Guide to towing capacity

  • Find out more about towing capacity
  • New laws mean more restrictions for drivers
  • Find out which vehicles make great tow cars
  • Find out more about towing capacity
  • New laws mean more restrictions for drivers
  • Find out which vehicles make great tow cars

When it comes to towing, it's important to know your weights.

Whether you’re looking to tow a caravan for your next family holiday, a utility trailer to transport business goods or you need extra loading space for moving house, the most important aspect of towing safely is having the right car for the job.

To help you make sense of it all, we’ve put together this guide.

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 or the car's maximum towing capacity; both figures should be easy to find in the drivers 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/horesbox 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 which 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.

I want to tow a caravan for the next family holiday

Towing a caravan

The weight of caravans can vary but generally speaking a car that can tow 2,000kg and above will do the job. Examples include the Mitsubishi Outlander, BMW 5 Series Touring and Kia Sportage.

For larger 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 (3,350kg).

Remember to factor in your luggage into the total weight. If you’re planning on transporting six full suitcases with a couple of kitchen sinks then it may push you over the maximum towing capacity for your car.

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 are able to 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 Yeti offer braked trailer capacity 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:

When towing for business, if the total weight you wish to tow 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.

I want to tow a horsebox

Towing 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 a Shire. Horseboxes also vary greatly in weight so it’s important to having an accurate figure of what is to be towed before you start.

We would recommend using a vehicle that has more than 2,000kg towing capacity in any case.

Towing - the legal bits

Whether you’re planning a caravanning holiday or moving house, you need to make sure you comply with the law on towing.

Restrictions differ on when your driving licence was issued. 

Licences issued from 1 January 1997

If you passed your car driving test on or after 1 January 1997 you can:

  • Drive a car or van 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 test before 1 January 1997 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 over 750kg MAM.

Check your driving licence details with gov.uk to find out more

Important things to remember when towing

  • The speed limit 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 or 7m in length
  • 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

Don’t forget to check out our Cars for Sale section for the latest deals on new and used cars. And when you come to sell your current car, make sure you get a free car valuation with us to ensure you get the right price.

If you’re considering buying your new car on finance, make sure you visit our finance section for a quote - we work with over 20 lenders to give our customers access to more than 100 different lending options.

Click here to find out which cars Parkers ranks as top towing performers

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