Towing vehicles and insurance explained

Who’d have thought caravans would become so popular? Yet, one outcome of coronavirus is that hauling vehicles around Britain has become very much in vogue. In this article we explain all you need to know about towing everything from caravans to trailers to other cars.

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Caravans used to be seen as the holiday mode of choice for older people, who many frowned on for ‘clogging up the motorways’. Coronavirus changed that, with lockdown and a ban on foreign travel making staycations popular. 

Before the pandemic, the National Caravan Council estimated there were 550,000 touring caravans in the UK. This figure has risen since lockdown, and is expected to continue rising as more and more campsites reopen and uncertainties about foreign travel persist.  

Do you need insurance to tow a caravan?

There is no legal requirement for trailers, caravans included, to have insurance. Car insurance policies typically provide third-party cover for a towed caravan, but it’s advisable to check the small print before hitching up, as some policies exclude caravans. 

Given a new caravan can cost upwards of £20,000, with even basic ones starting at around £8,000, it makes sense to get a quote for caravan insurance so you’d be covered if it’s damaged, vandalised or stolen - as 4,000 are each year, according to the AA

What to look for in caravan insurance

As with any type of insurance, it’s important to buy cover that suits your needs, rather than just snapping up the cheapest quote. 

Caravan insurance will provide protection while it is being towed, used or parked up at home. It’s worth noting that if you don’t have a drive, some insurers will insist it is parked at a secure location operated by the Caravan Storage Site Owners’ Association.

Decent caravan insurance should include the following protections:

  • Damage or loss resulting from fire, theft, storm or flood damage

  • A choice of new for old or market value 

  • Accidental damage insurance, to protect against prangs caused when towing

  • Contents cover

  • European travel cover

Can anyone tow a caravan?

Putting aside concerns about lugging an eight-foot wide caravan behind your car, which can take some getting used to, the biggest issue affecting drivers is the legal limitations.

Driving Licences and towing 

Drivers must abide by rules relating to the maximum authorised mass (MAM). This is the total weight of a caravan or trailer, plus the vehicle hauling allowed when in tow, and the amount you can tow will depend on when you passed your test.

Anyone whose Driving Licence was issued on or after 1 January 1997 is allowed: 

  • To drive a car or van with a MAM of up to 3,500kg towing a trailer or caravan with a MAM of up to 750kg

  • To tow a caravan or trailer with a MAM of more than 750kg providing the combined MAM of the trailer and the towing car or van is no more than 3,500kg

Anyone whose Driving Licence was issued before 1 January 1997 is allowed: 

  • To drive a vehicle connected to a trailer if the combined MAM is no greater than 8,250kg 

  • To drive a minibus with a trailer weighing over 750kg

What you need to know about towing a car

Cars tend to be towed if they have broken down and need to be moved to a location for repair or they are being taken to a breakers yard. 

But whatever the reason for hooking another car to yours, the law has a say on what you must and must not do. 

There are a few simple rules covering who can drive a vehicle that is being towed.

  • If you are towing a car that is connected to the driven vehicle by a bar it is treated as a trailer. Therefore, it doesn’t need insurance 

  • If a rope or chain is used to link the two cars, the towed vehicle must be insured

  • The ‘steersman’ behind the wheel of a towed car is considered to be a driver and must hold a valid driving licence

  • A car with a Statutory Off Road Notification (SORN), which is applied for if a vehicle is kept on private land, and neither taxed nor insured, must be insured before it is towed by rope or chain on public roads

Related link: When does your car need a SORN 

Temporary car insurance may be the best bet for towed cars

If the car you are planning to tow has been off the road for some time, it is essential to arrange car insurance, even if you are only driving it round the block to the nearest breakers’ yard. In this case, temporary car insurance will probably be the most cost-effective option.

Temporary car insurance is designed for short term cover. Typical uses include:

  • Cover for vehicles used in moving home

  • Cover for students using a car between term times

  • Cover for driving a towed vehicle to a municipal tip

What you need to know about towing a horsebox

Towing a car or a caravan is one thing, but ferrying a large animal around is quite another. If you are an equestrian in need of a horsebox you must be aware of restrictions relating to the weight of the horsebox, which must not exceed your car’s maximum towing capacity (MTC).

You can find the MTC in your car handbook or on the vehicle identification number plate, which is usually found under the bonnet or on a door panel. If there are two maximum weights, for braked and unbraked trailer weights, it’s braked you want. 

Unlike with other trailers, the MAM is not relevant, providing you passed your driving test on or after 1 January 1997.

Apply some horse sense

Maximum weight limits provide a legal framework to work in, but it’s important to use your experience when gauging how close to the threshold you want to go. 

If you have a particularly frisky or horse, or a heavy one that might buck over slippery or pot-holed roads, it’s best to err on the side of caution. Likewise, you don’t want to get bogged down in a muddy field due to the weight you are towing.

Do you need insurance to tow a horsebox?

Caravans, trailers and horses have one thing in common: bespoke insurance isn’t a legal requirement. And like caravans, horseboxes are not cheap, so while car insurance policies typically cover trailers of any kind to a third-party level, you may want greater protection.

Specialist horsebox insurance is available and worth considering given the cost of horseboxes, it’s worth investigating. The insurance should cover theft of and damage to the horsebox. Cover for the horse itself is often excluded and needs to be sought separately.

What you need to know about towing a trailer

Horseboxes and caravans aside, many drivers purchase a trailer to convey everything from tents and camping equipment on holiday to rubbish to the local municipal tip. These vehicles are road legal providing the following rules are followed:

  • If the trailer weighs in at over 750kg when loaded it must be fitted with a braking system

  • The trailer must show the same number plate as the vehicle doing the towing. Trailers more than 1.3 metres wide must have fog lights installed

  • Most trailers built after 1991 (boat trailers are exempt) must have white reflectors fitted at the front if they are under 1.6 metres wide. Those with a span above 1.6 metres must have front position lamps fitted

Top towing tips

There is more to towing a car, caravan or horsebox than legal limits and insurance. Lugging around a separate vehicle can prove a daunting prospect, so it’s worth knowing some essential facts and hacks:

  • Having trailer, caravan or even horsebox insurance may protect your towed vehicle, but it might not protect your car’s no claims discount if you were found to be at fault

  • Check your speed. Towed cars must not exceed 50 mph on single carriageways and 60 mph on dual carriageways or motorways. They also must not be driven in the outside lane of a motorway

  • Take corners slower and wider to avoid the trailer mounting the curb

  • Ensure your towbar is road legal. Since 1998 all vehicles with a MAM of up to 3,500 kg must be fitted with European type approval 94/20/EC towbars. Legitimate towbars have a type approval sticker or metal plate attached to the towbar

  • The Caravan Club runs caravan towing courses at 14 sites around the UK. These are intended for drivers who are new to towing a caravan and intended to boost confidence by providing practical tips on how to home your towing skills

  • Ensure you have towing mirrors fitted before lining up your caravan or horsebox, and check you have positioned your mirrors correctly before taking to the road. The law requires you to see behind 20 metres back and four metres out

Whatever car you drive, make sure you find insurance that covers everything you need as cheaply as possible by comparing policies.

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