Monday 19 August 2019

Tow the line when you take a trailer on the roads

When it comes to towing, there are some rules drivers must follow, writes Brian Farrell of the Road Safety Authority

It’s important to find your trailer’s maximum weight from the tow frame
It’s important to find your trailer’s maximum weight from the tow frame
It’s important to find your trailer’s maximum weight from the tow frame

Brian Farrell

The mere mention of trailer towing rules is enough to send most peoples' brains into information overload. So, in order to grasp this topic of mass confusion, I've decided to adopt the approach of Cesear and Napolean: 'Divide and Conquer'.

Trailer towing rules can be divided into three elements: 1. 'The Driver', 2. 'The Towing Vehicle' and 3. 'The Trailer'.

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I'll start with the trailer because without it we wouldn't even be having this one way conversation.

The first step is to find your trailer's weight. This is often referred to as the Design Gross Vehicle Weight (DGVW) or Maximum Authorised Mass (MAM).

In simple terms, this is the weight of a trailer plus the maximum load it can carry, as designed by the trailer manufacturer.

I hate acronyms and the convoluted technical explanations they stand for so from now on when I talk about 'max weight' you can take it as meaning the DGVW or MAM.

So how do you find a trailer's max weight? It's fairly straightforward. Check the manufacturer's plate. In many cases this is located on the trailer's tow frame.

On this plate you will see figures shown in kilograms (Kg). The first one is what you're looking for - it's the max weight of the trailer. For example; 3,500Kg.

This is the loaded weight, so if you want to know the unloaded weight of the trailer you can ask the manufacturer or bring it (empty) to your local authority weighbridge.

And in case you hadn't figured it out, the max weight of a trailer minus the empty weight, equals the load you can put in it. For example; 3500Kg - 2000Kg = 1500Kg

But what happens if a trailer isn't plated? Well, by law it has to be plated, unless the trailer was built before October 2012. If your trailer is older than this, you can try asking a local trailer manufacturer (nicely) if they'll plate it for you, but they are not required to do so.

Now that we know the loaded and unloaded weight of our trailer, what about the towing vehicle? The most important thing to consider here is the towing capacity - that is, what your vehicle can tow.

And you can also discover this by checking the vehicle's manufacturer's plate. This is normally located either inside the front passenger door or in the case of some larger jeeps, under the bonnet.

On this plate you will generally see four sets of figures shown in kilograms (Kg). To calculate the towing capacity, we only need the first two. The first figure is the max weight of the vehicle. The second figure is the 'combined weight' i.e. the max weight of the vehicle plus any trailer.

Subtract the first from the second figure (the larger one) - and this gives you your vehicle's towing capacity. But remember, this is the max weight your vehicle can tow. If you exceed this you are breaking the law.

It's also important to mention that this towing figure (as calculated from the plate) is for 'braked' trailers. If your trailer has no brakes, you are limited to towing a trailer that's 750kg or less.

Right, now that we know the weight of the trailer, the load we can put in it and the towing capacity of our vehicle, what about the driver?

Most of us have a category B licence. It's your basic car licence and with this you can tow a small trailer which weighs a maximum of 750kg, loaded.

Or you can also look at the combined weight of the vehicle plus the loaded trailer, and as long as this doesn't exceed 3,500kg, you're still okay on a B licence.

If you're lucky enough to have a BE licence, you can tow a trailer of not more than 3,500Kg, loaded. Or, again, if looking at the combined weight, a maximum of 7,000kg, provided the vehicles' towing capacity allows it.

A few final tips. The maximum speed you can tow a trailer is 80kph. And trailers must not be towed on the outside lane of a motorway unless in exceptional circumstances. For example; if you cannot proceed in the inner lane because of an obstruction.

It's also your responsibility as the driver to ensure that both the towing vehicle and trailer are safe and mechanically sound, fit for purpose, and legally compliant with all relevant Road Traffic legislation, i.e. tyres have adequate tread depth and are free from defects, lights and brakes are working and the hitch is in good condition.

So, for those of you who've been struggling to get your head around trailer towing rules, I hope that I've eased the load somewhat.

Sunday Independent

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