Trailers and caravans are popular items because, respectively, they allow your to vastly increase the cargo capacity of your vehicle or they allow you to get away for a holiday without needing to book a hotel. But it’s not just a case of hitching up a trailer and heading out onto the roads – here’s what you need to know about towing.
1. Check your licence
On a standard ‘B’ car licence, the maximum weight of your vehicle and the maximum accepted mass (MAM) of the loaded trailer must not exceed 3,500kg. Technically, the trailer’s MAM is capped at 750kg, but you can tow something heavier than that if your car is lighter and has a high enough towing capacity (see next section). This means that big SUVs and 4x4s, the ideal vehicles for towing (they are heavy, have good traction and lots of torque), will have to have smaller trailers fitted if you’re on a B-licence. You can take a towing test to step up to a BE-licence, whereupon your vehicle can weigh up to 3,500kg and so can the trailer, meaning a ‘rig’ MAM of 7,000kg – realistically, if you have an SUV and you want to tow a fully-laden horsebox or load a couple of cattle into a trailer, you’re going to need a BE-grade licence.
2. Know your vehicle’s towing weight
If you’ve read the advice above and your eyes are lighting up with glee, imagining that your 1,060kg Peugeot 208 1.2 PureTech can now lug about 2,440kg of trailer, think again. Not only does the weight of the Peugeot alter, depending on how much fuel it has in its tank, how many people are onboard and how much stuff it has in its boot, it also won’t be rated to two anything like two tonnes; in fact, is this particular example, the maximum towing weight for a braked trailer is 1,150kg. This is because it has a small, less powerful engine and it is a small car, so it cannot tow large and heavy items without causing its drivetrain a lot of damage or being dangerously unstable when on the move. Every vehicle will have its towing weight in its owner’s handbook or on a plaque somewhere fitted to the car, but if you can’t find either of those then you can easily look up vehicle towing capacities online.
3. Know the towing speed limits
You might only have a tiny trailer on the back of your powerful car or SUV, and you therefore think you can do 120km/h on the motorway like any other traffic, but – actually – the speed limit for any vehicle towing a trailer in Ireland is a uniform 80km/h. So don’t get caught out with a speeding ticket as a result.
4. Load the trailer carefully and securely
Don’t place very heavy items at the front of the trailer, near the hitch; if you do, it places more load on the ‘join’ between car and trailer, which in turn loads up the towing vehicle’s rear suspension and then ‘unloads’ the front axle – the one that steers. Too much weight in the wrong place in your trailer will mean you’ve got less steering capability. Load heavy items over the trailer’s axle or axles.
5. Remember to make wider turns, practise reversing
When you go around corners with a trailer on the back, you need to give yourself more room to make the turn safely because the trailer effectively increases your vehicle’s width, due to the way it moves behind the car. And have plenty of attempts at practising reversing with a trailer attached, because you need to make the opposite initial steering input to the direction you want the trailer to travel. You can look up plenty of videos about how reversing a trailer can be done, but practice makes perfect when it comes to the reality of backing a loaded trailer or caravan up.
6. Check lights, licence plate and connections of the trailer
A trailer must have the correct and working lights to match the vehicle towing it, so check that the unit you are towing has them and that they work. The licence plate on it should also match the vehicle that is towing the trailer, and it almost goes without saying that you must ensure the trailer or caravan is securely hitched to your vehicle’s tow-bar, and that the electrical connections (for the lights) are properly connected.