Guide to towing a caravan

When you tow a caravan it’s so important that you do so carefully and safely to make sure that you don’t put your own life and the lives of other road users at risk. It’s also crucial that you understand the rules on what type of caravan your car can legally tow, whether you need a licence, and what speed you can do.

Here, we’ll guide you through everything you need to know about towing a caravan.

Do you need a licence to tow a caravan?

You don’t need a specific licence to tow a caravan if you have a valid category B driving licence (car and small vehicle). The weight that you are legally allowed to tow will depend on when you originally passed your driving test.

The rules are as follows:

Licence issued from 1st January 1997

  • A car or van up to 3,500kg Maximum Authorised Mass (MAM), towing a trailer of up to 750kg MAM
  • A trailer over 750kg MAM, as long as the combined MAM of the trailer and towing vehicle is no more than 3,500kg

Those with a licence issued before 1st January 1997 are usually allowed to drive a vehicle and trailer combination of up to 8,250kg MAM.

A licence issued from 19th January 2013

  • Small trailers that weigh no more than 750kg
  • A trailer over 750kg, with a combined weight of the trailer and towing vehicle of no more than 3,500kg MAM

Why would you fit a stabiliser before towing a caravan?

Stabilisers are used to prevent any unwanted movement from your caravan while it’s being towed behind your car.

When towing a caravan, it’s likely that it will experience some snaking, which is the movement of your caravan behind your car. A little snaking is safe and harmless, but it can become a problem when there’s too much movement. Unwanted movement occurs in two specific ways:

  • Yaw: Side to side movement – this is most commonly caused by sudden gusts of wind hitting the side of your caravan, or when other vehicles are overtaking you on the motorway.   
  • Pitching: Up and down movement – generally caused when hitting a pothole or a drop in the road.
Caravan towing

Can my car tow a caravan?

It’s so important to find out whether your car can legally tow a caravan. To understand what you can and can’t tow, you’ll need to find out the maximum towing capacity. Anything over this will be illegal and could result in a fine and points on your licence. Crucially, it could also endanger your life and the lives of other road users.

The maximum towing capacity of your car is set by the manufacturer and can be found by looking at the car’s vehicle identification plate, which is most likely under the bonnet or on a door pillar. It includes the following information:

  • Gross vehicle weight (GVW): The total maximum weight of the vehicle. It’s important to not load the car over this weight.
  • Gross train weight: Total maximum weight of the vehicle plus caravan, plus load. The car and the caravan cannot be over this weight.
  • Maximum front axle load (MFAL): Maximum distributed weight that the front axle of the vehicle can support.
  • Maximum rear axle load (MRAL): Maximum distributed weight that the rear axle of the vehicle can support.

The maximum towing capacity is calculated simply by subtracting the gross vehicle weight from the gross train weight.

If your car is a hatchback or a small car, it’s likely that all modern touring caravans will in fact exceed the maximum towing capacity of the car, meaning you won’t be able to tow a caravan.  

Safety when towing caravans

To ensure that you keep yourself, your caravan, your passengers and other road users as safe as possible, it’s important to follow our essential tips for towing a caravan safely:

  • Always stick to the speed limit
  • Never carry passengers in the caravan when it’s being towed
  • Give yourself more time and space for everything, such as taking corners or making manoeuvres
  • Keep your caravan as light as possible and store any heavy items close to the axle
  • Always check your caravan’s tyres before setting off on any trip
  • Make sure that your rear light panel is working; check before setting off and look for any changes throughout your journey
  • Your number plate should show your car’s registration number, be visible and illuminated at night

Can you tow a caravan with an automatic car?

Yes, you can tow a caravan with an automatic car. In fact it can be safer in some instances. As you won’t have to manually change gears with an automatic, shifting gears as you drive is a much simpler process, enabling you to concentrate all your energies on towing.

Most automatics will also give you more control in difficult driving conditions, and some even come equipped with a tow mode.

What speed can you drive at when towing a caravan?

When towing a caravan, you can drive at a maximum speed of 50 mph on single carriageway roads. This is increased to 60 mph on dual carriageways and motorways, unless a lower limit is in force.

Do I need specific mirrors when towing a caravan?

When towing a caravan, you’ll need to fit specific towing mirrors to comply with the law. It’s a legal requirement to have mirrors than enable you to clearly see an area that is four metres wide from the side of your caravan, at a distance of 20 meters behind the driver.

This is something that’s treated very seriously by the law, meaning you could receive up to three points on your licence and face a £1,000 fine if prosecuted for not having appropriate towing mirrors.

When you plan to tow your caravan, it’s vital you have a full understanding of the legal requirements, so you can enjoy your journeys as much as possible and keep yourself and other road users safe.