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TOWING A TRAILER OR CARAVAN – TOP TIPS & ADVICE
RULES & REGULATIONS
There are all sorts of regulations covering towing and licence requirements, the key factor being MAM, the maximum authorised mass of vehicles and trailers. This should always be taken to mean the permissible maximum weight, also known as the gross vehicle weight.
If you passed your test before 1st January, 1997, you can usually drive a vehicle and trailer combination up to 8.25 tonnes.
If you passed on or after 1st January, 1997, you can tow a trailer behind a category B vehicle without taking a further test if the trailer doesn’t exceed 750 kg. A Category B vehicle is a four-wheeled vehicle with a MAM not exceeding 3.5 tonnes which has not more than eight passenger seats in addition to that of the driver.
If you want to use a Category B vehicle to tow a trailer exceeding the limit above, then you will have to pass a practical Category B+E test. If you want to drive a vehicle with a MAM exceeding 3.5 tonnes, such as a motorhome, you will need to pass a Category C or C1 test.
Further and more detailed information on towing can be found on the DVLA website www.dvla.gov.uk.
Your drivers’ handbook will usually provide information on the maximum permissible trailer mass which can be towed by your vehicle, along with the maximum noseweight which should be applied to the tow ball. There are also some legal limits on laden weight of unbraked trailers, which you will need to know for your particular vehicle.
Usually, even if the vehicle limits are stated as higher, you are safer if the weight of the loaded trailer does not exceed 85% of the empty (kerbside) weight of the towing vehicle, especially if you inexperienced at towing!
When towing, the length of your family car can be considered doubled. Exterior towing mirrors will be needed for a clear view down both sides of the trailer/caravan. The use of a good stabiliser fitted to the tow bar can make the combination easier to handle, especially in crosswinds, or when being overtaken by lorries etc.
Weight distribution is the key to stability when towing. Heavy items should be loaded as low down as possible, mainly over the axle/s of the trailer or caravan. Larger, but lighter items, such as bedding and clothing, should be distributed around to provide a suitable noseweight at the towing coupling, as recommended by the manufacturer. This noseweight can be measured using an inexpensive gauge from caravan stockists. People should never be allowed to travel in a caravan when it is being towed!
If you are new to towing many Driving Schools offer short courses on manoeuvring and safety when towing. The National Caravanning Council provide a detailed booklet on the same, and advice can be gained from one of the large caravanning organisations.
Practice makes perfect, so head to a quiet car park to master manoeuvres and techniques before heading off.
It is vital that any load is carried so that it is not a danger to other road users. The following checks should be made to your trailer or caravan before you set off on your journey:
• Correct loading, with the right noseweight on the towbar;
• Correctly hitched up, with breakaway cable, or secondary coupling, properly connected and the coupling head fully engaged and locked;
• All lights and indicators connected and working ;
• Jockey wheel and assembly in fully stowed position;
• All windows, roof light and doors properly closed and secure;
• Brake systems is working properly;
• Tyre pressures are correct.
• All fuel supplies are secured and turned off i.e. Liquid gas cyclinders.
• The trailer or caravan should be fitted with tyres of the specified rating as mentioned in the manufacturer’s handbook.
Tyre regulations also apply to trailers and caravans, so check tread depth and any damage to the sidewalls of the tyres. It is wise to raise a caravan on supports if it is to remain standing for long periods, taking the weight off the tyres and prolonging their useful life.
You will become used to towing, and you can make this easier for yourself by planning ahead and giving yourself more time. Remember to:
• Allow more braking time when stopping or slowing down;
• Allow for the extra length during your driving, especially when turning or emerging at junctions;
• Allow three times the usual distance and time to overtake safely;
• SNAKING – ease off the accelerator gradually, allow the steering to ‘twitch’ a little, and reduce your speed until the snaking has stopped;
• High-sided vehicles – take extra caution if passing or being passed, allowing as much space as safely possible to avoid turbulence or buffeting effects;
• Never tow in the outside lane of a motorway with more than two lanes, unless other lanes are closed off;
• Be courteous – improve the image of the tower by checking your mirrors regularly, ensuring that you are not holding up faster traffic. Be prepared to pull over safely if you are causing a hold up!
• SPEED LIMITS – Unless road signs instruct otherwise you must not exceed
30mph (48kph) in built-up areas
50mph (80kph) on single carriageways
60mph (96kph) on dual carriageways or motorways.
These speeds should be reduced in high winds or crosswinds, when travelling downhill, or in poor visibility.