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Intend to tow a trailer with your car? Check the legal requirements here.

As the laws tighten up regarding towing a caravan or trailer, so insurance companies, quite rightly, expect owners to ensure that both the towing vehicle and the towed trailer meet current regulations. Ignorance is no excuse in the eyes of the law or the insurance companies. Here we will deal with subjects such as the correct driving licence, road worthiness, lighting, adequate towbar weight and towing equipment.

Licensing Requirements

The rules on what you are allowed to legally tow depend on when you passed your driving test. Anyone who passed their test before January 1st, 1997 is generally speaking, allowed to drive any vehicle and trailer combination up to 8.25 tonnes maximum authorised mass,( MAM), which is the weight of the vehicle and trailer combined, including the maximum permitted load which can be safely carried while on the road. Your licence will also allow you to drive a minibus together with a trailer in excess of 750kg MAM.

If you would like to tow heavier weight combinations, then it will be necessary for you to apply for a provisional licence in order to obtain the new C1+E permit. This will require you to take a category C theory exam plus the C1+E practical test. Once you have passed this test, you will be able to legally drive and insure vehicles and trailers up to 12 tonnes MAM.

If you passed your test after January 1st, 1997 and you have a category B licence, this will permit you to to drive a vehicle, maximum 3.5 tonnes MAM and tow a trailer with a maximum weight of 750kg. If you wish to drive and tow anything heavier, then you will need to take the test for category B+E.

If however, you passed your category B test after January 19th, 2013, you are only permitted to tow a small trailer which weighs no more than 750kg and the combined weight of the towing vehicle and laden trailer must not exceed 3,500kg. If you wish to drive and tow anything heavier, then it will be necessary to take a further test to entitle you to the B+E category on your licence.

Legal Requirements For Width, Length and Towbar Weight.

Your towing vehicle will have a maximum weight that it can legally pull. You will be able to find this in the handbook or on the VIN, (vehicle identification number), plate, which can normally be found inside the driver's door or under the bonnet. The gross train weight is the important number, as it is the maximum that your vehicle is legally allowed to tow. To exceed this could well invalidate your insurance. The maximum width for a trailer is 2.55 metres and the maximum length is 7 metres for any vehicle which weighs up to 3,500kgs.

When getting a towbar fitted, be aware that it needs to be ‘type approved’, which means that it conforms to EU regulations for your type of vehicle. The towbar will bear a label stating the details of the vehicles that it is suitable for, together with an approval number. However, if your car was first registered prior to August 1998, then the towbar does not need to be approved.

Road Worthiness

Both the towing vehicle and the trailer must be in a roadworthy condition. This includes brakes, tyres, lights and mirrors. The number plate must be clearly visible with the same number on both the towing vehicle and the trailer. All electrics from the car to the trailer must be in good working order, including the indicators. Be aware that your exterior mirrors must provide an adequate view of the road behind you, which means that if your trailer or caravan is wider than your car, appropriate mirrors must be fitted. It is a criminal offence to ignore this and will invalidate your insurance in the event of an accident.

Please bear in mind that all these regulations are made for your own safety and the safety of others – do not take them lightly - because your insurance company and the police certainly do not.

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