You’ve got a full driving licence, so you can tow a caravan or trailer if you want to, right? Well, the answer is a bit more complicated than that, especially if you passed your test during or after 1997. If you assume your licence allows you to tow, you risk breaking the law and invalidating your insurance.
KNOW YOUR LICENCE
Anyone who passed their driving test on or after 1 January 1997 has what is known as a B licence. This allows you to drive cars and trailers with a combined Maximum Authorised Mass (MAM) of 4,250kg, provided the trailer has a MAM of no more than 750kg (The MAM is the most the car or trailer are permitted to weigh when loaded).
You can tow trailers (or caravans or horseboxes) with a MAM of over 750kg, but only if the combined MAM of car and trailer does not exceed 3.5 tonnes.
If you are towing anything large, like a family caravan, it’s the 3.5-tonne maximum which is most likely to apply in practice.
HOW RESTRICTIVE ARE THE RULES?
So, just how restrictive is that rule? Well, let’s say you own a Land Rover Discovery 3.0 SDV6. The Maximum Authorised Mass (usually referred to as the Gross Train Weight, just to add to the confusion) is 3,200kg. That leaves just 300kg for the caravan or trailer. Given that a caravan MAM is likely to weigh in the 1,200-1,800kg range, you can see the problem.
Don’t think you can get around the rules by loading car and trailer well below the legal limit either – driving licence limits apply to the maximum permitted weight, not the actual weight.
WHAT YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT
So, what do you do about it? The easiest solution is to simply be mindful of your licence restriction when choosing a car and trailer. Let’s look at another example. A Ford Kuga 2.0 TDCI 148bhp with front-wheel drive has a MAM of 2,250kg. A two-berth Swift Alpine 2 caravan has a MAM of 1,208kg. That adds up to 3,458kg, so you would be within the 3,500kg limit of a B licence if you were driving this combination.
However, if you want to tow larger trailers with heavier cars, the smart option is to take a towing test to upgrade your licence to B+E entitlement. This will allow you to drive vehicles with a MAM of 3,500kg towing trailers weighing up to 3,500kg.
More and more drivers are choosing to do just that. In 2007-08, 7,344 drivers took the B+E test. In 2017-18, that number rose to 28,527. You’ll need to pay £115 on a weekday or £141 if you take the test in the evening, on the weekend or on a bank holiday.
UPGRADING YOUR LICENCE TO B+E
There are six parts to the test. First, the examiner will check your eyesight (you have to read a number plate from 20 metres away, just like the regular driving test). If your vision isn’t up to scratch you’ll fail before you even get behind the wheel.
Next up are the ‘show me, tell me’ questions. These shouldn’t pose much of a challenge, you simply need to prove you can carry out basic safety checks.
The third part is trickier. You’ll have to show the examiner that you can reverse your car and trailer, manoeuvring it into a restricted space and stopping in the correct place.
Then you’ll need to show that your general towing is up to scratch, driving in various traffic conditions. The examiner will ask you to tow on the motorway, provided there’s one nearby.
At some point, you’ll be asked to pull over at the side of the road, pull out from behind a parked vehicle, and make a hill start.
There will be 10 minutes of independent driving when you’ll have to follow traffic signs, verbal instructions, or a combination of both.
Finally, you’ll have to show you can uncouple the car from the trailer, park your car alongside the trailer, then realign the car and trailer and couple them up again.
It’s not desperately difficult to reach the necessary standard if you’ve been towing for a while (the pass rate is 70%). But it makes sense to have some professional instruction before the test. Reversing a caravan or trailer in particular can be counter-intuitive at first, and having someone who knows their stuff talk you through it can really help. Expect to pay £400-£500 for a couple of days’ tuition, including the price of the test itself.
Sound like too much money and hassle? Well, don’t be tempted to risk it. Driving a car and trailer combination for which you don’t have the correct licence is against the law. What’s more, if you have an accident when you are not properly licenced, your insurer could refuse to pay out.
Our advice? It’s much better to either pay attention to the licence limits when deciding on a tow car and trailer, or to take a test so you can tow a wider range of vehicles and trailers.
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