Safe Towing Tips

If you're thinking about towing a trailer, caravan, horse box or boat, you must take extra precautions to ensure the safety of yourself and others.

Towing and the Law

  • You must remember that when you are towing a trailer, you are restricted to a maximum speed of 50 mph on single carriageway roads, and 60 mph on dual carriageways and motorways.
  • You may not use the outside lane of a three-lane motorway, unless there are lane closures in force that restrict the lanes to two or less, or you are directed to do so by the police.
  • You are limited to a maximum legal weight of:
    • 750 kg or 50% of the kerb weight of the car for small trailers without brakes
    • 85% of the kerb weight of the towing vehicle for large trailers with brakes
  • You should also take into account the maximum towing limit for your vehicle; this should be stated in your handbook.
  • Al trailers must be fitted with an approved style number plate.
  • All trailers on the road during darkness must have the following:
    • Brake lights
    • Two red side lights at the rear
    • Number plate light
    • Direction indicators
    • At least one rear fog light (if the trailer is more than 1.3m wide)
    • Two red triangular reflectors
  • All lights must be in proper working order, and correctly fitted to your car's electrics.

Towing Preparation Tips

  • You must ensure that your trailer, horse box or caravan is serviced and regularly maintained. If the trailer is left unused for the majority of the year, always check that the brakes (if fitted) and tyres are in good condition before taking it out on the road.
  • If your trailer has brakes, it is a good idea to check the brake cables and linkages. They may seize up if not regularly serviced, causing the brakes to bind and the wheel bearings to overheat. As a result, the wheel and hub assembly may part company with the trailer.
  • You may want to consider adding extended door mirrors if you are towing a caravan or high sided trailer to improve visibility along the sides of your both your vehicle and trailer.

Loading Up

The majority of problems that drivers encounter with towing a trailer are caused by incorrect loading.

  • If possible, try to load your vehicle up with small, heavy items, and put larger, lighter items in the trailer.
  • Put any heavy items over the axle of the trailer and secure them firmly so that they cannot move during braking or cornering. The remainder should be distributed to give a suitable nose weight at the coupling (see next point).
  • Check that you haven't overloaded the trailer by measuring the 'nose weight' (the downforce which a trailer exerts on the towball). You should refer to your trailer and car handbook to establish the right weight, but in general, the recommended nose weight is around 7% of the laden weight of the trailer (about 50 kg to 75 kg). To measure the nose weight of your trailer:
    • Place a set of bathroom scales directly under the trailer coupling, with a flat piece of wood between scales and coupling for protection.
    • Lower the jockey wheel of the trailer onto the centre of the wood.
    • Adjust the angle of the trailer so that it is level.
    • Check the weight shown on the scales and compare this value with your car or trailer requirements. Adjust the trailer load as necessary.
    • Alternatively, you can buy a proprietary nose weight indicator - this will be particularly useful if you tow regularly.
  • Double check that the load is firmly secured.

Hitching Up

  • Before you start to hitch the trailer to your vehicle, adjust the jockey wheel so that the coupling head is about 5-8 cm above the towing ball on the back of the car.
  • It is usually easier to reverse your car up to the trailer, particularly if the trailer is heavy. If possible, ask someone to guide you whilst you reverse to ensure that the ball hitch is underneath the coupling head of the trailer.
  • When the car is positioned correctly, lower the jockey wheel and lock the coupling head onto the ball.
  • Carry on winding the jockey so that it fully retracts into its outer case.
  • Release the clamp lever, and then raise the whole unit and re-clamp firmly.
  • Attach the securing chain or break away cable to the hook on the tow bar (not the towing ball).
  • Connect the electrical plugs to car and check that all the lights are working.
  • Take the trailer hand brake off and make sure that there are no trailing cables.
  • Stand away from the car and trailer and make sure that both are level. If the car tow ball is the correct height and the nose weight is correct, but the back of the car is still too low, then you may have got too much weight in the car or the car springs need strengthening with spring assistors.

Driving with a Trailer

Although the thought of driving with a trailer, caravan or horse box may be slightly daunting to the novice, following these simple rules can help enormously:

  • You must always remember that a car and trailer will take longer to turn, accelerate or stop than a car on its own.
  • It's also important to take the extra length and width of your vehicle and trailer into consideration when manoeuvring in a confined space or taking corners.

Reversing

If you are reversing in a straight line, keep checking both door mirrors. Once the towed vehicle is visible in either mirror, gradually turn the steering wheel towards that mirror to re-align the trailer.

If you are reversing round a corner or into a space, turn the steering wheel in the opposite direction to where you want the caravan or trailer to turn into. Once you are moving, gradually slacken off and turn the opposite way to enable the car to follow the trailer.

Don't be disheartened by early failed attempts at reversing; it is a complex manoeuvre to master. If possible, keep practising in a large open space before you head off out onto the open road.

If you oversteer whilst reversing, you could jack-knife and cause considerable damage to your trailer. As soon as you realise that you have oversteered, stop, pull forward to straighten up and start again.