How to tow a caravan: tips on how to check towing capacity, licence restrictions, speed limits and UK laws

The basic steps to stay safe when towing a caravan or trailer and the laws that could land you with a £1,000 fine

Holiday season is coming and with it, the inevitable increase in the number of caravans on the roads.

For some they're a slow-moving nuisance but for hundreds of thousands of people they're an ideal way to explore the UK and further afield without the faff of flying or expense of a hotel or self-catering property.

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It is estimated that there are more than half a million touring caravans in the UK and the pandemic and associated travel restrictions brought a surge in interest which has carried on as holidaymakers look for alternatives to flying long distances.

Millions of people use caravans regularly and know the rules and regulations but given the recent surge in interest there are also plenty of relative novices new to the world of towing who could be putting themselves and others at risk, as well as leaving themselves open to substantial fines and penalty points.

Failing to hitch a caravan or other trailer safely is dangerous and can lead to a fine from police but there are also other issues to consider, including licence eligibility and the different regulations such as speed limits which apply to caravans.

Here’s our guide to the basics from how to hitch a caravan to checking your licence elegibility and vehicle's towing capabilities.

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Can I tow a caravan?

The first thing you need to do is check your licence eligibility.

Making sure your caravan or trailer is securely hitched is absolutely vital for your safety and other road users' (Photo: Shutterstock)Making sure your caravan or trailer is securely hitched is absolutely vital for your safety and other road users' (Photo: Shutterstock)
Making sure your caravan or trailer is securely hitched is absolutely vital for your safety and other road users' (Photo: Shutterstock) | Shutterstock

Until 2021 there were tighter restrictions on drivers who passed their test after January 1 1997 than on those who passed before that date.

Previously, the law stated that if you passed your driving test on or after January 1 1997 and have an ordinary category B (car) licence, you could drive a vehicle up to 3.5 tonnes or 3,500kg maximum authorised mass (MAM) towing a trailer of up to 750kg MAM.

You could also tow a trailer over 750kg MAM as long as the combined weight of the trailer and towing vehicle was no more than 3,500kg. For anything heavier you needed to take a category B+E driving test.

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However, on 16 December 2021 the B+E test was scrappaed and the law changed so that all category B licence holders can tow a trailer with a MAM of 3,500kg.

Different vehicles have different towing capacity, so make sure to check your car's limits (Photo: Shutterstock)Different vehicles have different towing capacity, so make sure to check your car's limits (Photo: Shutterstock)
Different vehicles have different towing capacity, so make sure to check your car's limits (Photo: Shutterstock) | Shutterstock

If you passed your driving test before January 1997 you’re generally allowed to drive a vehicle and trailer combination up to 8.25 tonnes MAM.

If you exceed these limits you could receive up to six points on your licence.

What’s your car’s towing capacity?

Different vehicles have different towing capacities and before setting off you need to ensure your car is rated to tow your caravan or trailer.

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Your car handbook should contain this information but you can also calculate it by subtracting the maximum allowable mass from the maximum train mass, both of which should be on the car’s VIN plate.

It is generally recommended that novice carvanners ensure their van’s MAM is no more than 85 per cent of their car’s kerb weight.

Does your insurance cover you to tow a caravan?

If you’ve just bought a caravan, you need to make sure your car insurance covers you for towing it or any other trailer.

Most policies do cover you if you are towing but it’s worth double checking, especially as many policies won’t cover any damage to the caravan in the event of a collision.

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How do you hitch a caravan to your car?

We’ve outlined the basics below but if you’ve just bought or rented a caravan it’s a good idea to ask the seller/renter to show you how to hitch it and then practice before heading off.

If you can, get someone else to help. It will make it easier and provide a second pair of eyes to make sure it’s done correctly.

  • First, use the jockey wheel to adjust the height of the caravan hitch so that it is higher than the towball before reversing the car.
  • Attach the caravan’s breakaway cable to the towbar attachment point and ensure there is enough slack that it doesn’t become taught even at the extremes of articulation. This cable applies the trailer’s brakes if the vehicles become separated so you don’t want it activating accidentally.
  • Couple the towball according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Hitches vary so check the guidance for your specific setup and if there are visual or audible indicators check for these.
  • Double check the coupling then ensure the jockey wheel is fully retracted and stowed as high as possible.
  • Connect the caravan’s electrics to the towbar’s output then check that all the lights work. Also check the condition of the van’s tyres, brakes and number plate before setting off. Roadside checks by the DVSA found that one in six caravans had a dangerous fault.

Speed limits and other laws for caravans

Vehicles towing a caravan or other trailer are subject to stricter speed limits than regular cars. On a motorway or dual carriageway it is 60mph, on single carriageway roads it is 50mph. It remains 30mph in built up areas.

It’s also worth knowing that caravans are not permitted in the outside lane of motorways.

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You must be able to see clearly down both sides of your caravan and four metres either side at a distance of 20 metres behind the caravan. This means you will need to fit extension towing mirrors, otherwise you could receive a £1,000 fine, three points on your licence and risk invalidating your insurance if involved in a crash.

It’s also a legal requirement for vehicle registration plates to be visible on your caravan or trailer, and these must be illuminated at night.

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