Towing is all about weight, how much your car can tow, how much it weighs and how much you are legally allowed to tow on your licence.
The laws are the same whether you are planning a family holiday in a caravan, want to tow a horse trailer or want to do a one-off trip when you are moving house.
To help you make sense of it all, we’ve put together this guide to towing capacity and all the relevant weights.
What does towing capacity mean?
Most cars have a maximum weight that they can tow safely and legally. The first thing to do is make sure that what you wish to tow doesn’t exceed the trailer's own maximum authorised mass (MAM) or the car's maximum towing capacity; these figures should be easy to find in their own individual driver's manual.
There are usually two maximum towing weights that will be specified: a braked trailer weight and an unbraked one. It’s important to note that if the trailer weight is more than 750kg or over half the car’s kerb weight (this is the weight of the car without people or luggage inside and should be listed in the manual), the trailer must be fitted with brakes.
The second important thing to point out is the maximum capacity will also include the weight of the trailer/caravan/horsebox itself, so you’ll need to add that into the equation when thinking about how much weight you can transport. You can buy towing scales that will measure the total weight for you, and it’s equally important to ensure the load is spread evenly to avoid overloading a particular tyre.
A caravan’s MAM might be referred to as its MTPLM, which stands for Maximum Technically Permissible Laden Mass. This is the maximum that a caravan is allowed to weigh with all your luggage and furnishings on board.
How do I find the towing capacity of my car?
The simplest way to discover the towing capacity of a car is to look in the manual, it should be listed there. However, this may not be possible as sometimes cars have different towing capacities depending on their specification, or you may have lost the manual.
To be sure, you can also find the towing capacity on the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) plate. This is often located on the bottom of the windscreen on the passenger side or on the car’s body around the passenger door frame.
There will be four weights on there, the gross vehicle weight, or MAM, the gross train weight (the maximum amount that the car and trailer can weigh combined), and the maximum axle loads for the front and rear.
To calculate your car’s towing capacity, subtract the first figure – the MAM, from the second, the gross train weight.
Can I tow a trailer?
The short answer is yes, anyone can tow a trailer, even if you only passed a standard car driving test. However, the precise details are different depending on when your licence was issued.
If you passed your test on or after 1 January 1997
Anyone who got their driving licence on or after 1 January 1997 is subject to a higher level of restrictions when it comes to what sort of trailer you can tow. You can…
- Drive a car or van that weighs up to 3,500kg maximum authorised mass (MAM) towing a trailer of up to 750kg MAM
- Tow a trailer over 750kg MAM as long as the combined MAM of the trailer and towing vehicle is no more than 3,500kg
MAM is the limit on how much the vehicle can weigh when it’s loaded. You have to pass the car and trailer driving test if you want to tow anything heavier, this is called a B+E test. You might need several lessons before you’re ready to take the test.
Licences issued before 1 January 1997
If you passed your car driving licence before 1 January 1997 then you can drive a wider range of combinations of vehicle and trailers.
- You’re usually allowed to drive a vehicle and trailer combination up to 8,250kg MAM
- You’re also allowed to drive a minibus with a trailer of over 750kg MAM
Check exactly what driving licence you hold at gov.uk to find out more.
Can I tow a caravan?
The first question to answer when determining whether you can head off on your caravanning holiday is ‘how much does a caravan weigh?’. The answer can vary quite a lot, from around 400kg to over 2,500kg, but the weight of a caravan is often listed on a plate on the inside, near the door frame or similar, or it is in the handbook. If it isn’t there or you don’t have the handbook then the manufacturer should be able to help. If you still aren’t sure then you can buy a portable caravan weighing scale and measure it at home.
However, to be really sure, you are best off going to your local weighbridge. These are normally privately owned and there will be a charge for using them.
It’s important to remember that the total weight needs to include the people in the car and the luggage in the caravan, so if you have weighed the caravan while it is empty then you need to factor that in before your trip.
If you are a couple going away for a short break then you are in a different situation to a family of five taking multiple suitcases, toys, bikes and the kitchen sink (or two) for a week or more. If your combined weight is close to the limit, or your caravan is close to the maximum towing capacity for your car, then it’s worth getting the scales out and doing the sums to make sure you don’t go over what is allowed.
When it comes to picking a car that can tow a caravan, generally speaking, a car that can tow 2,000kg and above will do the job, although it is again worth checking the precise towing capacity of the car in question.
Examples include the Mitsubishi Outlander, BMW 5 Series Touring and Kia Sportage. For heavier twin-axle caravans, larger 4x4s or pick-ups will be up for the task. Examples of these include the Land Rover Discovery (3,500kg braked towing weight), Volvo XC90 (2,700kg) and Ford Ranger (3,500kg). The Mitsubishi L200 can also tow the same weight, but with a three-axle trailer and is soon to be discontinued in 2021.
I want to tow some junk to the tip
If you’re having a clear-out and looking to transport a trailer to and from the local tip, a small un-braked trailer will probably be fine for this. Most small hatchbacks can pull a trailer with a weight of around 500kg including cars like the Mini Hatchback and Ford Fiesta.
If you want to transport slightly heavier goods, cars like the Volkswagen Golf and Skoda Karoq offer braked trailer capacity of up to 1,400kg.
Don’t forget, if the trailer weighs more than 750kg it needs to be fitted with brakes.
I want to transport heavy mechanical equipment across business sites
Anything heavier than 2,000kg and the list of suitable cars starts to get smaller and moving up to 3,500kg it shrinks even more. Below is a list of mainstream cars that can tow 3,500kg:
- Land Rover Defender
- Mitsubishi Shogun
- Land Rover Discovery
- Jeep Grand Cherokee
- BMW X6
- SsangYong Rexton
- Toyota Land Cruiser
- Range Rover
- Mercedes-Benz G-Class
- Volkswagen Touareg
You could also consider a pick-up truck. Several trucks will be able to tow 3,500kg, although not all of them. The Toyota Hilux, Isuzu D-Max and Ssangyong Musso are capable of towing a maximum of 3,500kg while others are capable of doing so if you pick the right model.
When towing for business, if the total weight of the vehicle and trailer goes over 3,500kg, then a tachograph should be fitted. Most manufacturers will offer a tachograph as a cost option and it’s used to automatically record your speed and distance travelled together with your driving activity. You will also need the appropriate licence, which you may not have depending on when you passed your test.
I want to tow a horsebox
Horses come in all shapes and sizes, and average weights can vary from 200kg for a small pony up to 1,000kg for the Shire. Horseboxes also vary greatly in weight so it’s important to have an accurate figure of what is to be towed before you start. We would recommend using a vehicle that has more than a 2,000kg towing capacity in any case.
I want to tow a car
Like horses, cars come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from 600kg for a classic Mini to 2,500kg for a fully-fuelled Volkswagen Phaeton or Land Rover Discovery. Car trailers also vary greatly in weight so it’s important to have an accurate figure of what is to be towed before you start. We would recommend using a vehicle that has more than 2,500kg towing capacity in any case.
Important things to remember when towing
- The maximum speed when towing is 60mph on motorways and dual carriageways and 50mph on single carriage roads
- The maximum width of a trailer should not exceed 2.55m
- The length of a trailer should not exceed 7m
- If the trailer is wider than the car you wish to drive then towing mirrors should be fitted
- If you fit a tow bar to your vehicle then it must meet EU regulations and be designed for use with that car
- If you have never towed before, it is always a good idea to practice as much as possible; especially reversing and parking with a trailer attached
- You must display the same number plate on your trailer as on your towing car. If you tow more than one trailer at a time, fix the plate to the trailer at the back
- You can be fined up to £2,500 and have three points put on your licence if you are deemed to be using your car in a dangerous condition. Find out more at gov.uk
Can you tow with an automatic car?
Yes, you can tow a car with an automatic gearbox – you do not need a manual gearbox to tow a trailer. Modern automatic gearboxes usually have a manual mode that allows you to hold a car in a particular gear at times if you feel you need to do so for particular manoeuvres.
The maximum towing capacities for an automatic or a manual gearbox might be slightly different to one another, but the difference is marginal. In some cases, the maximum towing weight might even be more for the automatic, making it a more flexible option. This is certainly the case with, for example, the manual and DSG version of the Skoda Kodiaq.
How much does a caravan weigh?
There is a huge range in how much a caravan weighs, with small or micro caravans with MAMs as low as 400kg while bigger four-berth ones will weigh in at around 2,500kg.
The majority of caravans are in the 1,000kg to 2,000kg bracket, though, with plenty around the 1,500kg mark
How much does the average car weigh?
If you look up the weight of a car you will find two weights listed – the gross vehicle weight and the kerb weight. The latter is the one that is relevant for calculating your towing ability and includes all the necessary fluids (sometimes a full tank of fuel) but not any passengers. Sometimes a manufacturer will list a driver, giving a nominal weight of 75kg.
As a guide, a Ford Focus has a kerb weight of between approximately 1,300kg and 1,600kg, while a Land Rover Discovery weighs just under 2,500kg.
What does braked towing weight mean?
Braked towing weight refers to the maximum amount that a car can tow if the trailer in question has brakes of its own. If it has its own brakes then it can weigh more than if it doesn’t, the heaviest unbraked trailer that can be legally towed is 750kg.