Towing Regulations In The UK
Having decided that towing is for you, it’s important to understand the laws and technical considerations that affect trailers, towing vehicles, towbars and towing. Of course, before fitting a towbar, check whether your towing vehicle can safely tow your chosen trailer or caravan. And whether your driving licence covers your planned towing. For a start, consider the following:
- Your vehicle’s towing capacity. As we’ll see below, current trends in electric and hybrid vehicles have a bearing on what you can tow – or even, whether you can tow at all!
- The weight of your trailer – to ensure it’s within your vehicle’s allowable towing weight.
- Trailer nose weight (see ‘Choosing the right towbar’ below).
- Does your UK driver’s licence cover you for towing? – UK law differs for licences issued before and after 1 January 1997, with lower weight limits for the latter. If in any doubt, contact DVLA for advice. And don’t worry if you need to tow heavier trailers: you can upgrade your licence by taking a Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) car and trailer driving test.
Can You Tow With A Hybrid Or Electric Car?
With 2030 now set as the date for sales of new petrol and diesel cars to end, hybrid and electric cars are growing in popularity on UK roads. Inevitably, drivers will still want to fit towbars and tow box trailers, horseboxes and caravans.
Unfortunately, most electric cars can’t currently tow and some can’t even be fitted with a towbar! This is primarily because most electric car manufacturers simply aren’t getting type approval for their vehicles. Typically, this is because of electric vehicles’ weight, the characteristics of their regenerative braking systems and the cars’ range.
There are exceptions – including Tesla’s Model X – but not many. In practice, it’s hybrid cars, including a few plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) such as Volvo’s XC60 Recharge T8 or Land Rover’s Defender P400e, that look set to be towing’s new darlings.
PHEVs may include the most powerful hybrids, but there’s more choice (and lower prices) among non-plug-in hybrids. For many people’s towing, including larger caravans or even horseboxes, non-plug-in hybrids (including cars like the Toyota RAV4 or Honda CR-V Hybrid) fitted with suitable towbars, are ideal.
To quote Driving Electric: ‘According to the Caravan & Motorhome Club, hybrid cars are currently the best choice for those looking for an alternative-fuel vehicle to tow a caravan with.’
Choosing The Right Towbar
So you’re up for towing and already picturing the joys of using a trailer or caravan touring. Whether it’s a petrol, diesel, hybrid or electric vehicle, you’ve matched your car and trailer. Now it’s time to choose and fit a suitable towbar. As well as basic choices between swan-neck and bolt-on ball towbars, you need to consider things such as the following:
- Correct tow ball and coupling device height.
- Horizontal towbar clearance.
- Nose weight – the maximum weight pushing down on your towbar with a trailer attached (ideally, not more than 7% of the trailer’s loaded weight).
- Attachment of the breakaway cable required by UK law.
- The risks associated with second-hand towbars. The Caravan and Motorhome Club strongly advises that you should never fit a second-hand towbar.
- Number plate obstruction – under UK law, if a trailer obscures the tow car’s number plate, it must display its own number plate.
- Compliance with the relevant standards and manufacturers’ technical specifications. This includes fitting of suitably type approved (EC Regulation 5) towbars for cars registered since 1 August 1998. For older vehicles, although there’s no legal requirement, the UK Caravan and Motorhome Club recommends that you, ‘…select one which has been designed and tested to British Standard BS 150 1103:2007 or European Directive 94/20/EC.’
For definitive advice, you should always consult a vehicle dealership or towbar installer that fits leading brands such as Brink, Bosal, PCT, Westfalia or Witter. And if you are a Motability Scheme customer, make sure you talk to Motability’s customer service team.
Fitting A Towbar To A Motability Scheme Vehicle
The law for tow cars, trailers and towing are the same for Motability and non-Motability Scheme vehicles. If your vehicle is a Motability Scheme car, your dealer will be able to advise on fitting a towbar and towing – and recommend a suitable fitter (who must be VAT registered). By the way, Motability Scheme customers must pay for their own towbar fitting.
Motability advises that drivers should always contact them before fitting a towbar. It’s important to understand the effect that fitting a towbar can have on vehicle warranties. Scheme members are also advised to buy extra insurance and breakdown cover for towing; this isn’t covered by Motability.
Before You Start Towing
Whether you already have a Motability Scheme car or you’re planning to get one, it’s never too early to explore the possibilities of fitting a towbar. Whether it’s a small box trailer or a luxury caravan, driving a Motability car needn’t mean missing the opportunities that towbars make possible.
With help from your dealership and Motability, you can look forward to enjoying a perfect combination of tow car and trailer. The open road lies ahead, and with a safe, legal, correctly fitted towbar, so do many years of rewarding towing.