Tips for towing a trailer

Many of us will be towing a trailer at least a few times this year. But how many of us really know the precautions we should be taking when driving with one – and the possible risks involved?

Towing a trailer may be relatively straightforward but it is not a case of just hitching up and off you go. There are certain precautions that should be taken, both before you set off and during your journey.
Even seasoned drivers can benefit from brushing up on their knowledge of trailer towing, so we’ve put together the following guide to help our members:

Remember the law!

  • Drivers who passed their test after 1 January 1997 are only licensed to tow a combination up to 3,500kg MAM (this is the maximum laden weights as stated on the plates of the car and trailer, irrespective of whether they are empty or loaded). The majority of horse trailers and tow vehicle combinations exceed 3,500kg (most 4wd tow vehicles exceed 3,500kg). Since 1 January 1997 license holders must pass the Towing Ability test to gain entitlement to tow heavier combinations. Without this you are committing an offence and your insurance is invalid. Use a public weighbridge to find out the weight of your vehicle.
  • When towing a trailer you are restricted to a maximum speed of 50mph on single carriageway roads, and 60mph on dual carriageways and motorways. You are not allowed to use the outside lane of a three or more lane motorway when towing, (except where there are lane closures).
  • If you tow a small trailer without brakes, the weight of the trailer is limited to 50% of the kerb weight of the car or 750kg, whichever is less.
  • When towing larger trailers that have brakes fitted, the weight of the trailer should not (as a rule of thumb) exceed 85% of the kerb weight of the towing vehicle.
  • Most vehicle manufacturers state the maximum towing limit in their hand books – check this as the weight can soon add up.

Before setting off

  • Regularly service your trailer. If you leave your trailer sitting idle most of the year it’s even more important to check it over – particularly the brakes and tyres.
  • If you are towing a large trailer you may require extended door mirrors. These will help visibility along both sides of your vehicle and trailer.

Watch your driving

  • If you’re new to towing a trailer, practice first in an open space.
  • Remember to allow for the extra length of your vehicle and trailer when turning corners or manoeuvring in tight spaces.
  • Be aware that the vehicle and trailer will take longer to stop, accelerate and turn. It will also need more power to pull off.
  • Always be generous when turning to ensure you don’t clip kerbs, and keep a watchful eye on both door mirrors.
  • Believe it or not, reversing a small trailer can be trickier than a large one, as it is a lot more sensitive to steering and harder to see.
  • Beware of over steering – your trailer could jack-knife. Stop, pull forward in a straight line, and try again.

Parking your trailer

  • Avoid parking your trailer on long grass – moisture could damage it.
  • When you park up, you must not leave a detached trailer on a public road. If it is hitched up it must always be parked with lights on at night on any public road.
  • Park on a level surface and avoid parking with the handbrake on.
  • When reverse parking, turn the steering wheel the opposite way to normal to start the trailer turning, slacken off then turn the normal way to enable the car to follow the trailer.

See our post on towing trailers in the snow…