A man hitches a trailer to a car's tow hook

How to find the towing capability of your car

The towing capability of your car is the legal limit that you’re allowed to connect to the back of your car and tow behind you. It’s worth remembering, though, that just because you can doesn’t mean that you should and you should make sure you’re well prepared for every eventuality. To help you prepare, Scrap Car Comparison has put together the following to ensure you get everything in line when towing your car.

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A trailer being hitched to a car's tow hook

How do I work out my vehicle’s towing capacity?

Most vehicles will provide the towing capacity within the vehicle handbook, whereas it should also be listed on the VIN (vehicle identification number) plate, although the latter requires a little maths. Once you find the maximum allowable mass and the maximum trian mass, simply deduct the former from the latter and that is the towing capacity of your vehicle. However, many experts recommend that those new to towing should stick to the 85% rule, which means towing no more than 85% of the vehicle’s kerbweight.

What is the kerbweight of my vehicle?

The kerbweight of your vehicle is how much it weighs when it has a full tank of fuel. This does not, however, include any passengers or cargo on board, so if you regularly lug around a heavy pushchair or set of golf clubs, for example, those won’t count towards your kerbweight. Your kerbweight also takes into account all of the standard equipment included in your car, but not any optional extras, such as bike racks or towbars.

What is the weight of the item I am towing?

The weight of what you’re towing can usually be found on a plate or sticker on the item being towed itself, be it a caravan or trailer or similar. This is known as the Maximum Authorised Mass (MAM) and is the total weight allowed, including the weight of the vehicle itself. This can also be known as Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) or permissible maximum weight. For heavy goods vehicles, it will also likely show Gross Trailer Weight (GTW) or Gross Combination Weight (GCW), which is the total weight for a fully laden trailer plus the tractor unit.

What is the speed limit for towing a trailer?

When it comes to towing, the speed limits are slightly lower than you adhere to on a normal day-to-day basis. When in built up areas you must stick to 30mph, on any single carriageway road it’s 50mph, and 60mph on dual carriageways or motorways (unless otherwise stated, of course).

There are also other rules to be aware of, notably that you cannot drive in the outside lane of motorways with more than two lanes, unless one of the lanes is closed. The Highway Code also requests that those towing vehicles be considerate of other road users, and be prepared to pull in if they are causing considerable queues behind them.

What weight can I tow on a car licence?

The rules surrounding what you can, or can’t, tow on a standard car licence have recently undergone changes, so what you think might be the case may well be very different. From the 16th December 2021, the towing regulations changed to allow drivers with car licences to tow trailers up to 3,500kg MAM. 

For anyone who passed their test after the 1st January 1997, this means a change from the previous rules which only allowed up to 750kg MAM or, for licences up until 18th January 2013, a trailer over 750kg MAM, as long as it wass no more than the unladen weight of the towing vehicle (up to 3,500kg in total), or for those with licences after 18th January 2013 the total MAM of both vehicle and trailer could not exceed 3,500kg. In both instances, the only way to tow heavier loads would be passing an additional car and trailer driving test.

Why is it important to get the calculations correct?

The most obvious reason for needing to get your calculations correct is a pure safety exercise – get it wrong and your car is not going to handle well at all, and could prove a danger for not only yourself, but everyone else on the road as well. On top of this, getting your figures wrong could land you in hot water with the authorities, and, as with most driving offences, the penalties can become very severe very quickly.

What are the penalties for getting the calculations wrong?

If you’ve got your calculations wrong, or are simply trying to skirt around the rules, getting found out could see you slapped with a hefty fine and potential driving ban. If your driving conditions are deemed dangerous by the police, then you could find yourself with a fine of £2,500, three points on your licence or even a driving ban.

If you’re towing a caravan, or trailer that is wider than your car, then you’ll need to ensure you’re using towing mirrors. Failure to do so can also lead to a £1,000 fine and three points on your licence.
Just because your faithful towing vehicle has given up on you, doesn’t mean it has no use left at all – by using Scrap Car Comparison it could provide you with one final lump sum in your bank account. With a network stretching across 99% of all UK postcodes, we can get you the very best price for your car or van in a matter of moments, and we’ll even come and collect it for free – all it takes is one phone call to our sales team and they’ll talk you through the rest!

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