There are plenty of reasons why you might be considering towing a trailer with your car. For example, you may need more storage space for your family’s camping equipment, or you might be a tradesperson looking for an easier and more convenient way to transport all of your tools.
However you plan to use your trailer, there are a whole host of things you need to think about, from how you’ll have to alter your driving style, to what laws you’ll need to abide by. In this guide, we will take you through everything you need to consider, so you can feel confident and have peace of mind whenever you take your trailer on the road. Read on to learn more.
Can I tow a trailer?
When you’re planning to tow a trailer, the first thing you need to consider is whether you’re actually able to. This will depend on a number of factors. Here, we’ll explain what those are, and help you to work out, in both legal and practical terms, whether you can tow a trailer with your driving licence and existing vehicle.
Does my driving licence allow me to tow a trailer?
According to the UK government’s guidelines, if you passed your driving test on or after 1 January 1997, you can drive a car or van with a maximum authorised mass (MAM) of 3,500kg while towing a trailer with an MAM of up to 750kg. You can also tow a trailer with an MAM of more than 750kg as long as the combined MAM of your trailer and towing vehicle doesn’t exceed 3,500kg.
MAM is the maximum your vehicle is allowed to weigh when it’s loaded, and you should be able to find all of the information you need in your car owner’s handbook.
For those who passed their car test before 1 January 1997, you’ll typically be allowed to drive a vehicle and trailer with a combined MAM of 8,250kg, although it’s best to check your driving licence information before proceeding.
If you’re looking to tow anything heavier than your licence allows, you will have to pass the car and trailer driving test first.
Is my vehicle suitable for towing a trailer?
As well as working out whether your driving licence allows you to tow a trailer, you will need find out whether your vehicle is capable of pulling extra weight and, if so, how much it can handle.
It’s not always easy to work out the towing capacity of your vehicle, as different car manufacturers use different terminology, and the information you need mightn’t always be immediately obvious. But, it’s incredibly important that you find out about your vehicle’s capabilities because, not only is towing an overladen trailer illegal, but it can also invalidate your insurance.
The chassis plate of your vehicle will state the maximum gross vehicle weight (GVW) and gross combination weight (GCW). Your vehicle’s handbook will either repeat this information, or specify the maximum weight it can tow. Legally, if you exceed the maximum weight outlined, this will be construed as using a vehicle in dangerous conditions. It’s vital that you take the towing capacity of your vehicle seriously, and refrain from overfilling your trailer or buying one that’s too big or heavy in the first place.
Trailer towing laws
In order to keep you and other drivers safe, there are some rules and regulations you need to follow when towing a trailer. Here, we’ll explain everything you need to know, from the speed limits you must abide by, to whether your trailer needs its own number plates. Take our advice on board and you’ll be far less likely to run into trouble while you’re travelling.
What is the speed limit for a car towing a trailer?
When towing a trailer on a dual carriageway or motorway, 60mph is the maximum speed you should be travelling at. And, on any other type of road (as long as a lower speed limit isn’t in force), you should stick to a maximum speed of 50mph.
What is the size and weight limit of trailers in the UK?
Trailers can differ quite dramatically in size and weight — especially when you consider the fact that, technically, everything from a small camping trailer to a large touring caravan can be classed as one. However, there are some rules about how big of a trailer you’re allowed to tow, both in general and depending on your vehicle.
Legally, any trailer you tow should have a width of no more than 2.55 metres. And, the maximum length for a trailer being towed by a vehicle weighing up to 3,500kg is 7 metres. Vehicles over 3500kg can pull trailers with a length of up to 12 metres.
The maximum weight cars can pull differs by model, which means there isn’t a number that will cover everyone. However, you should be able to find all of the necessary information about your car’s towing capabilities in your owner’s manual. If you can’t find what you need there, the chassis plate of your car will state the GVW and GCW it can handle.
What lights does your trailer need to have?
You have a legal obligation to ensure that your trailer has the appropriate lighting. All trailers must be fitted with:
- Two red sidelights
- Two red stoplights
- Two red reflective triangles
- Amber indicators that will flash 60–120 times per minute
Trailers built after 30 September 1990 also need:
- White front reflectors
And, trailers fitted with brakes and built from October 2012 will also need:
- Reverse lights
Only once you have these in place can you take your trailer out on the road.
Does your trailer need a number plate?
Yes, by law, any trailer being towed on UK roads needs to have an illuminated number plate that corresponds to those on your car.
How to tow a trailer
If you’ve never towed a trailer before, there are a number of things you’ll need to consider, from the pre-trip check you’ll need to do to how you should alter your driving style. Here, we’ll explain everything so, when you do set out on the road, you can be confident that you’re properly prepared.
How do I connect a trailer to my towing vehicle?
Before being able to tow a trailer, you will need a professional to fit an EU Type Approved tow bar to the back of your car. They will make sure that the tow bar is right for your car and that everything is fitted and wired correctly. You will only be able to connect a trailer to your vehicle once this has been done. Afterwards, here’s what the process of hitching up should look like:
- To start, you should ensure that any stabilising legs on your trailer have been fully wound up. Your trailer should now only be standing on its travelling wheels and the jockey wheel.
- Reverse your car into position so the tow ball is less than a foot away from the trailer hitch.
- You should then wind down the jockey wheel, so your trailer’s tow hitch is above the tow ball on your car.
- Next, release the handbrake on your trailer if there is one, and pull the trailer forwards until its tow hitch is directly above your car’s tow ball.
- You should now wind the trailer’s jockey wheel up so the tow hitch drops onto the tow ball. If done correctly, it will lock into place with a firm click.
- To make sure that everything is secure, wheel the jockey wheel down once more until the back of your car starts to lift slightly. If you see this happen, you’ve successfully hitched a trailer to your vehicle.
- Now you should wind the jockey wheel back up again for the last time and secure it in the travel position.
- Finally, if you have a trailer with brakes, you should connect its breakaway cable to your car. This is a legal requirement, as it will ensure that your trailer’s brakes are activated if it becomes unhitched while travelling.
The trailer should now be safely, securely, and legally connected to your trailer. Before setting off, all that’s left to do is your last minute, pre-trip checks.
What pre-trip checks should I do?
There are some checks you need to do each and every time you’re preparing to set off with your trailer. Carrying these out will help to ensure that everything’s in working order, so you’ll be far less likely to encounter any problems along the way.
First you should check the tyre pressure of both your towing vehicle and your trailer. This is incredibly important, because under-inflated tyres will negatively affect your handling and grip on the road. They’re also prone to rapid deflation — especially when you’re driving at high speeds on a motorway — and they can have an impact on your fuel economy. So, a little while before you’re planning to tow a trailer, check the pressure of all your tyres with a pressure gauge. If you find that they’re under-inflated, be sure to top them up before beginning your journey.
You should double and triple check that the hitch, coupler, and draw bar are all securely connecting the trailer to your vehicle. If your trailer has brakes, you will also need to check that these are working correctly.
Additionally, it’s important that you make sure all of the necessary wiring is connected properly, and that your trailer’s brake lights and indicators are working as they should. If this isn’t the case, you should refrain from taking your trailer out for a spin until everything is in working order.
Finally, it’s vital that you check your rear-view and wing mirrors are in a position that gives you a good view of the road, and allows you to keep an eye on what’s happening with your trailer.
How should I alter my driving style when towing a trailer?
When towing a trailer with your car, it’s important that you alter your driving style to account for the added weight and the extra space your vehicle will now take up. With some practice, you’ll be able to get a feel for how your acceleration, braking, and steering are affected. But, it won’t be intuitive to begin with, so you’ll have to put some extra thought and care into the way you drive.
One aspect of towing a trailer that you should constantly be aware of is that the added weight will affect your braking distance. As a result, it’s vital that you leave far more space than usual between you and the car in front whenever you hit the road with your trailer. This will mean, if anything goes wrong or the car before you brakes sharply, you’ll have plenty of time to react and come to a stop if necessary. When driving conditions are good, we would recommend leaving a stopping distance of around 4 seconds and, when the roads are wet, six seconds would be best.
Towing a trailer won’t just affect your braking ability: you’ll feel the difference when you accelerate, too. You’re likely to find that it takes more time to build up speed, which you’ll have to allow for when you’re looking to overtake another car. In this situation, you should also make sure to stay in the right-hand lane longer than you might be used to, as you’ll need to leave some extra time for your trailer to clear the obstruction as well.
Turning corners will also take some extra thought and care, especially if they’re particularly tight. The length that the trailer adds to your vehicle will mean that you might have to start turning later, or take corners wider than you typically would if you were driving your car on its own. If you turn corners as usual, it’s likely that the wheels of your trailer will mount the kerb, which could cause damage or affect your stability.
The majority of drivers who have experience of towing a trailer will agree that reversing is typically the most difficult manoeuvre to master. The main issue is that often, when you’re reversing, you’ll find that your trailer wants to turn in the opposite direction to where you’re steering it. If you allow this to happen, your vehicle and trailer could collide.
To prevent this, you will need to correct your steering as soon as your trailer has turned just enough in the right direction. If you find that it goes even slightly too far, you will need to stop and pull forward to straighten everything up, and then try again.
If you have a passenger, ask them to get out of your car and help to guide you backwards, around the corner or into the space you’re aiming for. While it might seem counterintuitive, you won’t be using your rear-view mirror or back window a lot for this manoeuvre. Instead, you should ensure that your wing mirrors are adjusted correctly and that your driver’s window is open, so you can get a clear view of what the sides of your trailer are doing.
Towing a trailer can seem quite difficult if you’ve never done it before but, with some practice, it can become second nature. As long as you abide by all of the necessary rules and regulations, do all of your pre-trip checks every time you’re planning to set off, and alter your driving style when towing, you’ll be far less likely to encounter any issues.
If you’re looking to buy your first trailer or replace an old one, we offer wide ranges of ERDE Classic and Daxara models that might interest you. Plus, we stock all of the trailer accessories you could possibly need, which will help you to get the most out of your chosen trailer.
If you have a question about any of our trailers, or would like to know more about how to hitch them, be sure to get in touch. We’ll be more than happy to help.