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UK towing laws: everything you need to know to stay legal

  • What driving licence you need
  • Trailer legal requirements explained
  • Heavy fines for breaking the rules

Written by Graham King Published: 25 June 2024 Updated: 2 July 2024

Whether you’re new to towing or an experienced hand, you need to make sure you stay on the right side of UK towing laws whenever you hitch up to one of the best tow cars and head out on the road. There’s actually quite a lot to think about, some of it quite nuanced and you could easily be caught out.

In this guide, we’re going to look at UK towing laws, which cover everything from what kind of driving licence you need to how you should load your trailer. We’ll cover what these laws mean in practice and how they affect how you should approach towing a trailer of any kind – anything from a small bike carrier to big caravan, to a hulking horsebox. We’ll also detail the sanctions you could face if you break any of the rules.

Range Rover towing horsebox - UK towing laws
There are a lot of rules and regulations that drivers must adhere to when towing any type of trailer.

Do I need a driving licence to tow?

UK drivers are no longer required to hold a specific driving licence to tow a trailer or caravan. That change came into effect in December 2021. Previously, drivers who passed their test after 1 January 1997 were required to take a separate test to gain the necessary BE (car and trailer) category on their licence. Drivers who passed their test before 1 January 1997 were granted ‘grandfather’ rights that enabled them to tow.

But now the specific licensing requirements have been removed, all UK driving licence holders are allowed to tow. Even if your licence photocard doesn’t show the BE category – it’ll be added the next time you update or renew your card. There are, however, a couple of restrictions still in place:

  • Drivers who passed their test after 1 January 1997 are restricted to driving vehicles that weigh no more than 3,500 kg, and a vehicle/trailer combination that weighs no more than 6,750kg.
  • Drivers who passed their test before 1 January 1997 can drive a vehicle that weighs 7,500kg, and a vehicle/trailer combination weighing 8,250kg.

If you’ve never towed before, we strongly recommend that you get some training, especially if you plan on towing something big and bulky like a horsebox or caravan. Many driver training companies offer towing tuition, as does the Caravan and Motorhome Club. You can find out more about the various driving licence categories on the government website.

Daihatsu Terios towing boat - UK towing laws
All UK driving licence holders can now tow a trailer behind their car.

What’s the speed limit when towing?

There are lower speed limits for towing on ‘national limit’ roads. Those limits are:

  • 60mph on motorways
  • 60mph on dual carriageways
  • 50mph on ‘national limit’ single carriageway roads

Separate towing speed limits don’t apply when the posted limit is 50mph or less.

How much weight can I tow?

Not every car is homologated – legally cleared – for towing. All cars that can be used for towing are given a maximum weight they can pull, known as towing capacity. That capacity includes the weight of the trailer and load.

Aside from your car’s towing capacity, there are other weights and capacities you need to consider including:

  • The weight of your trailer and its payload capacity.
  • The maximum allowable mass (MAM) of your trailer – the combined weight of trailer and load.
  • The car’s gross train weight (GTW) limit – the combined weight of your car including passengers, luggage and fuel, plus the loaded trailer.
Volkswagen Touareg towing Jumbo Jet - UK towing laws
You mustn’t exceed your car’s towing capacity limits – even if it’s capable of pulling a Jumbo Jet.

You can find the towing capacity for your vehicle by looking up the specs in its Parkers review, in the owner’s manual, or on the vehicle identification number (VIN) plate. The maximum weight a trailer towed behind a car can be is 3,500kg. The maximum GTW for a car is 6,750kg.

It can be dangerous to exceed any of these capacity limits. Overloading the car, trailer or both can severely affect your ability to drive safely and puts considerable extra strain on the machinery. You can weigh your car and trailer on a set of portable scales or at a public weighbridge.

What sort of tow bar do I need?

Under UK law, a tow bar must by homologated for use on the car it’s fitted to. Tow bars fitted by the car’s manufacturer are homologated by definition, as are the best aftermarket towbars.

You might come across so-called universal tow bars, but that’s a bit of a misnomer. The rear end of every car is different and the mountings for an aftermarket tow bar have match the pattern specified by the car’s manufacturer.

UK law also covers the size and shape of the tow ball on the end of the tow bar and the specification of the electrical connection between car and trailer. American and Australian tow bars are very different and it’s an offence to use them in the UK.

The condition of a tow bar and its electrical connections are now inspected during an MOT. If there are any significant faults, the car may fail the test.

Securely hitched caravan - UK towing laws
A tow bar must be legally cleared for use with the car it’s fitted to and meet various legal standards.

What size and weight can a trailer be?

There are a set of maximum dimensions that a trailer can be on UK roads when it’s towed behind a car, pickup truck or van weighing less than 3,500kg. Those dimensions are:

  • 7.0 metres long
  • 2.55 metres wide
  • 3.0 metres tall

If the trailer and/or it’s load is wider than the car, extended door mirrors must be fitted to the towing vehicle. If the load extends beyond the rear or sides of the trailer, the extremities must be clearly marked for other drivers to see. If the load is more than 3.0 metres tall, it’s height must written down and clearly visible for the driver.

There are separate weight limits for trailers with brakes and those without:

  • 750kg unbraked
  • 3,500kg braked

Even with those limits, you still have to make sure you don’t exceed your car’s towing capacity or the maximum allowable mass (MAM) of your trailer. Its unladen weight, payload capacity and MAM should be given on its VIN plate or listed in the owner’s manual – if it has one.

Land Rover Defender towing hay trailer - UK towing laws
There are maximum dimensions and weights that a trailer can’t exceed.

Do trailers need lights?

Every trailer must be fitted with same set of working lights as the rear of the towing vehicle, plus a few other things, including:

  • Tail lights
  • Indicators
  • Fog light
  • Number plate lights
  • Red triangular reflectors

Trailers that are 2.55 metres wide must also be fitted with reflectors on the rear corners; side marker lights can be fitted, as well.

Do trailers need a number plate?

Trailers must be fitted with a yellow number plate showing the towing vehicle’s registration – as must any load attached to the back of a car that obscures the plate. Scrawling the reg on a piece of cardboard with a black marker pen isn’t sufficient.

Do trailers need an MOT?

Trailers that weight more than 1,020kg when unladen must be MOT’d on an annual basis. Lighter trailers and all caravans are MOT exempt, however drivers are obliged to make sure that their trailer/caravan is in a condition that’s safe for the road. So it’s a sensible precaution to have exempt trailers inspected at least annually.

Skoda Kodiaq towing boat - UK towing laws
Trailers must have the correct working lights and be in a safe, roadworthy condition.

Can I tow for work?

Towing for work purposes is perfectly legal in the UK, however there are extra legal requirements to meet if the vehicle/trailer combination you’re driving weighs more than 3,500kg. At that point, you’re bound by driver’s hours regulations. Here’s a quick summary:

  • You can drive for a maximum of nine hours in a 24-hour period.
  • You can drive for a maximum of 4.5 hours in one stint, after which you must have a break of at least 45 minutes.
  • You must have at least nine hours off between each working day.
  • You must have at least 45 consecutive hours off in any seven-day period.

Driver’s hours can be recorded on a tachograph fitted to the vehicle with the driver’s tachograph card inserted, or in a detailed diary. Any and all work, regardless of whether it involves driving, must recorded. Details to list in a diary include:

  • Time and location at the start of a working day
  • Time and location at the end of a working day
  • The time and location at the start of a journey
  • The time and location at the end of a journey
  • The times and duration of any breaks during a working day
  • The times and duration of time off between working days

There are, of course, many nuances within driver’s hours regulations. You can find a full guide on the government’s website.

If the vehicle and trailer are privately registered, you can argue the toss about whether you’re truly towing for work. However, the rule of thumb applied by the DVSA and the Traffic Commissioners who adjudicate these matters is that, if you’re earning money in any way for driving the vehicle/trailer combination, you must adhere to driver’s hours regs.

Ford Ranger towing digger - UK towing laws
If you drive a vehicle/trailer combination that weighs more than 3,500kg for work, you must adhere to driver’s hours regulations.

What safety checks should I do before towing?

All drivers have a duty to make sure their vehicle is in a safe condition before setting out on the road and that duty is heightened when towing. Here’s a non-exhaustive rundown of the things you need to check before taking to the road with a trailer:

  • Trailer securely attached to tow bar; jockey wheel lifted and secured.
  • Electrics connected and all trailer lights working.
  • Trailer’s tyres fully inflated, undamaged and with sufficient tread.
  • Trailer’s brakes (if fitted) are working properly.
  • Trailer’s load is securely fastened in place and/or covered.
  • Any parts of the load protruding from the trailer are clearly marked.
  • Any doors on the trailer are fastened shut.

How do I secure my trailer’s load?

A trailer’s load must be securely fastened in place before you hit the road. The best practice depends on what sort of load it is, but here’s a few rules of thumb:

  • Loads on flatbed trailers must be securely fastened to the trailer itself with ratchet straps.
  • Any type of vehicle – cars, bikes, miniature traction engines – must be securely fastened to the trailer with ratchet straps.
  • Box and open-top trailers must fully contain their loads; if that’s not possible, secure the load with straps and clearly mark the load’s extremities.
  • Open top trailers must be covered if the load could fly out.
  • Always make sure the load’s weight is evenly distributed, so the trailer doesn’t lean over to one side.
Securing caravan hitch - UK towing laws
Your trailer must be in a safe condition, securely attached to your vehicle and its load fully secured before you hit the road.

Do trailers need a ‘long vehicle’ marker?

Long vehicle markers are only required when the trailer weighs more than 3,500kg, or the towing vehicle weighs more than 7,000kg. So it’s only lorries that need them. However, the rear of a trailer towed by a car, pickup truck or van must have red reflectors at its outer edges.

Do I need insurance for towing?

You don’t need specific insurance for towing a trailer or caravan. However, not all policies cover towing, so you must make sure yours does. If so, there may be restrictions on the trailer’s weight and dimensions. Exceed those restrictions and your policy will be invalidated. Most policies only provide third-party cover for your trailer/caravan.

If your existing insurance policy doesn’t meet your towing needs, you may be able to upgrade it or you can take out a separate policy to cover your towing journeys. Both the Camping and Caravanning Club and the Caravan and Motorhome Club offer car and trailer insurance policies designed to meet the specific needs of regular towers.

What happens if I break towing laws?

If you break any towing laws or best practice guidelines, particularly those to do with weight and load security, you could be stopped by the police or the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA). Whatever the problem is, you will be prohibited from continuing your journey until it has been rectified. You may also receive penalty points on your driving licence and a fine, potentially running to thousands of pounds. Really serious offences could result in you being banned from driving.

Ford Mustang Mach E police car - UK towing laws
The police and DVSA often carry out spot checks on the condition and safety of vehicles towing trailers.


Is it legal to tow another car?

Yes it is, but you must do so safely. By far the safest option is to use a specifically designed car trailer – covered or uncovered – making sure the car is securely fastened to the trailer with ratchet straps.

Another option is an A-frame of the sort motorhome owners use to pull a small car behind their vehicle. But the car needs to be specially adapted to fit the frame.

If you only need to cover a short distance, you could use a towing dolly that lifts the car’s front wheels off the ground, a rigid towing pole, or a tow rope. The latter should only be used for very short distances if there’s a driver in the car and its brakes are working properly.

Can you tow a broken-down car?

You can, but you need to do so safely. Using a tow rope is only viable for short distances if there’s a driver in the car and its engine is running so the brakes work. If not, it must be towed using a rigid towing pole, a recovery dolly or a car trailer.

Smart ForTwo on trailer - UK towing laws
The safest way towing a car, whether it’s broken down or not, is on a specifically designed car trailer.