Travelling With A Trailer: Weighing It Up

Trailers are used for a number of different purposes, allowing us to transport materials of all shapes and sizes (within reason) and also more cumbersome items such as boats, bikes and even horse boxes.

Whether you’re towing a caravan or boat for a holiday or just making use of a trailer as part of moving house, you need to make sure that you’re towing safely, and there are a few things to check before you set off, most importantly to do with the weight of your load, commonly known as Maximum Authorised Mass:

What Is Maximum Authorised Mass?

Maximum Authorised Mass (MAM) is the combined weight of your vehicle, the trailer you are towing and the additional weight of the load you are carrying.

Depending on your licence type, you are legally allowed to carry loads of up to 3.5 tonnes combined, so it can be worth thinking about how much you want to transport in the first place – especially when it comes to caravans or taking equipment such as surfboards and bikes.

Do I Need A Special Licence To Tow?

Depending on what you want to tow depends on what sort of licence you will require. Usually, when you pass your driving test, you will receive a Category B licence which entitles you to drive cars and other small

What you can tow will depend on when you passed your test and there are three main periods at which changes took place, so it can be worth cross-referencing your licence to make sure you can tow legally:

Before 1st January 1997

Drivers who passed their test before this time are entitled to drive a vehicle and trailer combination of up to a total mass of 8.25 tonnes – this includes the combined weight of your vehicle, the trailer and the load you are carrying.

From 1st January 1997

Drivers who passed their test after this time and who carry a regular B category driving licence are allowed to tow vehicles of up to 750kg, provided the total weight of the car, trailer and load do not exceed 3.5 tonnes.

From 19th January 2013

If you’ve passed your Category B driving test fairly recently you will be able to tow small trailers of no more than 750kg, or if you want to tow larger loads you must ensure the combined weight does not exceed the MAM of 3.5 tonnes.

What about Heavier Loads?

If you are looking to tow loads heavier than 3.5 tonnes, either on a regular basis through work or when you take a caravan or trailer away on holiday, you’ll need to apply to upgrade your driving licence to a Category B+E to be road-legal.

If you want to tow heavier loads, you must apply to upgrade your license further to a Category C1+E licence, which when passed will allow you to drive combinations of up to a MAM of 12 tonnes, this is particularly important if have a larger vehicle or if your business requires you to carry heavier loads.

Size Matters

Overall size can also be a factor in how much you are able to safely transport behind your vehicle, and different vehicles will have different specifications when it comes to how much they can tow:

The maximum length of a trailer of up to 3.5 tonnes is 7 metres, while the maximum width limit for any vehicle towing a trailer is 2.55 metres.

Check your cars’ manufacturers handbook and look for a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), usually presented on a plate located under the bonnet or on the inside of the drivers’ side door.

This plate should tell you what is known as the Gross Train Weight of the vehicle – which is essentially the weight of a fully loaded car and trailer combination.

If you are unable to locate a VIN number on your car then it is not advisable to use the vehicle for the purposes of towing.

Be Prepared

If you are towing a trailer of any size, you must also ensure that you have the relevant safety gear in mind to assist you and that your trailer is in good condition for travel, here are a few things to check before you set off:

  • Mirrors – you must check to see that you have a clear view of the road behind your trailer and that if you’re towing a caravan you have some towing mirrors fitted to your vehicle before you travel, for not doing so could lead to penalty points on your driving licence.
  • Towbars – these can be car-type dependent and must be ‘type approved’ in order for them to be used, make sure to check that your car is able to use one before you buy, and much like with tyres be sure to search by your car type to find the best match for your vehicle.
  • Brakes – if your MAM is over 7.5 tonnes, you must ensure that your trailer’s brakes are working correctly and be in good working order before you travel.
  • Number plate – you must display the same number plate of your vehicle on your trailer as well

By taking the time to make sure that your trailer and vehicle is not overloaded and that all your safety features have been checked, you can ensure that your journey goes smoothly and without a hitch.

Get Some Extra Protection

Because towing trailers and caravans can be a delicate operation for both yourself and other road users, it can be worth securing some additional trailer insurance in order to help protect yourself and recover costs incurred as a result of accidents caused by third parties.

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