I've had several PM's asking about clarification on towing legalities so I've drafted a document that gives a few basic facts explained (hopefully) in clear English rather than complex legal-speak! This is also available as a Word document which is easier to read than a posted thread.
So, you want to tow?
You want to tow a caravan for holidays, to a rod run etc? Or maybe you want to trailer home a new project? Your car has a tow bar fitted & your mate has a trailer, you’re good to go? Maybe, maybe not, read on…….
When did you pass your test? If it was before 1/1/1997, (and you haven’t been disqualified since that date for any period) you are pretty well covered to tow any legally matched car/trailer combination as your licence will carry “B+E” entitlement. If it was after that date you will only have a “B” category licence so see below as you are restricted to the following:
Total gross train weight must not exceed 3500kgs. This is the maximum gross weight of the tow-car (this can be found in the handbook or on the chassis plate) plus the maximum gross weight of the trailer (referred to as the Maximum Technically Permissible Laden Mass). Currently you are also restricted by the maximum gross weight of the trailer must not exceed the kerb weight (unladen weight) of the tow car. This is currently being reviewed as when our licences change in 2014 to fall into line with the European licences, they currently don’t have that restriction so ours will possibly be relaxed to fall into line.
3500kgs sounds a lot, BUT a new-ish family estate pulling a 4 berth caravan could well be over this:
2010 Ford Mondeo TDCi estate (kerbweight 1570kgs, maximum gross weight 2190kgs) with a “typical” 4 berth caravan (eg. 2010 Swift Charisma 550, MTPLM 1490kgs) comes out as maximum train weight of 3680kgs, over a “B” licence holders 3500kg limit. Also bear in mind that all cars also have a maximum Gross Train Weight, which is the absolute maximum that the car & trailer fully loaded can technically weigh (this is usually the car’s maximum gross weight plus its maximum towing weight, but not always). “B” licence holders are restricted by the PLATED weight of the trailer/caravan, not its actual weight.
The other important factor in all of this is the car’s maximum towing weight, this will be mentioned later.
“B” category licence holders. Car (gross weight) + Trailer (gross weight) limited to 3500kgs.
Car (kerb/unladen weight) must be greater than trailer (gross weight).
The exception to the above is if the trailer has a maximum gross weight of under 750kgs, in that instance the total gross weight of car/trailer can be up to 4250kgs.
Okay, you’ve understood the licence requirements & you’ve got a powerful car, let’s break out the welder & angle iron & knock up a tow bar! Hang on a minute…..
Cars registered after August 1998 must have a type-approved tow bar fitted. This is a tow bar manufactured in accordance with 94/20/EC that was part of the European Type Approval directive. This ensures that the tow bar attaches to mounting points on the vehicle specified by the vehicle manufacturer and no-where else. The tow bar must also display a weight rating plate that matches the vehicles maximum towing limit and tow bar down-load (nose weight) limit. Fitting a non-type approved tow bar to a post August 1998 car is illegal (there are exceptions such as motor homes, “grey” imports and some coach built vehicles).
“That’s all well & good, but I cannot find a tow bar listed anywhere for my car, it’s a heavy & powerful Mondeo ST, what’s the problem?” The short answer is that that model isn’t homologated for towing and as such cannot legally be fitted with a tow bar as Ford did not specify towing limits or anything else. It might well be possible to fit a tow bar from another model, but using one for towing would be illegal. This is typical of a lot of performance models, if you are buying a car to tow, please check that it can be fitted with a tow bar first!
Also note that Type Approval 94/20/EC covers the maximum that a tow ball can project from the rear of the car and the maximum size drop-plate that can be used to lower the tow ball. Important if you are thinking of adding a bike rack mounting plate, caravan stabiliser bracket etc, etc. The height of the tow ball from the ground with the vehicle in a laden condition is stated in 94/20/EC as being between 350 and 420mm to the ball centre.
Ignoring the limits imposed on “B” category licence holders, the absolute maximum towing limits imposed on a car by the manufacturer are the nose-weight (this is the vertical downward force exerted on the tow bar by the trailer coupling) and the maximum towing weight (usually stated as two, one for an un-braked trailer (legally limited to a maximum of 750kgs) and one for a braked trailer). Due to differences in model variants, these limits can vary greatly with some specific variants not being able to tow at all. Check the handbook. Also be aware that some models (notably executive German models) sometimes require engine and transmission cooling upgrades (even some manual gearboxes) if the car is to be used for towing and wasn’t fitted with a factory tow bar (these would have had the necessary upgrades done in production). Some models also require wiring/ECU upgrades. Don’t underestimate the cost of these modifications if you chose to do them!
Caravans & other high-sided trailers
Again, ignoring “B” licence holders restrictions, you’ve got a “B+E” licence and your Mondeo has a high towing limit, so lets go and buy a big twin axle caravan! Well, legally you’re okay, BUT the advice from the National Caravan Council (and backed by the Caravan Club & Camping & Caravanning Club and endorsed by extensive research carried out by Bailey Caravans in conjunction with Bath University) is to try and keep the maximum weight of the caravan under the unladen/kerb weight of the towing vehicle. Caravans have a high centre of gravity and as such are a lot less stable that a twin axle car trailer or a builders trailer full of sand. Passing HGV’s, coaches, cross winds etc can cause the caravan to “snake” (where it starts to sway from side to side in increasing severity), the heavier the caravan, the less chance the driver has of regaining control. Good weight distribution inside the caravan helps to limit this (this is also true for trailers, keep the heaviest load over the axle & aim to achieve the maximum nose weight that you can within the limits mentioned earlier).
IF you are unlucky enough to encounter a “snake” while towing DO NOT accelerate! There is a myth that this will cause the trailer/caravan to “snap” into a straight line but it has been proved that to do this you would have to accelerate up to 200mph in 2 seconds…… The advice is to hold the steering wheel straight ahead and let the car slow down naturally, this will usually allow it to correct itself.
Using an A-frame to transport another vehicle seems ideal. These attach to the car being towed’s wishbones with tensioned chains, the steering is left unlocked, a light board fitted on the back & everything is cool. If ever there were a “grey area” with towing, this is it.
The law states that any vehicle on the highway must be taxed, MoT’d & insured, so towing a car on an A-frame should theoretically meet these requirements. The argument has been that a vehicle fitted with an A-frame & light board then becomes a “trailer” so is exempt from these. No test case has ever gone to court, so there is no legal precedent to use as an example. However, the sticking point concerns brakes. Any trailer weighing more than 750kgs must have an overrun braking system that is in accordance with:
• After 1968, brakes must activate all wheels.
• After April 1989, must be fitted with a hydraulically damped coupling and auto-reverse brakes giving braking efficiences set out in EEC directive 71/320 (ECE13).
• After April 1989, must be fitted with a parking brake that holds on a 16% gradient as specified in the EEC directive mentioned above.
There are companies offering A-frames with brakes that attach to the towed vehicles break pedal via a Bowden cable, but there is doubt that these meet the braking efficiency requirements of the EEC standard.
“Right, so I’m better off building my own trailer to carry my car?” Possibly, but remember that any amateur built trailer is now subjected to an IVA test.
The above is written based on my own research, for factual information please visit:
Members Home Page VOSA Corporate Website and Website of the UK government : Directgov