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Compulsive chicken choker
6,410 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
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…….

Licence entitlement.

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.

To summarise:

"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.

Tow car

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

Super Moderator
7,399 Posts
Interesting..... Thank you.

Compulsive chicken choker
6,410 Posts
Discussion Starter · #3 ·
There are other implications if you are towing for hire & reward but I've just concentrated on the private use side.

3,251 Posts
Anybody want to buy some scrap metal as my 2 axle car trailer is only braked on 1 axle :whistle:

Premium Member
1,798 Posts
I have no inclination nor desire to tow anything but am a sucker for information - relevant to me or not.

Thanks for a very interesting, and logically written, article.

3,487 Posts
Thanks thats a really usefull thread, shame you cant get such an easy to read and concise run down from the DVLA.

5,531 Posts
How do you go about getting a car trailer plated ,as when trying to sell mine that what i was being asked,early 80's made,fitting new brake shoes,has twin wheel independent suspension and can carry 2tons .looked about but cannot find info.

5,698 Posts
Does that mean I'll be illegal to tow the Pop on a twin axle trailer with our works Mazda pickup then???


16 Posts
That is a very good initial post

I hope you do not think I am being out of line but this is what I use on many sites - I think perhaps your post is more to the point and includes aspects which I have not....

Trailer towing:- B and B+E licence rules explained

Trailer MAM means the maximum weight the trailer can be when fully loaded (weight of empty trailer plus weight of load)

Trailers over 3500 kgs plated MAM weight come under different rules which is why all the trailers towed by B class vehicles, those of 3.5 tonnes and under, are not plated at more than 3500 kgs or 3.5 tonnes MAM

Trailers without plates use the total of the TYRE LOAD RATINGS to determine the MAM.
A rating of 66 on 4 tyres would give a MAM of 1200 kgs.

Vehicles in the B licence category will have the following information on a plate in the vehicle, in the handbook or on the V5 form.
Information can also be found on many internet vehicle specification sites.
Unladen or Kerb weight - although there is a slight difference in the two it is not that much
GVW - the max weight the vehicle can weigh when fully loaded
GTW - the max weight the vehicle and trailer can ACTUALLY weigh when added together. This does not refer to the total of the vehicle GWV and trailer MAM weights.
Towing capacity - this is the ACTUAL weight that can be towed by the vehicle - it does not mean the trailer MAM weight.
None of the above weights must be exceeded

Some vehicles have a GVW, a towing capacity and a GTW. In such a case the GTW takes priority over the GVW and towing capacity when added together


Where a towing capacity is listed then this would be a legal example:-
CAR has GVW of 2000 and a towing capacity of 1800
TRAILER has a MAM of 3500 and an unladen weight of 1000
The trailer can be loaded with a maximum weight of 800

Where there is not a towing capacity listed then the GTW is used
GTW minus the GVW does not give the towing capacity unless the vehicle is fully laden
VAN has GVW of 3500 and GTW of 6000
TRAILER has MAM of 3500
The van and trailer can weigh 3000 each and be legal

The Gov sites are not that good at explaining this so perhaps my simpler way of explaining will help.....

To tow over 750 kgs with a B licence you need to comply with these rules:-
The plated MAM of the trailer must not be more than the UNLADEN/KERB weight of the towing vehicle
The GVW of the towing vehicle plus the plated MAM of the trailer must not add up to more than 3500 kgs
The ACTUAL weight of the empty trailer and its load must not be more than the listed towing capacity

Example of legally towing over 750 kgs with a B licence - made up figures but not that far from what can be found....

Towing vehicle -
Unladen/empty/kerb = 1500
GVW = 2000
Towing capacity = 1800

Trailer -
Unladen/empty = 800
MAM = 1500 (Perhaps originally a 2000 MAM but downplated by manufacturer so it conforms to B licence towing)

Load trailer with 700 max

Reasons it is legal for towing on a B licence -
The 1500 MAM of the trailer is not more than the 1500 unladen/empty weight of the towing vehicle
The 2000 GVW of the towing vehicle plus the 1500 MAM of the trailer is not more than 3500
The towing capacity/actual weight being towed does not exceed 1800

Here is another way of looking at the B licence towing rules with examples:-

RULE 1 - The gross plated weight of the trailer (MAM) cannot exceed the vehicle kerbweight.

RULE 2 - Also, the sum of the vehicle gross plated weight (GVW) and the trailer gross plated weight (MAM) cannot exceed 3500kg.


Vehicle 1200kg kerbweight, 1700kg gross plated weight (GVW) = maximum trailer gross plated weight (MAM) 1200kg SEE RULE 1

Vehicle 1500kg kerbweight, 2000kg gross plated weight (GVW) = maximum trailer gross plated weight (MAM) 1500kg SEE RULES 1 & 2

Vehicle 1800kg kerbweight, 2300kg gross plated weight (GVW) = maximum trailer gross plated weight (MAM) 1200kg SEE RULE 2

The weight which can be loaded on the trailer is the trailer gross plated weight (MAM) minus the trailer unladen weight
Trailer gross plated weight (MAM) 1500 with unladen weight 900 = a maximum load of 600

The listed maximum towing capacity for a vehicle must not be exceeded - that is actual weight not plated MAM weight
Although there is not a specific law which states this there are other laws which can be used if the combination (vehicle & trailer) is deemed unsafe.

Caravan weights work on a slightly different system as they take into account the recommended (not legal) 85% towing advice

In April 2010 new rules were introduced for those supervising certain learner drivers but they only affected those supervising VOCATIONAL categories such as C1 C1+E D1 & D1+E where the supervising driver had those categories given to them for free when they passed a pre 1997 car test.
They do not affect those with a pre 1997 B+E licence who wish to supervise a B+E learner.
All B licence holders have B+E provisional on the paper part of their licence and can tow an empty or loaded trailer on all roads including motorways.
The usual rules apply when a learner is driving -
The supervising driver must be aged over 21
The supervising driver must have held a B+E licence for at least 3 years
L plates must be fitted to the front of the vehicle and the rear of the trailer
Correct insurance for a B+E learner

Many will find that passing the once in a lifetime B+E test is their best option so here is some info on that test:-

The B+E test
No medical or theory test required
Read a number plate from a certain distance
- usually 5
The next three can be in any order:-
VIDEO - Reversing Exercise - done in test centre grounds if test conducted from practical test centre - some tests are now being done from training school grounds
- done in test centre grounds if test conducted from practical test centre - some tests are now being done from training school grounds
One hour road drive - includes the independent drive and is done virtually the same as the basic car test

DISCLAIMER - I have no connection to any companies which may be featured in those videos

This is interesting - a B licence towing set up can be presented for the B+E test but L plates must be used for the test. So you can train yourself, go to test by yourself, fit L plates, do the test, then, pass or fail, remove L plates and drive away by yourself.

I hope this helps those who are unsure of the rules

Please post with this info if you want me to answer a specific query - weights in kgs please
(might be made easier if the info below is copied and pasted with the weights etc put after the '=' bits)

B or B+E =

Unladen/kerb =
Towing capacity =

Unladen =

3,222 Posts
some interesting reading, thanks guys. i tow my jeep on an A frame, jeep has eyes welded to the chassy / front bumper and i just put the A frame on to the back of the camper, i know its a grey area but the camper is 4.5 ton of american mpotor home, the jeep is 700k of jago jeep, i dont even know its there:D. not too sure how it would stand in court but not been stopped yet.

starting to crawl back up
3,029 Posts
i,v recently been told that the date for the ,I V A test for self built trailers has been put back to october 2013,,,

any body know if this is correct or not ?????

Compulsive chicken choker
6,410 Posts
Discussion Starter · #17 ·
i,v recently been told that the date for the ,I V A test for self built trailers has been put back to october 2013,,,

any body know if this is correct or not ?????
No, it is already in force, the links below should help:

There has been talk of MoT's for trailers & caravans, maybe this is what was reffered to?

is currently reloading.
844 Posts
very interesting write up, and easy to uderstand, thank Gary.

reinforces my "no caravan" rule though.....

Swift Chrisma, indeed?! why ih why do they insist on giving caravans such daft names?

Compulsive chicken choker
6,410 Posts
Discussion Starter · #20 ·
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