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Safe & Legal Towing
Towing Socket Diagram CLICK HERE

Preparing the trailer
Matching the Trailer with the Towing Vehicle

It is important that the vehicle you use to pull your trailer is adequate for the job.
You need to check:
* That the engine is large enough to tow the trailer and load
* That the brakes are powerful enough to stop the vehicle and trailer safely.
* The Gross Trailer Weight does not exceed the Towing Capacity of the towing vehicle.
The addition of a loaded trailer to a vehicle will inevitably have a very serious effect on the
vehicle's performance. Starting, particularly on hills, can be much more laboured; stopping
can take longer distances; cornering and negotiating sharp bends requires extra care.
Consider all these things very carefully when choosing and loading (and towing) your trailer.

The most important check is the vehicle manufacturer's recommended towing limit, which
should be in the vehicle manufacturer's handbook and on the VIN plate on the chassis.
A good rule of thumb, for safety and stability, when towing a caravan, is the 85% figure
recommended for caravans by the Caravan Club. This suggests that you should not tow a
caravan that weighs more than 85% of the towing vehicle's kerb weight. (as long as 85%
does not exceed the vehicle manufacturer's recommended towing limit. (The kerb weight is
defined as the weight of the vehicle plus a full tank of petrol and 75kg (for the driver and
Police forces use the manufacturer's recommended towing limit as their guide.
Under no circumstances should the vehicle's gross train weight be exceeded.
You should also refer to limitations on overall length. Details are to be found in the section of
this document that deals with trailer dimensions.

Trailer Loading

Loads must be securely tied down or restrained. There must be no load projections outside
the trailer that might cause danger to other road users.
Wherever possible, loads should be evenly distributed across the trailer and positioned in
such a way as to keep the nose weight within the recommended limits. (Refer to the
manufacturer's recommendation and/or the noseweight limit of your vehicle.
If uneven loads have to be carried, ensure that individual wheels/axles are not overloaded. It
may be necessary to reduce the overall load to achieve this.
NOTE: Good towing practice should always take into account the inevitable effects on
vehicle handling, braking and general stability of towing a trailer behind the
Checking weight distribution
The most significant risks associated with poor loading are:
* Loss of steering control caused by loading behind the centre of gravity: this is very
likely to cause snaking. (See note on horses and livestock below.)
* Loss of overall control and potential damage to the towing vehicle caused by
excessive loading in front of the centre of gravity. This causes the car's steering to be
less effective, giving under steer and, with front wheel drive vehicles, causing loss of
traction. Excessive nose weight is likely to place unacceptable stresses on the towbar
and on its mounting points on the vehicle.
* Loss of stability caused by loading too heavily on one side or the other.
* Dangerous loss of stability when loads are loose and move around. Danger of loads
parting from the trailer.
* Load shooting forward when the outfit brakes.
* There is a very significant danger of light items being lifted out of a trailer by the
slipstream. All items should be secured.
Loading practice should, therefore, take into account:
* Secure restraint
* Recommended nose weight
* Weight distribution and balance

Trailer checks before each journey               

The  driver of the towing vehicle has the responsibility for
the safe operation of the trailer and needs to carry out the following checks:

* If the trailer is laden is the load correctly distributed i.e. Not too much or too little nose
* Is the load within the trailer's official payload? - i.e. Not overloaded.
* Is the actual gross weight being towed within the towing vehicle manufacturer's
recommended maximum towing limit (whether braked or unbraked.)?
* Is the load correctly secured?
* Are all the lights undamaged and working correctly?
* Are the 7 core cable and plug undamaged?
* Is the correct number plate fitted? (both registration number and style)
* Is the breakaway cable or secondary coupling undamaged and correctly connected, to a
suitable point on the tow bar or towing vehicle?
* Are the tyre pressures correct and all tyres free from cuts, bulges and with adequate tread,
(including the spare)? Tyres must have a continuous tread depth of at least 1.60 mm on
cars, light vans and trailers, across the centre three-quarters of the width (1mm for other
* Are you satisfied that the wheel nuts/bolts are tightened to the correct torque?
* If required are the mudguards in satisfactory condition and secure?
* Is the trailer correctly coupled to the towball or pin?
* Is the coupling height correct? I.e. Not excessively nose down or nose up.
* Follow the golden rules of towing:
Make sure the trailer is level when coupled to the towing vehicle
Make sure the nose weight is between 50 and 100kg (unless trailer is very light.)
Make sure the tyre pressures are correct.
* Are the jockey wheel and any corner steadies or prop stands fully wound up and secure?

NB. Check the correct operation of damper and brakes as soon as possible after
commencement of journey.

Attaching the trailer to the vehicle                                ( Back To Top )
Become methodical about hitching up and unhitching so that you do not forget anything. If
your towcar's mirrors do not give a good view past the trailer you should fit towing mirrors.
a) Apply the trailer handbrake, remove any towball and electrical socket dust covers and
security devices then wind the jockey wheel to the required height. Check the towball is
lightly oiled. (Not greased) (If not being used with a head stabiliser.)

b) Get a helper to stand with their hands showing you where the hitch is (place a broom
against it if you are alone) and reverse slowly back. Your helper indicates if you are off

c) Raise the front of the trailer by means of the jockey wheel assembly to the required
height, roll trailer up to the rear of the towing vehicle.

d) If the trailer has tandem axles, raise sufficiently to raise the front wheels clear of the
ground to aid manoeuverability.

e) Do not attempt to lift the front of the trailer. Lower the trailer by means of the jockey
wheel assembly onto the towball of the vehicle.

f) Over the last foot or so, your helper should use their hands to show you the actual
distance between towball and coupling head.

g) If you have to stop a few inches short, judge how far back you are going by comparing
the front wheels' movement to something on the ground.

h) Wind the jockey wheel down to lower the coupling head onto the towball.

i) Some coupling heads have a locking handle which stays up then automatically locks onto
the ball, others have to be held up and may have an indicator to show when the ball is in

j) Once the coupling head appears locked on, lower the jockey wheel a few turns to lift the
back of the vehicle to prove the coupling head is on properly, then fully raise the wheel
before unclamping it and, finally, securely locking it fully raised. Check that the wheel in
the position you have locked it is not interfering with the operation of the coupling
overrun mechanism.

k) Attach safety breakaway cable(s) to the rear of vehicle. This cable will apply the hand
brake if for any reason the trailer becomes detached whilst towing. (Clip the breakaway
cable onto the special rings some towbars have or loop it around the bar, making sure it
cannot foul the coupling head. Do not loop it round the towball neck unless you can find
no alternative.) Check that the breakaway and lighting cables have enough slack for
cornering but will not touch the ground.

l) Plug in the lighting plug, and check all lights and indicators. The electrical plug only fits
one way, so line up its cut-out with the lug on the bottom edge of the socket. Some cars
have two sockets use the one with the black cover flap because the one with the white
flap is for caravan supplementary electrical systems.

m) It is your responsibility as the driver to ensure all lights work. Turn on the car lights and
check the trailer's lights. With the ignition on, make sure the correct indicators are
working car and trailer indicators not matching is a common fault then get someone to
see if the trailer brake lights work. (If you are alone, use a short stick between the pedal
and the seat to hold down the brake pedal.)

n) Adjust both external mirrors so that a view down both sides of the trailer can be obtained.
(If this cannot be achieved extension mirrors should be fitted).

o) When loading a trailer ensure the weight is distributed appropriately. Nose weight is a
very important factor in making your vehicle and trailer combination stale during towing.
Inadequate nose weight can cause snaking problems. Too much nose weight causes other

p) Noseweight should be at least 50kg when the outfit is stationary. Refer to the
recommendations of you vehicle and trailer manufacturers.

q) It is your responsibility, as the driver, to ensure that your vehicle or trailer is not

r) If the trailer has an eye coupling, after attaching the trailer, make sure that the safety
locking catch on the towing pin is properly applied and that the safety pin or clip is fitted.
(If this is not fitted, the trailer could become unhitched).

s) Lift up and lock the jockey wheel assembly. (If this is not done, the jockey wheel will
become damaged).

Speed limits
1. Always keep to the legal speed limit for the road you are using. Speed limits for cars
    towing caravans or trailers.

2. 30mph limit applies on all roads with street lighting unless signs show otherwise.

3. 50mph applies on single carriageways unless signs show otherwise.

4. 60mph applies on dual carriageways and motorways

5. It should be remembered that you must not travel in the right-hand lane of a
    motorway, with three lanes or more, if you are driving a vehicle drawing a trailer.

    Drive within your outfit's capabilities
6. Always drive at a speed that is well within your capabilities, and to the road and
    weather conditions that prevail at the time.

7. If your trailer begins to snake or swerve, ease off the accelerator and reduce speed
    gently. (This can happen if you are driving too fast or the load in the trailer is
    wrongly positioned).

8. Do not brake sharply on a bend, (this could cause a possible jack-knife situation).
    Reduce speed before the bend and take the appropriate gear for the speed you are
    doing. Then gently accelerate out of the bend.

1. Before reversing, get out of the vehicle and check that all is clear to the rear before
    making the manoeuvre.

2. Be on the look out for children and pedestrians. If possible, get someone to watch
    while the manoeuvre is made.

   WARNING!! Never reverse a trailer without checking behind because of the huge blind
   spot. Ideally, have someone see you back, especially in crowded places.
   Reversing a trailer is a skill that can be mastered with a little perseverance by
   anyone who has learned the basic theory. Find somewhere with plenty of
   space and keep trying until you get it right. It helps to have someone who
   knows how to do it to tell you where you are going wrong.

Step-by-step reversing

This example describes how to reverse to the right because that is easier than reversing to the
If you are not sure which way your wheels are pointing at any time lean out and look at them.
Many pre-1989 trailers have a lever that prevents the brakes from operating during reversing.
All trailers built after March 31st 1989 have auto-reverse brakes.

1. Start with the outfit as straight as possible and about a trailer's length from the place into
    which you are reversing. You need plenty of room to swing the towcar round.

2. Watching the trailer out of the driver's window, reverse slowly and start turning the
    steering to the left. It is easier to add more steering than to correct too much.

3. As soon as the trailer starts to turn, you begin straightening up whilst still reversing. If
    you leave it too late, the trailer will `jack-knife'. (This means that it gets to such an acute
    angle to the towcar that it can no longer be manoeuvred in reverse. This condition can
    damage towcars with long rear overhangs.)

4. Eventually you start steering the other way, while still reversing, to bring the towcar's
    nose round so that the car "follows" the trailer but keep an eye on where the trailer is
   going in case it needs correction.

5. Reverse in a straight line using the door mirrors. Reverse slowly and carefully. When
    more of the trailer starts to appear in one mirror, steer towards that mirror to start the
    trailer going the other way. Such corrections only require small steering movements.

6. Do not get your mind stuck in reverse! If the trailer goes out of line, it may be easier to
    pull forward to correct it. On tight turns or if it jack-knifes, to pull forward is your only


The use of stabilisers                                                       ( Back To Top )

Stabilisers are not intended to be a substitute for sound practice in loading and towing. They
are valuable, particularly with caravans and horse trailers, and other high-sided trailers. They
will not, however, overcome problems created by poor loading or poor driving.

Follow the golden rules of towing:
* Set up the trailer so that is level when coupled to the towing vehicle.
* Make sure the nose weight is between 50 and 100kg (unless trailer is very light.)
* Make sure the tyre pressures are correct.

The main purpose of a stabiliser is to stop a trailer or caravan from becoming unstable and
'"snaking" from side to side. They come in various forms and designs. The most popular
types are the trailing arm leaf spring and the coupling head stabiliser.
"Snaking" is when the axles of the caravan/trailer move out of line from the towing vehicle.
When this happens, the trailer/caravan tries to move back into line and it goes too far. This
action starts the cycle of "snaking" from side to side. Unless the snaking is stopped, it will
increase and will cause the driver to lose control.

Snaking can be caused by a number of factors such as:

* Incorrectly placed loads (excessive loading to the rear of the axle(s))
* Very light or negative nose weight
* Side winds (when a large commercial vehicle or coach overtakes and causes the air to
   buffet the caravan/trailer, moving the axles out of alignment)
* Special purpose built trailers having awkward internal fixtures that may be not
   balanced, causing instability.
  To stop snaking there are a few simple rules.
* Keep the vehicle steering in a straight line
* Change down a gear and take both feet off the pedals
* If the snaking starts whilst going down hill, change down a gear and very gently apply
the brakes
* Do not try to accelerate out - this could end in disaster unless the vehicle is
exceptionally powerful.
* Do not brake hard - this may cause the trailer to jack knife.
* Do not try to steer out - it is very difficult to read the snaking action and it can make it

Stabilisers must be checked at the start of each journey
* Check that the friction is apparent (if possible)
* Check that the stabiliser fits into its locating place properly

Stabilisers must be overhauled thoroughly at least once a year or after 20K miles towing.
(whichever is sooner)

The stabiliser must be dismantled and any pads or friction disks must be inspected for
cracking or excessive wear.
NB: Beware of servicing older stabilisers because the friction
pads or disks may contain asbestos. These should be handled and disposed of carefully.


Trailers must have on the back two red sidelights, two red stop lamps, an illuminated number
plate and two triangular red reflectors plus amber indicators designed to flash between 60 and
120 times per minute. If they are more than 1.3m wide, they must also have at least one red
fog lamp.
All trailers built after Sept 30th 1990 require front reflectors.
They must have front reflectors and, if they are more than 1.6 metres wide, front position

a) If, in the case of direction indicators, it is not possible to meet the maximum height
requirements, this dimension can be increased to 2300mm.

b) If, in the case of the rear position (tail) lamps and stop lamps, it is not possible to meet the
maximum height requirements, this dimension can be increased to 2100mm.

c) On trailers manufactured after 1 October 1985, the maximum height of the red triangular
reflectors can be increased to 1200mm if necessary.

d) Trailers manufactured after 1 October 1985 require numberplates, illuminated by an 'E' or
'e' marked lamp. If a clear window in the rear position lamp is approved, this can be used
instead of a separate numberplate lamp but must be fitted to the manufacturer's
instructions with regard to distance from the numberplate.

e) At least one rear fog light is mandatory on trailers over 1.3 m wide. Two lamps are
preferred but, if only one is fitted, it must be to the offside or on the centre line of the

f) No maximum distance from the outer edge of the trailer is stated for a fog lamp(s) but
there must be a minimum distance of 100mm from the stop lamp.

g) The distance of the direction indicator from the side of the trailer may not exceed the
actual distance of the rear lamp by more than 50mm.

h) Trailers manufactured after 1 October 1985 which are more than 1600mm wide, (except
boat trailers) require front position lamps (clear lens).

Obscuring the number plate
The ability for a numberplate to be read is covered by Statutory. Instrument 1971 No 450 -
The Road Vehicles (Registration & Licensing) Regulations 1971. Part Ill - Exhibition of
Licences and Registration Marks states the following:

1. The provisions of this regulation shall apply to vehicles, other than works trucks and
agricultural machines, first registered on or after 1 October 1938.
2. The registration mark of the vehicle shall be fixed and displayed on both the front and the
back of the vehicle, so that in normal daylight the letters and figures are easily legible
from every part of the 'relevant area', the diagonal of the square governing the 'relevant
area' being 75 feet.

 Jockey wheel and clamp:                                            

You should use your own judgement to check whether the jockey wheel and clamp
fitted are adequate for the size and gross weight of the trailer. If they are too light, you
will notice difficulty in using them and they may bend or become damaged. A jockey
wheel should work easily and cope comfortable with the loads placed on it.
Check for smooth operation winding up and down. If suspect then replace the
Check wheel/tyre unit and spindle for smooth running and/or impact damage. Replace
if necessary.
Check the operation of the clamp and clamp handle. If the handle is damaged or bent,
replace it.
If the clamp mounted on the A-frame, is it secure and not twisted?
Lubricate all moving parts, including threads.

 Electrical system and lights:

Check that 7 pin plug and cable are undamaged and connected securely. Is there
enough cable to allow manoeuvring?
Check that the 7-core cable is securely attached throughout its length and that all
connections are secure.
Check that all lights are operating correctly, all lenses are unbroken and well-fitting
and that all bulbs and other fittings are secure.
Check that all reflectors are correctly fitted and undamaged. Rear red reflectors must
be triangular



Colour 12N 12S


Yellow LH Indicator Reversing light


Blue Rear fog lamp Battery Charging


White Common return Common return


Green RH Indicator Power supply


Brown RH Side / Tail Sensing device


Red Stop Lamp Refrigerator


Black LH Side / Tail Spare


Driving Licences:                                                                    ( Back To Top )

You must hold a full driving licence to tow anything. Most drivers who passed their test
before 1 January 1997 have licence categories allowing them to drive vehicle and trailer
combinations weighing up to 8.25 tonnes.
With effect from 1 January 1997 the second EC Directive on Driving Licences (91/439/EEC)
came into effect, affecting new drivers passing their test after that date and HGV drivers who
obtained their licence after 31 December 1991.
The net result is that new drivers will only be allowed to drive and tow the following
combinations: -

1. Vehicles up to 3.5 tonnes (category B) with a 750kg trailer (4.25 tonnes total

2. Category B vehicles with larger trailers i.e. > 750kg, provided that the
combined MAM does not exceed 3.5 tonnes and the gross MAM of the trailer
does not exceed the unladen weight of the towing vehicle. To be able to tow
combinations outside this ruling requires the passing of an additional test.

3. New HGV drivers and those who have passed their HGV tests since 1 January
1992 will be restricted to towing trailers up to 750kg until they pass an
additional test.

Detail of the Regulation
The Motor Vehicles (Driving Licences) (Amendment) Regulations 1990 SI 1990 No 842
classifies vehicles according to either:

* "Maximum authorised mass" (permitted maximum weight). Vehicles over
3,500kg MAM are classified as LARGE GOODS VEHICLES (LGV's)

Glossary of terms

Unladen Weight (UW): The weight of the trailer (or towing vehicle) less removable
optional equipment and load

Gross Weight: The total weight of the trailer (or towing vehicle) and load

Gross Vehicle Weight The total weight of the towing vehicle and its load
(GVW) or Gross Weight
Mass (GWM)

Maximum Gross Weight The maximum figure set by the manufacturer for the gross
(MGW): weight. This will normally be the technically permissible
maximum based on the carrying capacity of the tyres,
axles, coupling, suspension and chassis but may have been
adjusted downwards for commercial reasons

Technically Permissible The technically permissible maximum based on the
Maximum Weight: capacity of the tyres, axles, coupling, suspension and

Maximum Authorised Mass As maximum gross weight above. The latest EC term as
(MAM) used in the Driver Licensing Regulations

Gross Train Weight/ GTW: The maximum allowable combined weight (combined
MAM) of the towing vehicle and trailer as set by the
towing vehicle manufacturer
Payload: The difference between the gross weight of the trailer and
its unladen weight, i.e. The load carrying capacity

Kerb Weight/ The weight of the towing vehicle (without payload),
Kerbside Weight including all fluids required for operation (95/48/EEC:
Vehicle, 90% full tank, 68kg driver and 7kg luggage.)
Vertical Static Load/ Nose The weight imposed on the towball or eye by the trailer
Load coupling

Over-run Braking System: A trailer braking system operated by the action of the
trailer bearing on the towing vehicle under deceleration

Power Operated Braking A trailer braking system which is operated directly by the
System: Action of the foot brake on the towing vehicle

Wheel Track: Horizontal distance between the centre lines of the wheels
across the width of the vehicle or trailer

Wheel Base: Horizontal distance between the centre lines of the wheels
of multi-axle vehicles or trailers along the length of the
vehicle or trailer

                                                     ( Back To Top )

These are extracts from the National Trailer and Towing Association  who you can find HERE


Thanks are due to all those who contributed and proof-read:

- Brian Bate
- Jim Bedford
- Philip Holman
- John Jacobs
- Tony Jones
- Nigel Lea
- Chris Lloyd
- Tony Maris
- Pam Pellymounter
- Peter Turner
- Phillip Miles

Editor: David Ryder

The information  is intended as a guide. It is as accurate at the time of
publication as the editor is able to make it. Neither the Editor nor the NTTA nor any other
person or company associated with the production of this information accepts any responsibility
for any inaccuracies which may be in the text.
It is the responsibility of any person wishing to depend on the facts contained in this guide
to check for themselves with original documentation or any updating regulations, instruments
or changes in the law.

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