Towing Guide

A Guide to Towing

Driving Licences


You must hold a full driving licence to tow anything.

Most drivers who passed their test before 1 January 1997 have licence categories allowing them to drive vehicle and trailer combinations weighing up to 8.25 tonnes.

With effect from 1 January 1997, the second EC Directive on Driving Licences (91/439/EEC) came into effect, affecting new drivers passing their test after that date and HGV drivers who obtained their licence after 31 December 1991.

The net result is that new drivers will only be allowed to drive and tow the following combinations:

Vehicles up to 3.5 tonnes (category B) with a 750kg trailer (4.25 tonnes total MAM).

Category B vehicles with larger trailers i.e. >750kg, provided that the combined MAM does not exceed 3.5 tonnes and the gross MAM of the trailer does not exceed the unladen weight of the towing vehicle. To be able to tow combinations outside this ruling requires the passing of an additional test.

New HGV drivers and those who have passed their HGV tests since 1 January 1992 will be restricted to towing trailers up to 750kg until they pass an additional test.

Detail of the Regulation

The Motor Vehicles (Driving Licences) (Amendment) Regulations 1990 SI 1990 No 842 classifies vehicles according to either:

“Maximum authorised mass” (permitted maximum weight). Vehicles over 3,500kg MAM are classified as LARGE GOODS VEHICLES (LGV’s)

Number of seats. Vehicles having more than 8 seats (not including the drivers) are classified as PASSENGER CARRYING VEHICLES (PCV’s)

Requires Additional qualifications for people to drive LGV’s & PCV’s

Maximum Trailer Dimensions

Towing vehicle up to 3500kg GVW

Length (excluding the coupling and drawbar) 7.0 m

Width Maximum 2.3 m

Towing vehicle over 3500kg GVW

Length (excluding the coupling and drawbar) 12 m (min 4 wheels)

Width Maximum 2.55 m

Length of towing vehicle and trailer combined 18 m

Maximum overhang of load from rear of trailer 3.05 m

Marking of rear overhang

Between 1m and 2m, ensure the end is clearly visible by attaching a piece of cloth or similar.

Between 2m and 3.05m, a marker board as defined in the Regulations must be fitted and illuminated at night.

If the overhang is more than 3.05m, an attendant must be carried and the police must be notified 2 days before commencing the journey.

“Long Vehicle” Marker Plate:

Not required for light trailers.

These are a legal requirement only for trailers over 3500kg or where the towing vehicle is over 7500kg gross weight. When they are required, different plates are required depending on the length of the vehicle.

Details can be found in the Road Vehicle Lighting Regulations, Schedule 18.

Loads must not project more than 305mm either side of the trailer, up to a maximum width of 2.9m.

Loads over 2.9m in width are classed as abnormal loads and the police must be notified two days before a journey commences.

Trailer Maximum Weights

Type 01: unbraked trailers – max. 750kg gross trailer weight or half the towing vehicle’s kerb weight – whichever is less.

Type 02: trailers on overrun brakes – max. 3500kggross trailer weight

1982 regulations demand that all trailers, including unbraked ones, must be clearly marked with their maximum gross weight in kg. This may be checked at any time by the police at a weighbridge. Since 1st January 1997, all unbraked trailer plates must show the year of manufacture

To comply with the D.o.T. Code of Practice for there call of defective trailers less than 3500kg G.V.W. it is desirable that a trailer should carry a manufacturer’s plate clearly showing:

Manufacturers name and address, chassis or serial number and model number

Number of axles

Maximum weight per axle maximum

Nose weight of coupling

Maximum gross weight (G.V.W.)

Date of manufacture

Vehicle Categories

The main non-LGV (unified) licence categories are:

Category A: Motorcycles (with or without a sidecar), including tricycles and mopeds.

Category B: Motor vehicles with:

A maximum authorised mass (MAM) not over 3,500kg

A maximum of 8 seats (not including the driver’s seat)

Trailers being towed by vehicles in this category must either:

Be not more than 750kg MAM – making a maximum authorised Train Weight of 4,250kg

Have a MAM which does not: – exceed the unladen weight of the towing vehicle

Have a MAM which does not: – Have a train weight exceeding 3,500kg

Drivers of vehicles in this category wishing to tow trailers which do not comply with either of the above conditions must have a B E entitlement.

The Main Categories of LGV Licences

The main non – LGV (unified) licence categories are:

Category C1: Rigid goods vehicles over 3,500kg but NOT over 7,500kg. Vehicles drawing trailers not over 750kg maximum authorised mass are included in this category.

Category C1 E: Combinations of vehicles in Category C1 plus trailers over 750kg maximum authorised mass, but with an overall maximum authorised mass (gross train weight) not over 12,000kg.

Category C: Rigid goods vehicles over 3,500kg maximum authorised mass (MAM – this expression has the same meaning as permitted maximum weight -PMW). Entitlement holders may also draw trailers not over 750kg MAM.

Category C E: Articulated vehicles and drawbar combinations whose semi-trailers and trailers have a MAM greater than those stipulated in Category C.

NB: The ‘E’ relates to trailers and semi-trailers over 750kg maximum authorised mass.

These categories are for drivers who previously held old-style (“ordinary”) licences (in either Group A or Group B) issued before 1 June 1990 allowing them to retain their previous entitlement under the old-style ordinary licences.

Drivers in these two categories are also permitted to drive PCV’s provided they do not:

Carry more than 8 passengers

Use the vehicle for ‘hire and reward’ work

Matching the Trailer with the Towing Vehicle

It is important that the vehicle you use to pull your trailer is adequate for the job

Check that the engine is large enough to tow the trailer and load.

Check that the brakes are powerful enough to stop the vehicle and trailer safely.

Check that the Trailer Gross Weight does not exceed the Towing Capacity of the Towing vehicle.

The addition of a loaded trailer to a vehicle will inevitably have a very serious effect on the vehicle’s performance. Starting, particularly on hills, can be much more laboured; stopping can take longer distances; cornering and negotiating sharp bends requires extra care.

Consider all these things very carefully when choosing and loading (and towing) your trailer.

The paragraphs which follow, refer to the data that is relevant to your choice. See “The Law”

The most important check is the vehicle manufacturer’s recommended towing limit, which should be in vehicle manufacturer’s handbook and on the VIN plate on the chassis.

A good rule of thumb, for safety and stability, when towing a trailer, is the 85% figure recommended for caravans by the Caravan Club. This suggests that you should not tow a trailer that weighs more than 85% of the towing vehicle’s kerb weight. (as long as 85% does not exceed the vehicle manufacturer’s recommended towing limit. (The kerb weight is defined as the weight of the vehicle plus a full tank of petrol and 75kg (for the driver and luggage).)

Police Forces use the manufacturer’s recommended towing limit as their guide. Under no circumstances should the vehicle’s gross train weight be exceeded. You should also refer to limitations on overall length, details can be found in this guide that deal with trailer dimensions.

Trailer Loading

Loads must be securely tied down or restrained.

There must be no load projections outside the trailer that might cause danger to other road users.

Wherever possible, loads should be evenly distributed across the trailer and positioned in such a way as to keep the nose weight within the recommended limits.

Refer to the manufacturer’s recommendation and/or the nose weight limit of your vehicle. See also “Attaching the Trailer”.

If uneven loads have to be carried, ensure that individual wheels/axles are not overloaded.

It may be necessary to reduce the overall load to achieve this.

NOTE: Good Towing practice should always take into account the inevitable effects on vehicle handling, braking and general stability of towing a trailer behind the vehicle.

Dangerous loss of stability when loads are loose and move around. Danger of loads parting from the trailer.

Load shooting forward when the outfit brakes. This is particularly acute if the load consists of planks, bars, etc, laid in line front to back.

There is a very significant danger of light items being lifted out of a trailer by the slipstream. All items should be secure.

Loading practice should, therefore, take into account:

Secure restraint

Recommended nose weight.


Weight Distribution

Trailer Checks Before Each Journey

The trailer operator or the driver of the towing vehicle, if different, has the responsibility for the safe operation of the trailer and needs to carry out the following checks:

If the trailer is laden is the load correctly distributed i.e. Not too much or too little nose weight?

Is the load within the trailer’s official payload? -i.e. Not overloaded.

Is the actual gross weight being towed within the towing vehicle manufacturer’s recommended maximum towing limit (whether braked or unbraked.)?

Is the load correctly secured?

Are all the lights undamaged and working correctly?

Are the 7 core cable and plug undamaged?

Is the correct number plate fitted? (both registration number and style)

Is the breakaway cable or secondary coupling undamaged and correctly connected, to a suitable point on the tow bar or towing vehicle?

Are the tyre pressures correct and all tyres free from cuts, bulges and with adequate tread, (including the spare)? Tyres must have a continuous tread depth of at least 1.60 mm on cars, light vans and trailers, across the central three-quarters of the width (1mm for other vehicles)

Are you satisfied that the wheel nuts/bolts are tightened to the correct torque?
If required are the mudguards in satisfactory condition and secure?
Is the trailer correctly coupled to the tow ball or pin?
Is the coupling height correct? I.e. Not excessively nose down or nose up.

Follow the golden rules of towing:

Make sure the trailer is level when coupled to the towing vehicle

Make sure the nose weight is between 50 and 100kg (unless trailer is very light.)

Make sure the tyre pressures are correct.

Are the jockey wheel and any corner steadies or prop stands fully wound up and secure?

NB. Check the correct operation of damper and brakes as soon as possible after commencement of journey.