The first thing to appreciate is that the rules on towing a caravan vary depending on when you passed your driving test.
The good news is that older drivers – who often passed several decades ago – are at an advantage. The key date is 1 January 1997 – if you passed before then, things are much simpler.
Start by checking the back of your photo-card driving licence. Category B+E is the crucial one that you need for towing caravans.
Unsure about reversing a caravan? Read our tips.
Licences issued before 1 January 1997
You will generally have B+E, so are entitled to drive a vehicle and trailer combination up to 8.25 tonnes Maximum Authorised Mass (MAM). This is the weight of a vehicle or trailer including the maximum load that can be carried safely, and is more than enough for most touring caravans.
Licences issued between 1 January 1997 and 18 January 2013
You will have a Category B on your licence, which means you can:
- Drive a vehicle up to 3,500kg MAM towing a trailer of up to 750kg MAM.
- Tow a trailer over 750kg MAM, as long as the combined weight of the trailer and towing vehicle is no more than 3,500kg.
Licences issued from 19 January 2013
You will have a Category B on your driving licence, which means you 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).
Anyone who passed their driving test after 1 January 1997, and who wants to tow anything heavier than what’s listed above, will need to pass a Category B+E driving test. For more information click here.
It costs from £115, and many companies across the UK offer advice and training. Search online for local providers.
Find out more about towing mirrors
Maximum width and length
The maximum trailer width for any towing vehicle is 2.55 metres, while the maximum length for a trailer up to 3,500kgs is 7 metres, excluding the A-frame.
Every car has a maximum weight it can tow, and this weight is usually expressed as two different numbers: braked and un-braked. There will be a plate or sticker somewhere on the car that shows this, and it will be in the owner’s handbook, too.
The numbers means what they say: the lower number is for a trailer or caravan that doesn’t have its own brakes and relies on the brakes of the towing vehicle to slow the towing combination down and bring it to a halt. This weight is usually 750kgs, but could be lower if you drive a small car.
Moving up the weight range, all caravans and trailers must have working brakes if their loaded weight can exceed 750kgs. A breakaway cable must also be fitted that applies the brakes if the trailer or caravan becomes detached.
So, a car’s ‘braked’ towing capacity refers to the weight it can tow if the trailer or caravan is fitted with brakes. This is usually somewhere between 2,000kgs and 3,500kgs, but again could be lower if you drive a small vehicle.
Alternatively, your car might list the vehicle’s ‘gross train weight’ or GTW. This is the maximum combined weight of the car itself plus the trailer and its load.
You must not exceed either the maximum towing weight or the GTW. And don’t forget to include the weight of the trailer itself when you are calculating its overall weight; it’s easy to forget and to just think about the weight of the load it is carrying!
Tow bars and the law
Any tow bar must be ‘type approved’ as being designed to be able to cope with the load your car can tow. Every type-approved two bar will have a sticker or plate on it showing an approval number and the vehicle it is approved for.
If your tow bar doesn’t have this then it may not be type approved and won’t be legal to use, so please seek professional guidance.
However, if your vehicle was first used before 1 August 1998 then your tow bar does not need type approval.
Your towing vehicle must be fitted with mirrors that allow the driver to see past the trailer or caravan that is being towed. If the towed unit is wider than the vehicle that is towing it then a pair of auxiliary towing mirrors might be necessary.
The penalty for not having effective mirrors is a fine of up to £1,000 and three penalty points on your licence.
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Number plates and lights
Your caravan or trailer must be fitted with a rear (yellow) number plate that shows the registration number of the towing vehicle.
You must also show the usual rear lights when towing, which usually means that the trailer or caravan must have a full suite of rear lights comprising two red sidelights, two amber indicators, and two triangular red reflectors.
Trailers that are more than 1.3 metres wide must also have a rear red fog light, and trailers built after 1990 must have two white reflectors at the front, too. Boat trailers are excluded from this requirement.
If your trailer is more than 1.6 metres wide then it must have white position lights instead of the front reflectors.
If it doesn’t, then you should use a towing light board that plugs into the same electrical socket on your car as a trailer or caravan.
Tips for preventing caravan break-ins
The best advice is…
If you’re unsure about how the law on towing applies to you, seek professional help.
If you’re considering buying a caravan, talk to your retailer. They will have plenty of experience in dealing with first-timers.
Please be aware, this article is only a basic guide to towing law. For more information click here.
You can check online with the DVLA here to see exactly what vehicles you’re allowed to drive.