A Guide to Towing with a Van

Do you own a van, and are looking to tow a trailer for moving household items, or perhaps a boat, or even as a part of your business? Then you need to be aware of the rules and regulations when it comes to towing with a van. There are many things that one needs to know before they begin towing, and this is just as true when vans are involved. So with that being said, we have put together this handy guide on what you need to know to tow safely and legally, along with some tips and advice for how to be successful in your towing endeavours.

Having the correct licence

For those that have passed their driving test before January 1, 1997, you will be able to drive a vehicle and tow something with a combined weight of up to 8,250kg. This number will be more than sufficient for most vans and trailers. So if you fall into this bracket, you can relax. If, however, you obtained your drivers’ licence after this date, you are legally only allowed to drive a vehicle weighing 3,500kg and tow items that weigh up to 750kg. If you want to tow anything heavier than this, you will need to take another test beforehand. Visit gov.uk for more information on the subject.

Towing capacity

towing a trailer full of logs

When looking to tow, it is important to know your Ford van’s towing capacity. Every vehicle is different so before you look to hitch up that caravan, boat, or trailer, make sure to find this out. Remember to include the weight of the trailer in your calculations.

Towing capacity is also connected to kerb weight. The kerb weight is the total weight of your vehicle with all standard equipment, a full tank of fuel, motor oil, and coolant, but does not include passengers or anything loaded into the car. You can find out your van’s kerb weight by looking in its handbook.

The towing capacity of your vehicle can be no more than 85% of the kerb weight and if the combined heft of your van’s kerb weight and loaded trailer exceeds 750kg, your trailer will need to have brake pads fitted.

Your van’s performance when towing

Towing will certainly affect the performance of your vehicle, and this is something that Roland Head from Simple Motoring – a website that offers a wide variety of helpful motoring tips, reviews and more – says van drivers need to be aware of:

“If you're towing with a van for the first time, be aware that the weight of the trailer will change the handling and braking performance of your van. You'll need to allow more distance to brake safely and take a wider and slower line around corners. It's also worth remembering that if you're towing for business purposes, you may need to have a tachograph fitted to your van.”

Tachograph

If you are looking to tow as a part of your business, and if your total proposed towing weight is more than 3,500kg, then a tachograph must be fitted to your vehicle. A tachograph is used to automatically record your speed and distance travelled, along with your driving activity. This helps in abiding to the rules that state how many hours a person is allowed to drive in a commercial capacity. Tachographs will be offered as a cost option with most vehicle manufactures. If you do have a tachograph fitted, you must be sure to get your O-licence (operator licence).

Maximum width

There are indeed a lot of rules and regulations when it comes to towing but it is for good reason. This all helps to ensure the safety of both you and the other drivers around you. Considering the large and sometimes dangerous items that are being towed, it’s easy to see why this has all been put into place. With that in mind, another thing that must be taken into account is the maximum width of your trailer. Your trailer should not exceed 2.55m across or 7m in length.

Advice for towing trailers

If you’re looking for some further inside knowledge on towing a trailer, Roland from Simple Motoring was able to explain the specifics while speaking to us, offering his tips and advice for how to do so successfully:

“Trailers vary widely, but if you're towing a large, boxy trailer, such as a catering van or caravan, then be aware that it will be buffeted by high winds and by the slipstreams created by lorries on the motorway.

“Towing a trailer isn't that hard, but you do need to make sure your licence includes the necessary entitlements for the trailer you're planning to tow. On a practical level, it's important to familiarise yourself with the way the trailer handles under tow. This is especially true when reversing, which requires a different steering technique to a vehicle without a trailer.”

Correctly couple your trailer

towbar on a car

Once you have all the required licences and have determined if you’re legally allowed to be towing, you will need to correctly couple your trailer. This is very important because if your trailer isn’t properly coupled to the tow bar there can be devastating consequences out on the road. So it’s of paramount importance that a breakaway cable or secondary coupling is used (these can be purchased at Western Towing, an online shop for all things towing). You will also need to make sure that the tow bar on the trailer is level and not pointing up or down. If this is incorrect it can be a sign that your load is unbalanced.

Loading your trailer

When loading your trailer, it should always be evenly distributed, this comes to be even more important when towing very heavy objects. For these big items, make sure to load over the wheels of the trailer, avoiding one end or the other. You should also refrain from overloading your trailer – of course taking into account your trailer’s maximum capacity. Find out how heavy the items are that you want to load beforehand, this way you will know if you need a bigger trailer to suit your needs. Drivers should also make sure the load doesn’t overhang or jut out from the sides of the trailer, and that everything is secure. If you have to break suddenly, think about what might move about. You should use straps to tie down your load if need be.

What to remember when out on the road

Once you are out on the road, there are some important things to remember when towing:

  • There is a towing speed limit of 60mph on motorways and 50mph on single carriage roads.
  • If your trailer is wider than your van, then towing mirrors will need to be fitted.
  • The trailer that you are towing must display the same number plate as that of your van.
  • Try and keep a caravan’s weight as low as possible if being towed.
  • If the trailer starts to swerve, slow down gently as this suggests that you are moving too quickly.