Whether you’re bringing along the caravan for a family holiday, towing something for work, or shifting furniture for a house move, knowing how much you can legally tow is an important issue for motorists to get to grips with. Because while many cars can haul a caravan or small trailer these days, there’s more to towing than simply attaching a load and hitting the open road.

For those unfamiliar with towing, we’ll look at what towing capacity is and how you can work it out, as well as the legal ramifications and rules you’ll need to follow when towing with your vehicle.

What is towing capacity?

When we talk about towing capacity, we’re referring to the maximum amount of weight that your car can legally tow.

You’ll be able to find this figure in your vehicle’s handbook, the vehicle manufacturer’s website, or your car’s VIN plate. The information is usually listed as two separate figures: a braked weight and an unbraked weight.

What do we mean by braked and unbraked weight? Braked weight is the maximum weight of a trailer or caravan that has its own brakes. Unbraked weight, as you might be able to guess, is the maximum weight of a trailer, caravan, boat trailer or horsebox that is not capable of braking independently.

For the most part, you’re allowed to tow more braked weight than unbraked weight.

If the trailer weight is more than 750kg or over half the car’s kerb weight (i.e., the weight of the car without people or luggage inside) then the trailer must be fitted with brakes.

tow bar

How can I calculate the towing capacity of my car?

Whether you find your vehicle’s towing capacity in your vehicle’s manual or on the VIN plate, you should see listed:

  • The maximum authorised mass (MAM), or gross vehicle weight
  • The gross train weight (the combined weight of the car and trailer)
  • The maximum axle loads for the front and rear

Simply subtract the vehicle’s MAM from its gross train weight, and you’ll have your vehicle’s towing capacity!

If you’re new to towing, then it’s recommended you should keep the total weight of the caravan (including what’s inside) no heavier than 85% of the kerb weight of the car. You can find the kerb weight of your car in the owner’s manual or on your V5 registration document.

Although the 85% Rule, as it’s known, isn’t a legal requirement, you should make sure that the amount you’re looking to tow doesn’t exceed your car’s maximum towing capacity or the towing trailer’s maximum authorised mass while on the road.

Do I need a towing licence?

It’s a bit of a misconception that there are no such things as trailer or towing licences. In fact, there are additional driving tests you’ll need to take depending on specific towing weight limits.

If you’re planning on towing in the future, then keep the following in mind, because things can get a little confusing:

If you’ve passed a ‘car and small vehicle’ (category B) driving test, you’ll be able to tow:

  • Small trailers up to 750kg
  • Trailers over 750kg – if the total weight of both the trailer and towing vehicle doesn’t exceed 3500kg MAM

But what if you want to tow a trailer that takes the MAM over 3500kg?

In that case, you’ll need to take the B+E driving test and have a B+E entitlement on your driving licence. This shows that you’re entitled to drive Category B vehicles, i.e., vehicles with up to eight passenger seats or a goods vehicle with a Gross Vehicle Weight of up to 3.5 tonnes.

And to further complicate matters, the date on which you passed your driving test also plays a part in how much you can tow without a B+E entitlement on your licence.

Those who passed their driving tests after 1 January 1997 and only have a standard category B driving licence can do the following:

  • Drive a vehicle up to a maximum weight of 3500kg while towing a trailer of up to 750kg
  • Tow a trailer heavier than 750kg – if the combined weight of the trailer and the towing vehicle is not over 3500kg

Meanwhile, drivers who passed their driving test before 1 January 1997 are, for the most part, allowed to drive a vehicle and trailer with a combined weight of up to 8.25 tonnes (8250kg).

Can I tow a caravan?

If you’re looking to go on a holiday with a caravan, then you’ll need to determine how much it weighs first.

A caravan’s weight can vary a lot – anywhere between 400kg to 2500kg – but the exact weight of your own caravan will be listed either on a plate on the inside, near the door frame, or in its handbook. Can’t find it? The manufacturer should be able to help, but a set of caravan weighing scales can also come in handy.

Remember, the total weight needs to include the passengers in the car as well as the luggage in the caravan, so factor this in if you’ve only weighed the caravan minus its contents. If you find yourself approaching the maximum towing capacity, then you should weigh up (literally) what you can afford to leave at home, and what you can keep without going over the allowed amount.

As for the kind of car that can tow a caravan, something that can tow 2000kg and above will have no problems, though it’s worth checking the precise towing capacity of the car before you begin your holiday.

Can I tow a car?

Like caravans, the weight and size of a car are going to differ from model to model. At the lighter side of the scale, something like a Vauxhall Corsa won’t be too much of an issue, but your car might struggle if it’s having to tow a hefty 4x4 a great distance.

And don’t forget, car trailers vary in weight too, so accuracy is crucial here. Towing a vehicle that’s heavier than your car isn’t a good idea. Generally, however, a vehicle with a towing capacity of 2500kg won’t cause any issues when towing a car.

Things to keep in mind when towing

Whatever you’re towing, it’s important to remember the following while you’re on the road:

  • The maximum speed when towing is 60 mph on motorways and dual carriageways and 50 mph on single-carriage roads
  • The maximum width of a trailer should be no more than 2.55 metres
  • The length of a trailer should be no more than 7 metres
  • If the trailer is wider than the car, towing mirrors should be fitted
  • Any tow bars you use must meet EU regulations and be designed for use with that car
  • The number plate on your trailer must match that on your towing car

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