-sized lorry and trailer (category C1+E).
Pass the lorry theory test.
Pass the C1+E driving test.
You need to take extra Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC) tests if driving the medium-sized lorry is the main part of your job.
Once you’ve done this you can drive vehicles and trailers with a combined weight of up to 12,000kg MAM.
Where to learn
EP Training, Great Bookham, Surrey (www.eptraining.co.uk)
Land Rover Experience, Eastnor, Herefordshire (www.eastnor.landroverexperience.co.uk)
Martin Lovell, Crawley, West Sussex (www.trailerinstructor.co.uk)
JLD Training, Banbury, Oxon (www.jldlgv.co.uk)
Toads School of Driving, Cambridge (01480 831662)
Howe to Tow, Guildford, Surrey (www.howetotow.com)
Passtime Driver Training, Worcs (www.passtimedrivertraining.co.uk)
Sutton Driving, Norwich (www.suttondriving.co.uk)
John Griffin Trailer Training, Stapleford Abbots, Essex (www.jgtt.co.uk)
Lincoln Driver Training, Lincoln (www.lincolndrivertraining.co.uk)
The Trailer Towing Centre, Croydon (www.towingtrailers.co.uk)
Most cars have a maximum weight they can tow. It’s usually listed in the handbook or specification sheet.
Alternatively the vehicle’s ‘gross train weight’ may be listed on the vehicle identification number (VIN) plate on the car. This is normally 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 should not use your vehicle for towing.
Width and length
The maximum trailer width for any towing vehicle is 2.55 metres.
The maximum length for a trailer towed by a vehicle weighing up to 3,500kg is 7 metres. This length does not include the A-frame.
Matching the Trailer with the Towing Vehicle
Check that the engine is large enough to tow the trailer and load.
Check that the brakes are powerful enough to stop the vehicle and trailer safely.
Check that the Trailer Gross Weight does not exceed the Towing Capacity of the Towing vehicle.
The addition of a loaded trailer to a vehicle will inevitably have a very serious effect on the vehicle's performance. Starting, particularly on hills, can be much more laboured; stopping can take longer distances; cornering and negotiating sharp bends requires extra care.
Consider all these things very carefully when choosing and loading (and towing) your trailer.
The most important check is the vehicle manufacturer's recommended towing limit, which should be in vehicle manufacturer's handbook and on the VIN plate on the chassis.
A good rule of thumb, for safety and stability, when towing a caravan, is the 85% figure recommended for caravans by the Caravan Club. This suggests that you should not tow a caravan that weighs more than 85% of the towing vehicle's kerb weight. (as long as 85% does not exceed the vehicle manufacturer's recommended towing limit. (The kerb weight is defined as the weight of the vehicle plus a full tank of petrol and 75kg (for the driver and luggage).)
Police Forces use the manufacturer's recommended towing limit as their guide. Under no circumstances should the vehicle's gross train weight be exceeded. You should also refer to limitations on overall length, details can be found in this guide that deal with trailer dimensions.
The equipment you use with your trailer or caravan must:
meet certain safety standards
be used correctly
You can be fined up to £2,500, be banned from driving and get 3 penalty points for using a vehicle in a dangerous condition.
Carry out safety checks to make sure you’re using the trailer and equipment legally.
If you get a tow bar for your car, it needs to be ‘type approved’. This means it meets EU regulations and is designed for your car.
Type-approved tow bars have a label with:
an approval number
details of the vehicles it’s approved for
If your car was first used before 1 August 1998, your tow bar doesn’t need to be type-approved.
You must have an adequate view of the road behind you.
Fit suitable towing mirrors if your trailer or caravan is wider than the rear of your car.
You can be fined up to £1,000 and get 3 penalty points for towing without proper towing mirrors.
Trailer or caravan brakes
Your trailer must have a working brake system if it weighs over 750kg when it’s loaded.
Some smaller trailers also have brakes, but these are optional.
Any brakes must be in good working order.
You must use a breakaway cable or secondary coupling in case the trailer becomes detached from your car.
You must display the same number plate on your trailer as on your towing car.
If you tow more than one trailer at a time, fix the number plate to the trailer at the back.
Towing an American caravan or trailer
American trailers and caravans don’t always meet European safety regulations.
If you want to use an American caravan or trailer in the UK or the EU, you must first check that it’s legal.
Brake and coupling requirements for American caravans and trailers
Requirements regarding trailers used on the road are given in the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986, as amended (C&U) and the Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations 1989, as amended (RVLR).
The main requirements are all trailers with a maximum laden weight of 3500kg or less are permitted to have electric brakes regardless of whether they are from America or from somewhere else. Regulations specify that the transmission method by which the signal is used to apply the brakes may be mechanical, hydraulic, pneumatic and, electric.
Differences between American caravans and trailers, and European regulations
It is common on American caravans and trailers with electric brakes to have an electrical device mounted in the towing vehicle which the driver operates manually to apply the brakes of the trailer independent to the brakes on the tow vehicle. This is prohibited in Europe where the regulations demand that the service braking system must be applied without the driver removing his hands from the steering control.
Mounting sensor devices
Alternatively, American caravans and trailers with electric brakes can have an electrical device mounted in the towing vehicle which senses deceleration in the towing vehicle and transmits a signal to the caravan/trailer braking system to operate the brakes. European requirements demand that this type of device must be mounted on the caravan/trailer.
Supply of electricity for electrical braking systems
The electrical energy required for the electrical braking system must be supplied to the trailer by the towing vehicle. If there is a battery on the trailer which is fed by the power supply unit of the towing vehicle, the power from the battery must be disconnected during application of the service braking system.
Some American caravans and trailers rely on a signal from the towing vehicle stop lamps to initiate braking on the caravans and trailers. Owners of such vehicles need to be aware that the system may not meet the requirement for brake response time. European regulations demand that the time delay between the time at which the driver applies the brakes and the time at which the braking force on the least favourably placed axle reaches the level corresponding to the prescribed brake performance must not exceed 0.6 seconds. This could be difficult to achieve on systems that have to wait for the stop lamps to operate before the electronic control unit is activated and the system produces the prescribed brake level.
American caravans and trailers do not always have a parking brake. European requirements demand that a caravan and trailer must be fitted with a parking brake that is capable of holding the vehicle stationary on an 18 per cent up or down gradient. Also, the working parts must be held in the locked position by a purely mechanical device.
American caravans and trailers do not always have brakes on all wheels, and it is common for a 2 axle trailer to have brakes on only one axle. This is prohibited in Europe where regulations demand that each individual wheel must brake.
Caravans and trailers fitted with a braking system are required to be stopped automatically if the coupling separates while the trailer is in motion.
An inertia braking system must allow the trailer to be reversed with the towing vehicle without imposing a sustained drag force exceeding 8% of the technically permissible maximum mass of the trailer. Devices used for this purpose must act automatically and disengage automatically when the trailer moves forward.
American “5th wheel” type caravans are considered semi trailers and, as such cannot use an inertia (overrun) type braking system. The operation of the towing vehicle’s braking system must directly operate the brakes on the trailer and electrically controlled systems are permitted.
Coupling (ball hitch) dimensions
The American ball hitch diameter is are usually 2 inches whereas the European (UK) is 50mm, therefore the trailer coupling may need changing to be compatible with the 50mm ball.
C&U regulations demand compliance with the technical requirements of Directive 71/320/EEC including amendments up to and including Directive 98/12/EC. C&U Regulation 15 also recognises the technical requirements of United Nations ECE Regulation 13 up to and including the 09 series of amendments.
If the towing vehicle has a permissible gross weight in excess of 3.5 tonnes the maximum width and length of the drawbar trailer are 2.55 metres and 12 metres respectively. If however the gross weight of the towing vehicle is 3.5 tonnes or less, then the maximum permissible width and length for a drawbar trailer are 2.55 metres and 7 metres respectively. In both cases, the overall length of the towing vehicle and trailer must not exceed either 18 metre or 18.75 metre depending on the type of towing vehicle.
If the vehicle combination (not including buses) is of the articulated category, regardless of the gross weight of the towing vehicle, the maximum permissible width and length of the semi-trailer are 2.55 metres and 12.2 metres respectively. The overall length of the towing vehicle and trailer must not exceed 15.5m .
The C&U definition of the overall length of a trailer makes it clear that the coupling device and draw-bar are not included in the length dimension. In the case of a caravan, where a protective box is mounted on to the front (for example to hold gas storage tanks) and is supported on the draw-bar, this box is included in the overall length.
This information relates to basic construction requirements and some aspects of the use of trailers. In addition it is recommended that you check whether you have the appropriate driving licence entitlement and whether the vehicle or combination of vehicles requires a tachograph to record driver’s hours. The latter will apply to most vehicles and combinations of vehicles above 3500kg gross weight, where used for commercial purposes.
For Driving Licence enquiries contact DVLA Customer Enquiries, Telephone 0300 790 6801
For Tachograph requirement enquiries contact Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency, Telephone: 0300 123 9000
Further details are available at the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency website
Always keep to the legal speed limit for the road you are using.
Speed limits for cars towing caravans or trailers.
30mph limit applies on all roads with street lighting unless signs show otherwise.
50mph applies on single carriageways unless signs show otherwise.
60mph applies on dual carriageways and motorways.
It should be remembered that you must not travel in the right-hand lane of a motorway, with three lanes or more, if you are driving a vehicle drawing a trailer.
Drive within your outfit's capabilities
Always drive at a speed that is well within your capabilities, and to the road and weather conditions that prevail at the time.
If your trailer begins to snake or swerve, ease off the accelerator and reduce speed gently. (This can happen if you are driving too fast or the load in the trailer is wrongly positioned).
Do not brake sharply on a bend, (this could cause a possible jack-knife situation). Reduce speed before the bend and take the appropriate gear for the speed you are doing. Then gently accelerate out of the bend.
Reversing with a Trailer
Before reversing, get out of the vehicle and check that all is clear to the rear before making the manoeuvre.
Be on the look out for children and pedestrians. If possible, get someone to watch while the manoeuvre is made.
WARNING!! Never reverse a trailer without checking behind because of the huge blind spot. Ideally, have someone see you back, especially in crowded places.
Reversing a trailer is a skill that can be mastered with a little perseverance by anyone who has learned the basic theory. Find somewhere with plenty of space and keep trying until you get it right. It helps to have someone who knows how to do it to tell you where you are going wrong.
Towing capacity is a weighty issue - many best-selling cars are capable of towing a caravan but how do you work out how heavy a caravan or trailer they can tow?
In this guide, we look at what towing capacity is, how to work it out and the rules you need to abide by when looking to legally tow using your vehicle.
Towing capacity is the maximum weight a car can tow safely and legally
To work out the towing capacity you only need to know two key figures: the kerbweight of the car and the maximum mass of the caravan (called ‘maximum technically permissible laden mass’, or MTPLM).
If the mass of the caravan is 85% or less of the car’s kerbweight, the car will tow it with ease.
If it’s between 85% and 100%, be careful – only experienced caravanners should use that car to tow such a heavy van.
But if the caravan is heavier than the car, that car must not be used as a towing vehicle. This calculation is known by experts as ‘outfit matching’.
Where do I find the important weight figures?
You can find the kerbweight of your car in the owner’s manual, sometimes on a plate on the door sill or sometimes on the V5 registration document (look for the figure ‘G: Mass In Service’).
The weight of the caravan is usually listed on a plate near the door frame, but the manufacturer should also be able to tell you.
Is there an easier way to work out towing capacity?
This is a simple rule of thumb: even simpler is to consult the car handbook and find out what the maximum towing capacity it’s rated to lug.
You’re looking for the ‘braked trailer’ figure: a popular towing car is the Skoda Octavia, which has a 1,600kg braked trailer capacity for the best-selling 2.0-litre TDI model. It’s more than able to tow a family-sized caravan, which usually weigh around 1,300kg.
What else do I need to know?
Other key figures to watch for are that the maximum width of the trailer does not exceed 2.55 metres, and the maximum length of the car and the trailer does not exceed 7 metres.
If you passed your driving test before 1997, you don’t need a special driving licence: you can tow even heavy caravans with similarly large and heavy SUVs. If you passed your test after 1 January 1997, you are restricted to a total towing mass of 3,500kg.
This won’t be an issue for normal-sized cars and caravans but will be if you’re using a large SUV to tow a heavy caravan: the Land Rover Discovery 4, a popular tow car, weighs 2,700kg alone.