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Towing & A-Frames

Regulations - including A-Frames

This information extracted from the Indespension "Complete towing guide for trailer and caravan owners nationwide" - to whom we are very grateful.  Items in brackets are our own added opinions and/or the experiences of others.

Towing Speeds:    On motorways & dual carriageways 60 MPH, other roads 50 MPH, provided no lower limit is in force and the gross weight of vehicle and trailer is less than 7.5 tonnes.  You are not allowed in the third lane of a motorway when towing.

M.O.T:    Not (yet) required for trailers of less than 3500 Kg gross weight fitted with over-run brakes. (note however that an unroadworthy trailer invalidates the towing insurance!)

Unbraked Trailers:    Maximum gross weight of an unbraked trailer is 750 Kg or half the kerb weight of the towing vehicle - whichever is the less.  I must point out here that we've been given conflicting information about gross weight - some have said this is the actual gross weight while others claim that this is the 'maximum permitted gross weight' or MAM.  Both sources are normally reliable so confusion reigns!  This difference could be of real importance when deciding whether to tow an ultra-mini car on an a-frame.

Braked trailers:    Maximum gross weight - i.e. trailer weight plus load weight - must not exceed 3500 Kg. (To précis the recommendations here...Check also the recommended maximum towing weight for the towing vehicle and also apply the rule of thumb - tow not more than 85% of the kerb weight of the towing vehicle).

Vehicles with plating (i.e. us!):    Such vehicles are allowed to tow trailers provided the train weight is not exceeded. The train weight can usually be found on a plate in the passenger's foot well or door step.

Braking systems:    Trailers manufactured after October 1982 which require brakes must be fitted with a braking system complying with EC Directives. Since 1989 only auto-reversing brakes comply.

(There are many more detailed regulations too but those above are the ones most likely to concern users rather than constructors.  If you want a copy of the Indespension guide for about £3 or so, phone 0800-720720 www.indespension.com)

Other information

A-frames:    As we understand it a-frames are treated no differently to any other trailer, so virtually every car towed by a-frame would have to be modified to link to the brakes.  There is doubt about whether cars can be modified to fully meet appropriate regulations but A-frame suppliers will carry out modifications for you and many motorcaravanners are using such towing arrangements every day.

By the way some people are alarmed at the prospect of their car having a hole drilled in the floor to link the brake cable but don't forget there are electrical modifications to be made in any case to couple the two vehicles' lighting systems. The only downside to all this is that you might have to adjust the brake coupling frequently!  Some contributors have said "this is essential - every trip", others have said the opposite "The brake adjuster should NOT be touched once it is set up".  Check with your supplier!

There is an argument that says an a-frame towed car is a trailer but since it can never have auto-reverse overrun brakes fitted it must then be illegal in all cases.  A counter argument runs that says, such a car is outside the trailer legislation so auto-reverse and/or overrun braking is not required though under what regulation this then falls is open to question.  We are given to understand that different regulations apply, or are applied differently, to recovery vehicles. 

There's also the issue of how other countries view a-frames.  European law says that the vehicle construction and use laws that apply are the ones of the vehicle's home country (e.g. you need an English MOT not a German TUV when visiting Germany!).  Nevertheless publications like the Caravan Club's "Continental Sites Guide" clearly state re Germany for example "Motorcaravans are prohibited from towing a car.  Motorcaravanners wishing to do so should put the car on a trailer so that all four wheels are off the ground".  I believe it is true that you can't tow on a German motorway but know people who tow small cars on a-frames elsewhere.  So, as usual 'you pays your money and takes your choice'!

In contrast let me relay the experience of some experienced and knowledgeable motorcaravanners, "

"... and if it all goes wrong how do you argue points of European law when confronted by a German or Portuguese policeman who wants to fine you (or even to arrest you or to impound your vehicle)?  The answer is you pay the fine then go through the long legal process of getting it back later - if you have the time and energy!  Or you write off the fine as on of those things or you put the car on a trailer in the first place.  If you do you'll have a greater choice of cars but less flexibility when travelling!

"...all trailers built since 1989 have to have auto-reverse brakes meeting the braking efficiencies laid down in EC directive 71/320.  This is achieved in normal trailers and caravans by having special wheel hubs which disengage the brake when turning backwards. This is clearly impossible with a towed car and it is thus impossible for a towed car to meet directive 71/320 as incorporated into the UK Construction and Use Regulations. A-frame sellers rely on the fact that neither of the above points has yet been tested by a court case."

"... I suspect many people are towing cars without having checked with their insurers, most of whom will not cover the process. So what happens if, for example, the car unhitches itself and runs into a crowd at a bus stop? Will the car's insurer pay up - very unlikely unless you've got his prior written agreement since the car clearly  wasn't being driven at the time. Will the towing vehicle's insurer pay up - normal insurance covers towed trailers for Third Party cover only. Well, maybe - unless, of course, they can make a case that what you were doing was illegal and thus not covered by the policy".

Disclaimer:  Please note that the diverse views expressed in this section are given by individuals and are published by us in good faith.  No responsibility for their accuracy is accepted, nor is any guarantee or warranty given or implied.


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