The rules for towing a caravan or trailer are not that easy to remember because whether you can tow one depends on the weight of your car, the weight of the caravan and when you passed your licence. You used to be able to tow a fairly large trailer or caravan on a car licence without passing a separate practical test, but this has changed. If you want to tow a trailer or caravan of more than 750kg then restrictions apply.
Licences granted and maintained since before 1 January 1997
You are generally entitled to drive a vehicle and trailer combination of up to 8.25 tonnes Maximum Authorised Mass (MAM). The MAM includes the vehicle, trailer and the load carried by both the vehicle and the trailer. You can also drive a minibus with a trailer over 750kg MAM.
Licences granted from 1 January 1997 – 18 January 2013
If you have a category B licence you can drive a vehicle up to 3.5 tonnes or 3500kg MAM towing a trailer of up to 750kg MAM, or you can tow a larger trailer (e.g. 1000kg), but the official maximum weight of the trailer and towing vehicle must be no more than 3500kg (e.g. in the case of your caravan or trailer weighing 1000kg, your towing vehicle must have a MAM of less than 2500kg). Also, the trailer must not be heavier than the towing vehicle.
Licences granted from 19 January 2013
If you are about to take your category B licence test, or got your licence recently then you will find there are more restrictions. You can tow a small trailer or caravan weighing no more than 750kg. You can also drive with a trailer over 750kg as long as the combined MAM is less than 3500kg and the trailer is lighter than the towing vehicle.
The Category B+E (car and trailer) practical test
If you need to take a practical test for the B+E licence it’s advised that you take some lessons as it’s a challenging test. You will also need to bring a car and trailer that meet the requirements of the test, plus both parts of your driving licence.
Your test will be cancelled and you’ll lose your fee if you don’t bring the right documents and vehicles.
Requirements of the car you bring to the test
Your vehicle must:
- be properly insured and taxed
- be roadworthy and have a current MOT if it needs one
- be checked and fixed if it has a known safety fault
- have a seatbelt for the examiner
- have an interior rear-view mirror for the examiner (these are available from most motor stores)
- have a proper passenger head restraint (not a slip-on type)
- be a smoke-free environment (you can’t smoke in the vehicle just before or during the test)
- have 4 wheels
- be able to reach at least 62mph
- have a speedometer measuring speed in mph
- have no warning lights showing – for example, the airbag warning light
- have L-plates (‘L’ or ‘D’ plates in Wales) on the front and rear
- have a maximum authorised mass (MAM) of no more than 3,500 kilograms
You can use a car with hill-hold assistance and electronic parking brakes.
Requirements for the trailer that you bring to the test
- have a minimum real weight of 800kg
- carry a minimum load of 600kg of aggregates or 1 intermediate bulk container (IBC) of 1,000kg, or 600kg capacity when filled with water
- have a Maximum Authorised Mass of at least 1 tonne – you may need evidence of this, eg the manufacturer’s plate
The trailer cargo compartment must be a closed box body and be at least as wide and as high as the towing vehicle
Rules about the load
The load can be water or bagged aggregates like sand, stone chippings, gravel or any other recycled material packages (but not toxic materials).
Bagged aggregates must be in sealed transparent bags and must all weigh the same, be at least 10kg and have the weight clearly stamped on them.
Water must be in intermediate bulk containers (IBCs) which are made from semi-transparent moulded plastic usually reinforced with a wire framework.
The examiner may need to inspect an IBC used as ‘load’ for the test, so it’s important that they can visually check it has the correct water level.
You can’t use any other type of load.
The load must be secured appropriately onto the vehicle or trailer.
Minimum real weight
The ‘real weight’ is the actual weight of the vehicle and the load combined. This cannot be more than the MAM.
The vehicle must be fitted with:
- externally mounted nearside and offside mirrors (for the examiner to use)
- a device that shows the trailer’s indicators are working properly (most modern vehicles already have this and won’t need an extra device fitted)
Brakes and coupling
All vehicle combinations must have appropriate brakes and use a coupling arrangement that’s suitable for the weight of the trailer.
What happens during the test
Before you start the driving ability part of your test, you’ll have an eyesight check and be asked 5 vehicle safety questions.
The eyesight check
You’ll have to read a number plate from a distance of 20 metres for vehicles with a new-style number plate or 20.5 metres for vehicles with an old-style number plate.
Vehicle safety questions: ‘show me, tell me’
The examiner will ask you ‘show me’ questions, where you’ll have to show them how you’d carry out a vehicle safety check.
You’ll also be asked ‘tell me’ questions, where you’ll have to explain to the examiner how you’d carry out the check.
You’ll drive in various road and traffic conditions, which could include dual-carriageways, one-way systems and motorways.
You’ll also be asked to do around 10 minutes of independent driving.
You’ll have to show that you can manoeuvre your car and trailer in a restricted space and stop at a certain point. You will need to understand how to control your trailer in reverse.
Uncoupling and recoupling
During the test you’ll be asked to uncouple and couple your car and trailer. You’ll need to know how to do this safely so that the trailer isn’t at risk of rolling away.
Darren has owned several companies in the automotive, advertising and education industries. He has run driving theory educational websites since 2010.