Trailers, caravans and the law
Towing trailers or caravans with a car is a common requirement – and most people assume that they can tow anything their car can manage. Unfortunately, that isn’t always correct.
- Trailer & caravan weights & sizes – outfit matching
- If you passed your car test before 1st January 1997
- If you passed your car test after 1st January 1997
- The B+E towing test
Trailer & Caravan Weights & Sizes – Outfit Matching
Assuming all other legal requirements are met, a braked trailer should not weight more than the manufacturer’s towing limit for the tow car. The towing vehicle’s maximum gross train weight should also not be exceeded. (Train weight is the combined weight of the towing vehicle and the trailer.)
The Caravan Club recommends that caravans should not weigh more than 85% of the weight of the tow car, assuming that this is lower than the manufacturer’s towing limit for that car.
Unbraked trailers cannot weight more than 750kg and the towing vehicle must have a kerb weight of at least twice the maximum weight of the trailer.
For towing vehicles with a maximum laden weight of under 3,500kg, the maximum trailer dimensions are 2.3m wide and 7m long (excluding the tow coupling and drawbar).
(This information applies to towing vehicles and trailers with a maximum laden weight of less than 3,500kg. Above this is HGV territory – different rules apply).
For further information, see here.
If you passed your car test before 1st January 1997
Car drivers who passed their driving tests before 1st January 1997 were automatically given the necessary entitlement to tow a trailer behind a car or light commercial vehicle. This is shown as B+E on your driving licence.
This means that you can drive vehicles and trailer combinations with a combined maximum gross weight of up to 8,250kg (8.25 tonnes).
In practice, this means that for car drivers, any car and trailer or caravan combination is permitted legally, although you should always take care to ensure that the car and trailer are correctly matched; check that the trailer is not too heavy for the towing car.
If you passed your car test after 1st January 1997
Car drivers who passed their driving test after 1st January 1997 are subject to greater restrictions on towing.
You can tow a vehicle and trailer combination weighing up to 3.5 tonnes, provided that the unladen weight of the towing vehicle is greater than the maximum permissible weight of the trailer.
You can also tow a trailer with a gross weight of 750kg behind any category B vehicle – giving a maximum permissible weight of 4.25 tonnes (max weight for category B is 3.5 tonnes).
In practice, these new rules are not too restrictive for most drivers, but there are a few surprising exceptions.
For example, large 4×4 pickups (like the Nissan Navara and Toyota Hilux) often have gross weights over 2.5 tonnes. This means that when coupled with a medium-sized caravan or other trailer (weighing >1 tonne), the combined gross weight would be likely to exceed 3.5 tonnes, which would be illegal.
To find out the unladen weight of your car / towing vehicle, look in the owners’ manual.To find out the maximum permissible weight of a trailer, look for its ‘plate’ – a metal plate somewhere on the trailer that will state the maximum laden weight of the trailer.
The B+E Towing Test – The Solution
If you passed your car driving test on or after 1st January 1997 and want to increase your towing capabilities to include combination weights over 3.5 tonnes, you are required to take an additional driving test – the B+E test.
This allows you to tow trailers with a gross weight in excess of 750kg using vehicles with a gross weight of up to 3.5 tonnes.
This is mostly likely to be useful for drivers of vans and other light commercial vehicles who need to tow trailers, or for caravan owners who have large tow cars and/or caravans.
Alternatively, a very comprehensive guide called Towing and the Law is available from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Trades (SMMT) – click here for more information.
Disclaimer: All information on this page is provided in good faith. While we endeavour to update it when necessary, we cannot guarantee its accuracy or completeness and take no responsibility for any errors or omissions.