Towing capacity for a caravan or trailer

Ford Focus VIN plateBefore you decide which caravan or trailer to purchase you must first work out what your car, or towing vehicle can safely and legally manage.  Getting the figure correct is essential as not only is it illegal to tow an overladen caravan or trailer, it can also invalidate your insurance.   Whilst the towing capacity calculation of your vehicle is not difficult to work out, getting it wrong could be an expensive mistake to make.  Towing a trailer or caravan that is over weight is also extremely dangerous not only for you but also to other road users as the stability of both the car and trailer / caravan will become severely compromised.

Unfortunately different car manufacturers use different terminology in their handbooks and on the Vehicle Identification Plate, nor is all of the information needed immediately obvious and this is what causes the most amount of confusion for drivers trying to work out what they can safely tow.

For safety reasons and especially for the inexperienced of towing a trailer or caravan, it is widely recommended by the caravan clubs that the weight of a laden caravan should not exceed 85% of the the tow car’s Mass in Running Order (MRO).

Working out your figures

The picture above is the Vehicle Identification Plate from a 2009 Ford Focus, 1.6 litre, 5 door hatchback. Unfortunately, it transpired that this information was not what we needed, so we telephoned the car manufacturer and discovered that the following weights also applied to towing -

620kg, the un-braked towing capacity (maximum towing capacity of your car towing a trailer that does not have its own braking system);

1200kg, the braked towing capacity (maximum towing capacity of your car towing a caravan that does have its own braking system – usually connected to the car’s braking system through a cable);

1249kg, the kerb weight (also known as Mass of Vehicle in Running Order – MRO. This figure is typically defined as the car driver, a 90% full tank of petrol / diesel and other liquids that form part of the car’s operating systems. It does not include however, passengers, any additional load in the car or the weight of any towbar or towing add-ons).

It is these figures directly from Ford that are more useful for working out the towing capacity of your car.  In this example, using the Ford Focus and the figures above, the maximum laden weight of the trailer or caravan would be 85% of the MRO (1249kg).  However, this figure of 1249kg does not include the weight of a tow bar fitted to the car.  An accepted weight to add would be 25kg which would include the tow bar, tow ball and associated electrics. So, 1249 + 25 = 1274kg.  1274 x 85 = 108290 ÷ 100 = 1082kg.  Therefore, the maximum recommended towing capacity of a fully laden caravan i.e. including the gas bottles, awning, chairs, bedding, food etc. should not weigh more than 1082kg for this particular car.

As you can see from the above figures, the 1082kg maximum weight of the caravan is lower than that of the allowed braked towing capacity, which is a good indication that the figures are correct.

The figures on the Vehicle Information Plate above relate to -

The 1820kg refers to the Gross Vehicle Weight;

2930kg, the Gross Train Weight;

925kg, the Maximum Front Axle Weight;

1005kg, the Maximum Rear Axle Weight.

The Gross Train Weight on the Vehicle Identification Plate is another important figure for towing, as it is the gross weight of the car, caravan, weight of the driver and passengers and loaded items in both the car and caravan which in this instance should not exceed 2930kg.  So whilst it is important not to overload your caravan or trailer prior to towing, it is also equally important not to overload your car to perhaps try to compensate for the lack of weight that you can tow.

After purchasing your new caravan you could take it to your local weighbridge for a dummy run after having first loaded it with all of the usual paraphernalia that you take on holiday.  For a small fee they will weigh the car and caravan for you to make sure that you are not exceeding your towing capacity limits.  To find your nearest weighbridge visit www.tradingstandards.gov.uk or contact your local council.

What is the law?

Additionally, you will also need to check that your driving licence is valid for towing a trailer or caravan.  Drivers who passed their driving test prior to 1st January 1997 and have not been subsequently banned, are automatically permitted to tow a caravan until their licence expires.  Drivers who passed their driving test after 1st January 1997 and have an ordinary Category B licence, can drive either of the following:

  • a vehicle up to 3.5 tonnes (3,500 kilograms) maximum gross weight towing a trailer of up to 750 kilograms maximum gross weight (up to 4,250 kilograms in total)
  • a trailer over 750 kilograms maximum gross weight as long as it is no more than the unladen or ‘kerb’ weight of the towing vehicle (up to 3,500 kilograms in total)

For anything heavier you would need to take a Category B + E driving test.
These rules will again change for new drivers passing their driving test after 19th January 2013.

Basically, the best rule of thumb is the bigger and more powerful the car, the better.  In fact some cars are not permitted to tow at all, including the Ford Ka and the Vauxhall Tigra.  This could be disappointing to some drivers especially with the advent of the smaller, more lightweight caravans such as the T@b.

Finally don’t forget to check that your car insurance fully covers you for towing a trailer or caravan. It is also recommended that you take out separate specialist insurance for your caravan to cover you in the event of any problems.

This article is intended as a guide and we would always recommended that if you are in any doubt at all it would be advisable to contact your local car manufacturer dealership with the car specifications and ask them to check their database so that you can be sure that you are not breaking the law.

Lifesure are specialist caravan insurance providers.  Call us on 01480 402470 to speak to our friendly, knowledgeable staff.

If you found this article useful or have any suggestions or questions, please leave a comment below.

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4 thoughts on “Towing capacity for a caravan or trailer

  1. We are English living in Portugal but also with an English property. My towing car is insured through a Portuguese company and I will advise them the insurance must cover the new situation of towing a caravan. My question is “can the separate caravan insurance be with an English insurance company?”.

    We will be new to the touring caravan scene from April.

  2. Our understanding is that a person has to obtain any insurance from an insurer licenced to offer insurance in the country they reside in (pay tax). This is an EU regulation. Therefore you would have to approach a Portuguese insurance agent or company to cover your caravan whilst your main home is in Portugal.

    Hope this helps and thank you for the question.

  3. Hi. I going to be towing an Abbey County Lincoln with my Vauxhall Astra J 1.7cdti and I’m needing help with all the figures. Can you tell me the nose limit and whether my outfit is a good match?
    Many thanks, Jonathan

  4. Hi Jonathan,
    Thank you for your question. Before anyone can answer that question you are going to need to find out the weight of your caravan. Bear in mind that if there have been any modifications to it since it was manufactured these will need to be taken into account. If you are in the process of buying the van, your dealer should be able to help you and tell you if your car and van are a good match. If you are having problems finding out the weight of the caravan, I would suggest contacting Swift via their website mail form and ask them for the full details of your van. You will need to send them as much information as possible including the chassis number / VIN number of your caravan as they all vary from model to model.
    I hope this helps.

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