Towing a trailer is a safe and effective solution for extending the versatility of a van or pick-up if operators are aware of the limitations – and the law, says VanUser technical editor Dan Gilkes
There are times when the load that you want to carry will be too large, or too heavy, to be safely transported within a van, or on the back of a pick-up. That means that you either have to invest in a light truck, or you may be able to make use of a trailer, to boost the carrying capacity of your existing light commercial. However, there are a number of things to think about and a few rules to obey, before you start to tow.
Gross Authorised Mass
Any light commercial with a Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) that is the actual total weight of the vehicle and its load of less than 3.5-tonnes, that is used for business purposes, will not require a tachograph. However, while a van or pick-up that weighs a maximum of 3.5-tonnes will not require a tacho on its own, when it is used with a trailer, taking its Gross Train Weight (or Gross Combination Weight) over 3.5-tonnes, there is every chance that you will need to fit one.
The maximum gross and train weights for a van or pick-up can usually be found on the vehicle’s chassis plate, either under the bonnet or inside the drivers’ door frame. They will also be within the van’s handbook. It is well worth checking, as there may be additional important information. For example, Mitsubishi’s L200 pick-up (below) is more than capable of hauling along a 3.5-tonne trailer. But, only if that trailer has three axles, on two axles the truck is only approved to pull a 3.1-tonne trailer.
This is not a legal classification, but Mitsubishi’s own ruling, following testing whereby the company says that only a three-axle trailer will offer the stability required to haul up to 3.5-tonnes, behind what is one of the lighter pick-ups on the market. Of course, a three-axle trailer will be heavier than one with two axles, so that will negate some of the additional carrying capacity of the 3.5-tonne limit. However, if you currently have a fleet of pick-ups or vans that you use with two-axle trailers, you might want to check this before looking at fleet replacement.
Other oddities include SsangYong’s Musso pick-up, which can haul the full 3.5-tonnes when equipped with an automatic transmission, but is limited to 3.2-tonnes if using a manual gearbox. Also, those few manufacturers that still build 4×2 pick-up, will offer less than 3.5-tonne trailer weights. Ford’s 4×2 single cab Ranger for example is limited to a 2.5-tonne towing limit.
As well as the towing vehicle having a weight limit, the trailer manufacturer will also decide on 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. For instance, a mini excavator might have to be loaded with its rear towards the front of the trailer, as the heavy counterweight might put the rear axle of the trailer over the permitted limit, causing instability.
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.
Driving licences and tachographs
Having decided that the towing vehicle and trailer are suitable, you will also need to ensure that your drivers are qualified to drive a combination of that weight. Drivers that passed their standard car test (category B) after Jan 1, 1997, will have more restrictions that those who took the test before that date.
In fact, for those 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.
So, you have the right vehicle, the correct trailer and your driver is qualified. Do you need a tachograph? This is the part 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 yes, 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 a number of exemptions to this rule. 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.
If the various regulations surrounding towing make it sound far too complex to consider, that is not our intention. Towing is actually a very efficient, economical way to increase the capacity of your existing vans or pick-ups. But, it is worth checking a few things first – that your drivers are qualified, your vehicle and trailer are capable and compatible, and that you are operating within the law.