How to Tow a Trailer or Caravan

Tuesday, 11 April 2017 14:32:37 Europe/London

If your job requires you to drive a vehicle while towing a trailer or you’re off on a holiday in a caravan, it’s important that you are clued up on the rules and regulations of towing to ensure you’re doing it safely and correctly. 

At Snooper, we know how easy it can be to get bogged down with complexities that you often neglect the basics. But you don’t want to be held accountable and face prison if you cause an accident or have your business hit with a hefty fine for not following legislation. 

In this blog post, we’ll present the basics of towing safety to ensure you are kept on the right side of the law:

Check the limits

Before you even consider towing a trailer or caravan, check your vehicle’s handbook for allowances on carrying extra weight. Every vehicle, regardless of having a braked or unbraked trailer, has a towing limit and you will find this in your handbook. Most vehicle handbooks are now easily found online in a simple Google search. The towing limit (combined weight of trailer and load) for an unbraked vehicle is 750kg or half the kerbside weight of the towing vehicle, depending on which one is lower.

Since April 2010, UK and EU regulations on trailer and caravan external dimensions have been the same. The maximum trailer width for any towing vehicle is 2.55 metres, while the maximum length is 7 metres (excluding drawbar/A-frame) for a trailer towed by a vehicle weighing up to 3,500kg). However, with the dust still settling on Brexit and the country unsure about what will change and what won’t, this might be subject to change. Watch this space for the latest information. 

Do you need a tachograph?

A commercial vehicle weighing 3.5 tonne doesn’t require a tachograph but if you add a trailer to it, you’re treading in trucking territory where there is more strict legislation and a requirement for an operator’s licence, also known as an O-licence. But with most things there are exceptions, for instance, if you aren’t carrying goods for reward (e.g. taking rubbish to the tip) or you aren’t travelling more than 33 miles (50km) in one day, you should be okay. However, both are not legitimate so it’s worth doing your homework before you take on a trailer.

Photo of a car with a U HAUL trailer on the back

Use suitable brackets

To tow a trailer, particularly for work, you must use suitable brackets that must have been tested to British or European standard and use mounts recommended by your vehicle’s manufacturer. If you’re driving a van registered since 1 August 1998, it must be fitted with a European Directive 94/20/FC approved bracket, which should display the type approval number and details of the vehicle it has been fitted on.  

Don’t take on too much weight

It’s all too easy overloading a trailer, especially with rubble and rubbish, and thinking that everything will be fine. But keep in mind that prison sentence and fine if you’re considering making a journey you think might be too risky. Instead, just make two trips, ensuring both loads are evenly spread out to keep the trailer steady. Also, make sure everything is within the trailer as anything sticking out the side by 305mm and out of the back by more than one metre can result in a penalty.

Check driving licences

Driving licences show what categories of vehicle a person can drive, including the size of the trailer they’re allowed to tow. As a driver, it’s important you check to see if you are qualified to drive and tow that which you are being asked to, while employers must ensure their workers are capable of fulfilling their work duties. 

Those who have been driving before 1 January 1997 are at an advantage because they are able to drive a vehicle and trailer up to a combined maximum authorised mass (MAM) of 8.25 tonnes. While drivers who passed their test after 1 January 1997 are only able to drive a vehicle coupled with either a trailer up to 750kg MAM or a combined weight (vehicle and trailer) of 3,500kg gross train weight (GTW) unless they have taken the B+E driving test.

Image of a man attaching a caravan trailer to the back of his car

Carry out a safety check

Before setting off on any journey, it’s vital you carry out a safety check. If your journey is particularly long, it will be worth carrying out the same checks periodically. You should be looking for the following:

  • Making sure no materials have come loose and can unsteady the trailer
  • Checking the tyre pressure
  • Ensuring all lights are working
  • Making sure the number place on the trailer isn’t obscured and matches the vehicle you’re driving
  • Ensuring that wheel nuts haven’t loosened 
  • Take care when driving

If you’re driving with a trailer for the first time, ensure you take extra care as it won’t feel the same and can take some getting used to. It might be worth hitting the local car park and having a few practices so you can see how the vehicle feels and acts with a trailer. You can also attend a specialist driver training course. 

When on the motorway, it is illegal to tow a trailer in the outside lane. This is something many drivers forget about when towing but could land you with a hefty fine and penalty points should you be caught using the outside lane. 

Remember to drive slower than usual and to leave extra room for braking and manoeuvring, so if something unexpected does happen, you’ll have more chance of taking control of the situation.

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