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Saturday, 9 October 2010

Towing a caravan or trailer

Make sure you are fit to tow by following advice from the Highways Agency. Find out how to prepare your vehicle, drive safely and check that you have the right insurance and driving licence.

Are you fit to tow?

The Highways Agency 'Fit to Tow' DVD and 'Hitched' magazine highlight the safety risks involved when towing a caravan or trailer. The DVD demonstrates how to:

  • attach your caravan or trailer
  • maintain it when not in use
  • carry out a quick safety check

Hitched magazine contains detailed information on all aspects of towing.

The key information is covered here on Directgov but you can also:

  • order the Fit to Tow DVD, a hard copy of the Fit to Tow checklist or a copy of Hitched, which includes a free UK road atlas, by calling the Highways Agency information line on 0300 123 5000 or emailing ha_info@highways.gsi.gov.uk
  • download the Fit to Tow checklist or Hitched magazine by following the links below

You can also watch the Fit to Tow film by following the link below to the Highways Agency website.

General towing advice

Check your driving licence

If you passed your driving test after 1996 and have an ordinary Category B licence you can drive either of the following:

  • a vehicle up to 3.5 tonnes maximum gross weight towing a trailer of up to 750 kilograms maximum gross weight (up to 4,250 kilograms in total)
  • a trailer over 750 kilograms maximum gross weight as long as this is no more than the unladen or 'kerb' weight of the towing vehicle - and the combined weight is no more than 3,500 kilograms

For anything heavier you need to take a Category B + E driving test.

Note that the rules are different for drivers who passed their test before 1997 and have not been banned since. You can find full details by following the link below.

Check your roadside recovery service

If you break down, will your motoring organisation recover both your vehicle and what you are towing? This is not usually the case with standard trailer cover, so you may need specialist breakdown cover. Without this, it may take longer and cost extra to get your trailer or caravan towed off the road, so check before you set off.

Do a basic safety check

Whether you are towing a caravan or trailer, make sure it is properly serviced and fit to be on the road, especially if you leave it standing for most of the year.

Always follow the manufacturer's guidelines when connecting your caravan or trailer.

Before you set off you should check that:

  • the lights work properly and are not damaged
  • tyre pressure is correct and all the tyres are in good condition (they can quickly deteriorate if not properly maintained)
  • the coupling is secure, level and at the right height

If your caravan has a coupling with internal friction pads, make sure that the towball is clean, dry and free of grease.

Finally, always check that you have attached the trailer or caravan securely to the vehicle and that weight is distributed as advised by the manufacturer.

Fit towing mirrors if you need them

If your caravan or trailer is wider than the narrowest part of the rear of the towing vehicle, you must by law fit towing mirrors. These mirrors must be E-marked (mirrors with this mark meet EU requirements).

If you are towing blind (without towing mirrors) or using illegal mirrors (not E-marked) you can be:

  • prosecuted by the police
  • given three points on your licence
  • fined up to £1,000

Take an emergency kit

Just in case you break down, it's a good idea to carry:

  • a mobile phone
  • a warning triangle or flashing light
  • jump leads
  • torch
  • warm jacket
  • membership details for your breakdown and recovery service

Drive with extra care

Remember that towing a loaded trailer or a caravan or horsebox will affect the way your vehicle performs. For example:

  • you will be slower moving off
  • it will take longer to slow down and stop
  • it will be difficult driving around sharp bends

Reversing may be particularly difficult, so it's best to practise before you set off. Always:

  • make sure the area behind you is clear before you start
  • be particularly aware of children and other pedestrians
  • ask someone to watch and guide you if possible

Know the speed limits

Always stick to the following limits:

  • 30 miles per hour (mph) on all roads with street lighting (unless a sign shows otherwise)
  • 50 mph on a single carriageway (unless a sign shows otherwise)
  • 60 mph on dual carriageways and motorways

On the motorway

Remember that you must not:

  • drive over 60 mph
  • use the right-hand (fast) lane on motorways of three or more lanes

Park with care

Parking carefully is as important as driving carefully. For example:

  • avoid leaving a detached trailer on a public road
  • if you park a trailer - whether hitched or not - on a public road at night, you must leave the lights on
  • avoid parking your trailer on long grass as the moisture could damage it
  • on a level surface, if it is safe to do so, you should park with the handbrake off to prevent the brake drums seizing up

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Additional links

THINK! Switch off before you drive off

See how distracting using a mobile at the wheel can be

Driving tests have changed

Driving tests now include approximately 10 minutes of independent driving

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