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Towing explained

Sarah Tooze
Written by  Sarah Tooze
5 min read
Updated: 21 Mar 2024

The rise of ‘staycations’ (holidaying in the UK) and remote working due to the Covid-19 pandemic triggered a boom in touring caravan sales, and numbers are expected to continue increasing. If you’re thinking of buying a caravan, award-winning motoring journalist Sarah Tooze explains the importance of understanding the rules about towing.

The first thing you need to know about towing is exactly what your driving licence entitles you to tow.  

In December 2021, the rules changed to allow people who had passed their car driving test from 1 January 1997 to tow trailers up to 3,500kg MAM (maximum authorised mass). Prior to that change you had to have extra training and pass a car and trailer test to tow anything heavier than 750kg.  

The rules are different if you passed your test before 1 January 1997. The Government says you’ll ‘usually’ be able to drive a vehicle and trailer with a combined weight of up to 8,250kg MAM.  

To find out what you’re legally allowed to tow, check your driving licence photocard. If you passed your test after 1 January 1997 and you’ve renewed your licence since December 2021 then it should have been updated with category BE. Or you can log on to the Government’s view or share your driving licence website. 

How to work out what weight your car can tow 

You can usually find out the maximum weight your car can tow legally (known as its towing capacity) in your vehicle handbook. Alternatively, you can calculate it from your car’s vehicle identification number (VIN) plate, which is normally under the bonnet or inside the driver’s door.  

If you’re working it out from the VIN plate you need two numbers:  

  • The gross vehicle weight (GVW), which is the maximum weight of the car, taking into account passengers, luggage/cargo and fuel.  

  • The gross train weight (GTW), which is sometimes called the gross combination weight (GCW). This is the maximum combined weight of the fully-loaded car and the fully-loaded trailer.  

You need to subtract the GVW figure from the GTW figure to get your car’s towing capacity.  For example, if the GTW is 5,000kg and the GVW is 2,000kg then the towing capacity is 3,000kg.  

Be aware that not every car can tow - not necessarily because they’re not capable of towing but because they haven’t been through the approval process. The best cars for towing are usually 4x4s, estate cars and SUVs.  


What is the 85% towing rule? 

You might have heard people with caravans refer to the ‘85% rule’. This is not a legal rule but a guide about how much you should safely tow if you’re new to towing.  

It means that you’re advised to only tow a caravan that weighs 85% or less of your car's kerb weight. Your car’s kerb weight is the weight of the car when it’s parked at the kerb, not including passengers and luggage/cargo. You can find your car’s kerb weight in your owner’s manual or your vehicle logbook (V5C).   

You can check the weight of your caravan in your owner’s manual or on its VIN plate. You’ll often see reference to ‘MTPLM’. This stands for ‘maximum technically permissible laden mass’ - essentially the same as MAM.  

It’s important to add together the MAM of your car and the MTPLM of your caravan to make sure that the combined figure doesn’t exceed the GTW of the car, which would be unsafe and illegal.  

If you’d prefer not to do manual calculations there are online tools you can use to help. You might also want to consider buying some portable scales to check you don’t exceed your car or caravan’s maximum capacities. Or you can visit your nearest weighbridge.  

Do I need training to tow a caravan? 

Legally, if you only tow what your driving licence permits you to then you don’t need training. However, if you’re new to towing then it’s a good idea to do a training course to make sure you can safely tow.  

You could face a fine, penalty points or even be banned from driving if the police think you’re towing in an unsafe manner.  

Taking a course will also show your insurance provider that you know how to tow safely.   

You can search for a training provider or course through the National Register of LGV Instructors, Safe Towing Scheme and Skills for Logistics.  

A training course will teach you the basics such as how to couple and uncouple a caravan safely, and how to reverse with a caravan.  

Tips for towing a caravan safely and legally 

You need to understand snaking (when the caravan moves from side to side in an unstable way) and how to correct it, road positioning at junctions and roundabouts, the speed limits when towing, and that you’re not allowed in the outside lane when there are three or more lanes.   

You’ll need to allow more distance and time to overtake safely, and brake earlier when slowing down or stopping.  

Be aware that towing a caravan may increase the number of blind spots. You must have an adequate view of the road behind you and if your caravan is wider than the rear of your car you need to fit towing mirrors, otherwise you risk being fined up to £1,000 and getting three penalty points on your licence.  

The maximum width for any towing vehicle is 2.55 metres and the maximum length depends on the vehicle’s MAM. If it’s 3,500kg or less you cannot tow a trailer that’s longer than seven metres.  

Tow bars need to be ‘type approved’ (meaning they meet EU regulations), unless your car was first used before 1 August 1998. If you fit a tow bar you may need to inform your insurer as it could be considered a modification.  

You’ll also need to display the same number plate on your caravan or trailer as on your towing car.  

Before you set off make sure the load is evenly distributed and secure, your tyres are correctly inflated and check the lights are working on your caravan.  

It’s illegal and dangerous to tow a caravan with people inside.  

Can I tow with an electric car? 

Not all electric cars can tow but most of the latest models can. Of the 85 electric cars on sale in the UK today, 50 can officially tow, with those models representing 58.8% of the market, according to What Car? 

Some electric cars are even considered to be the best tow cars in their class. For example, the Skoda Enyaq Coupe iV 82kWh vRS was judged the best for caravans weighing between 1,100kg and 1,300kg and the Polestar 2 Long Range Single Motor the best for 1,500kg - 1,700kg in the 2024 Caravan and Motorhome Club Towcar of the Year Competition.  

However, while the smooth and instant power delivery of an EV can make them great for towing, the range of an electric car may drop by about a fifth when towing so you may need to plan to charge en route to a caravan site or have a car with sufficient range to get there on a single charge. 

Do I need caravan insurance and breakdown cover? 

Specialist caravan insurance is a good idea because standard car insurance will only cover your car while it’s towing a caravan, it won’t cover any damage to your caravan.  

Taking out dedicated cover can also provide compensation if your caravan is burgled or stolen, and help provide temporary accommodation or allow you to hire a new caravan if yours is written off in an accident.  

Don’t assume your breakdown cover extends to both your caravan and your car. You’re likely to need to take out breakdown cover specifically for caravans.