Towing a trailer can be the easiest way to boost the carrying capacity of your existing van or pick-up. However, there are a number of things to be aware of and a few rules to obey.
1) Check the weight
Gross vehicle (GVW) and combination (GCW) weights can usually be found on the vehicle’s chassis plate, either under the bonnet or inside the drivers’ door frame, or in the handbook. It is well worth checking, as there may be additional important information there that is specific to that vehicle.
As well as the towing vehicle having a weight limit, the trailer will also have a maximum gross weight, which again should be marked on the trailer’s chassis plate. This may also show individual axle loadings, which should not be exceeded and may define how equipment or goods are distributed on the trailer.
A trailer with a gross weight of less than 750kg is not required to have its own braking system, though if they are fitted they must be in working order. Any trailer with a GVW over 750kg must be equipped with brakes.
Checking individual vehicle weights is important, as they will be different for each manufacturer. For example, Mitsubishi’s L200 pick-up can haul a 3.5-tonne trailer, if that trailer has three axles. On two axles, the truck is only approved to pull a 3.1-tonne trailer.
SsangYong’s Musso pick-up can haul the full 3.5-tonnes when equipped with an automatic transmission, but it is limited to 3.2-tonnes if fitted with a manual gearbox. A 4×2 pick-up will not be able to pull a 3.5-tonne trailer, despite the 4×4 being able to, Ford’s 4×2 single cab Ranger for example, is limited to a 2.5-tonne towing limit while the 4×4 can handle 3.5-tonnes.
2) Overall dimensions
A towing vehicle of up to 3.5-tonnes is limited to a trailer length of 7m and a width of 2.55m, while heavier vehicles can pull trailers of up to 12m long. Exceptions to this rule include trailers that are specifically designed to pull longer loads, such as gliders and one or more boats, where the 7m limit does not apply.
3) Driving licences
You need to ensure that your drivers are qualified to handle the towing combination weight. Drivers that passed their standard car test (category B) after Jan 1, 1997, will have more restrictions than those who took the test before that date.
For drivers who passed after 1997, the trailer limit is just 750kg when combined with a 3.5-tonne van or pick-up, or a trailer over 750kg as long as the combined overall mass of the vehicle and trailer is less than 3.5-tonnes. For those drivers to tow more than this, they would have to take and pass a B+E car and trailer driving test.
Any light commercial with a Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) of less than 3.5-tonnes that is used for business purposes will not require a tachograph when used on its own. However, when it is used with a trailer, taking its Gross Train Weight (or Gross Combination Weight) over 3.5-tonnes, there is a possibility that you will need to fit one.
This is where it can get confusing. In theory, if the vehicle is being used for hire and reward and the combined weight is over 3.5-tonnes, then it should be equipped with a tacho and the driver should be governed by driver’s hours legislation.
It is worth noting that this is a combined weight over 3.5-tonnes. That means that even if you are using that single cab Ford Ranger, with a towing weight of 2.5-tonnes, the truck itself weighs in at 2.0-tonnes, giving you a gross combination weight of 4.5-tonnes, or more than 3.5-tonnes, so this will still come under the tacho rules.
However, there are exemptions. It is not necessary for a driver to use a tacho where the goods or equipment that are being carried are to be used by the driver in their main business activity and they are not travelling more than 62 miles from their operating base.
For example, a local building contractor hauling a mini excavator to their own building site, does not need to use a tacho. However, a plant hire company towing the same mini excavator to the same site for the builder to hire, would need to have a tacho fitted.
Farmers are also permitted to haul live animals to market or to the slaughterhouse under a similar ruling. Also, contractors involved in utility work, sewerage, flood protection, gas and electricity for example, have special dispensation from the tachograph rules.