Car towing guide

Find out if, and how, you can tow with our car towing guide

Nov 20, 2018

Caravanning: Famously, it gives holidaymakers a sense of freedom you don't get with other holidays.

The latest figures show that there are roughly 555,000 caravans in the UK too, so clearly people love them. But if you’re new to the idea of ditching hotels and becoming more at one with nature, there are an awful lot of rules and regulations you need to get your head around.

Once you’ve picked the caravan you want, you’ll need to get a car that can safely tow the weight, then make sure your insurance covers you, and also double check that you can legally drive it all.

The good news is that it’s not as complex as it sounds.

Towing weights

For beginners, it is important to brush up on the basics of pulling a caravan or trailer with a car.

Firstly, find out your car’s recommended towing capacity. Vehicle manufacturers detail the maximum weight a car can tow safely and legally, which is referred to as towing capacity.

They’ll provide two figures, in kilograms, for this. The first is ‘unbraked’ and will be a lower figure, for a caravan or trailer without brakes. The legal weight limit for an unbraked trailer is 750kg.

The second figure is known as ‘braked’. This is for caravans or trailers that have their own braking system that allows for a car to safely pull and control a greater mass.

It is legally possible to tow a caravan or trailer of up to 100% of the car’s maximum towing weight - which can be found in the vehicle handbook, or will be available online or by calling the car maker’s customer services – but in reality this is only safe for drivers who are experienced at towing.

The widespread advice for all but the most experienced tow car drivers is to ensure the weight of what’s being pulled is no more than 85% of the car’s kerbweight.

The kerbweight is the weight of the vehicle. It will be listed in the vehicle handbook, or will be available online or by calling the car maker’s customer services.

Another figure to be aware of is the towball weight, or noseweight. This is the force of the caravan pushing down on your car's towbar, and there will be a maximum permitted sum given by the car maker. It can be measured with a special gauge.

And finally, cars are also subject to what’s called Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW). This is the maximum a car can weigh when people, luggage, roof boxes and any trailer are taken into account. You should check the weight of any trailer or caravan with its manufacturer.

Small unbraked trailers should be compatible with most cars. For example, small hatchbacks like the Volkswagen Polo are able to pull a trailer without brakes weighing around 500kg, which ought to be more than sufficient for a trailer load of garden or DIY waste.

Can I tow a caravan?

If you passed your driving test before 1 January 1997, generally, you’re ok to drive a car and trailer combination of up to 8.25 tonnes.

If you passed your driving test after 1 January 1997, you’re subject to certain restrictions (unless you’ve passed the relevant additional tests).

In a nutshell, you can’t drive anything with a combined weight of more than 3500kg – so your vehicle and trailer shouldn’t weigh more than this.

The DVLA has a good guide to the laws surrounding this.

Do you need insurance to tow a car?

Yes, and you may need additional cover. Check your car insurance policy or speak with your insurer to check whether you are covered for towing. If you aren’t, there may be a premium to pay.


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