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

Exploring the rules on caravan weight, driving licence eligibility, speed limits for caravans and how to safely hitch a caravan or trailer to your car

How to tow a caravan
How to tow a caravan

Easter is here and with it comes the first bank holiday of the year, offering a chance for families to get away for a few days.

Drivers are predicted to take 12.6 million leisure trips this bank holiday, with many planning to hitch up a caravan or trailer and hit the road.

Since the start of the pandemic, there has been a huge surge in interest in caravans and campervans, with many novices deciding to take their accomodation with them as the explore the country.

While exploring the best the UK has to offer sounds fantastic, many caravan novices could be putting themselves and others at risk, as well as leaving themselves open to substantial fines and penalty points.

Depending on your licence, you may not be elgible to tow all caravans

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.

Can I tow a caravan?

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

It's essential to follow the correct procedure when hitching a caravan or trailer

Until late last year 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.

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

Make sure your car is rated to tow your chosen caravan

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.

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.

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.

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.