Five things you need to know about towing


Having a car that’s capable of towing heavy loads is incredibly useful. If you’re an outdoorsy type, you can connect a caravan to the back of your car and go on holiday – or, if you’re a keen DIYer, trips to the tip and the hardware shop will be made much easier with a small trailer.

If you’re wanting to get started with towing, you’re going to need a suitable tow car. SUVs with big, torquey diesel engines make great candidates – and there are plenty of used cars for sale in the UK that will fit the bill. The Volkswagen Touareg, SsangYong Rexton and Land Rover Discovery are all excellent load-luggers, as they can all tow a 3,500kg braked trailer. 

Don’t rush out and make a purchase just yet, though. Before you hitch anything to the rear of your car, you should brush up on the rules and regulations surrounding towing to make sure you’re safe and legal. We’ve rounded up five of the most important things you need to know below – and, if you need a little more information, you can check out the UK government’s towing guidance page here.

  1. It’s all about the weight

How much you can legally tow depends on the maximum towing capacity your vehicle can deal with. Manufacturers normally list two figures for this – there’s a braked towing weight (which assumes the trailer you’re towing is fitted with its own braking system) and an unbraked towing weight (which doesn’t). It’s also worth noting that if your trailer weighs more than 750kg or more than half of the vehicle’s kerb weight, it must be fitted with brakes.

The maximum towing capacity for your car will be listed in your owner’s manual. Failing that, you can also find the towing capacity of your car on its VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) plate, which is located either in a window at the base of the windscreen or inside the passenger door frame. 

There will be four numbers on the plate – the gross vehicle weight, the gross train weight (which is the maximum permissible combined weight of the car and trailer) and the maximum axle loads front and rear. To find your car’s towing capacity, subtract the first figure from the second.

  1. Check your licence

Anyone with a full UK driving licence can legally tow a trailer. But the weight of the trailer you’re allowed to tow differs depending on when you passed your test. If you got your licence on or after 1st January 1997, you’re allowed to tow a trailer weighing up to 3,500kg. Until December 2021, this was restricted to just 750kg, but the government changed the law to give younger drivers more freedom.

However, if you passed your test before 1st January 1997, you’re normally allowed to drive a vehicle and trailer combination weighing up to 8,250kg. You’re also allowed to drive a minibus with a trailer that weighs more than 750kg. If you’re unsure about how much weight you’re allowed to tow on your licence, use this government tool to check.

  1. Knowledge is power

If you’ve never towed a trailer before, it can be quite a daunting prospect. Despite the fact it isn’t a legal requirement anymore, we strongly recommend you find a local driver training company to show you the basics of towing before heading out on a long journey – especially if you plan to haul something heavy like a caravan or a car transporter.

Cars behave very differently when they’re towing. Their weight balance changes significantly and they’re affected much more noticeably by crosswinds. Even slow manoeuvres like reversing and parking are tricky, as you need to steer against your intuition to get the trailer to behave correctly. For these reasons, we reckon a few lessons will be money well spent.

  1. Plant machinery is another can of worms

Planning on towing some heavy plant machinery? Make sure you find a car with a lot of beef and gristle. Don’t think that because your BMW 5 Series estate can haul a 1,800kg caravan it’ll be safe pulling a mini-digger or a dumper. Drive away from a set of lights with a little too much vigour and you could wrench your car’s towbar out of its mount.

If you plan on towing plant machinery often, we highly recommend opting for a pick-up truck like the Toyota Hilux or Isuzu D-Max. There are a couple of SUVs that’ll do the job (such as the BMW X6 and Jeep Grand Cherokee), but they don’t work as well off-road and, if you’re taking them on a building site, there’s every chance they might end up getting scratched. A pick-up truck is worth it for the extra utility and ruggedness.

  1. Fines and penalties

Always make sure that your tow rig is within its legal permissible limits. If you’re found to be towing a heavy load with an unsuitable car (trying to drag a skid steer on a trailer behind a Ford Fiesta, for example) you can be fined up to £2,500 and have three penalty points added to your licence.

Be wary if you’re borrowing a trailer from a friend, too. The licence plate on the rear of the trailer must match that of the car which is towing it. Failure to display the correct plate could also result in a fine if you get stopped by the police.


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