Welcome to Tow3500

Are you new to caravanning? Are you thinking of buying your first caravan?

It can seem daunting when confronted with choosing a tow car, finding out what you can tow with your car, what you can tow with your licence, if you can tow a large enough caravan for your family, and that’s all before you’ve even got behind the wheel and have attached something the size of your living room behind you!

If you are under 40 and have a standard car driving licence you may not be aware that you are limited to towing a combined car and caravan weight of 3,500kg.

This site is about towing a family-sized caravan with a standard UK car driving licence whilst staying within the 3500kg weight limit.

You might be thinking “three and a half tonnes, that’s not a problem” but a typical family car weighs over 2000kg (laden) and a typical family caravan weighs around 1500kg, so there is a fine line to navigate to make sure you are under the 3500kg maximum.

Most caravan magazines quote the car’s unladen weight (for the “85% rule” matching purposes), but this is not the weight we need to be concerned about.

The weight you need to check is the Gross Vehicle Weight( GVW) which is the maximum laden weight of the car, and is typically 500-700kg more than the unladen weight, so a car unladen at 1500kg will typically have a Gross weight of 2000-2200kg.

Cars with a GVW of 2000kg or less able to tow a 1500kg caravan are few and far between – you will find them here, as they are our “gold-dust”!

If you passed your driving test after 1997 (most people under 40) you will have a maximum allowable towing limit available to you of 3500kg for car and caravan combined.

If you passed your test before 1st Jan 1997 you automatically received the “plus trailer” (E) classification, enabling you to tow up to a combined 8,250kg (congratulations you have it easy!)

I am going to discuss driving on a standard car licence (B) passed since 1997 without the need to pass another test.

To tow more than 3500kg (car and caravan combined) you will need to pass an extra driving test to give you a B+E classification (sometimes called a Car and Trailer test).

It is quite possible to tow a reasonably sized caravan with a car licence but you do need to be careful and knowledgeable about the vehicle’s weights, including (for your car) Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW), Gross Train Weight (GTW), and it’s Towing Limit, and for your caravan, Mass in Running Order (MRO) and Maximum Technically Permissible Laden Mass (MTPLM).

It is increasingly becoming a problem as has been highlighted in the news recently http://www.telegraph.co.uk/cars/advice/licensed-to-tow/

Don’t worry if this seems like technical gibberish, all will become clear!


Problems With Weight Limits

The two most important weights you need to check are (for the car) Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW), and for the caravan, Maximum Technically Permissible Laden Mass (MTPLM). These are the maximum weights of the vehicles when loaded to their limits.

It is these two added together that must not exceed 3500kg’s.

Note: it doesn’t matter if they are actually loaded to these amounts, it’s the maximum allowed load that counts.

MTPLM is quoted regularly and is easy to find for caravans, so not too difficult.

For cars the Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) is hardly ever quoted but is vital to know (see note below). Caravan websites and magazines only quote the kerbweight of tow cars as they are very keen on the Kerbweight and the 85% Rule.

If you already own the car you intend to tow with and aren’t going to change it, then you can find the GVW on the VIN plate, but if you are looking to buy a car with towing in mind, finding the GVW for your prospective car is tricky, but a great resource (for newer cars) is available here:


To use that website choose the car, including the specific model then click on “Technical Info” for details of Gross Vehicle Weight, Towing Capacity etc.

Make a note of the GVW as it will be vital for choosing a caravan.

Once you have your car’s GVW subtract that from 3500kg and that is the max. MTPLM of the caravan you can tow.

Please be aware the GVW will vary by different trim levels in your chosen range and by gearbox choice, an auto gearbox weighs more than a manual and so your GVW will be higher for an automatic, which in turn will reduce the size of caravan you can tow to keep within the 3500kg limit.


Practical Caravan is a great resource for Tow Car information, but they omit the GVW from every review and specification listing. For the life of me I can’t think why – apart from it’s run by people who passed their test before 1997!



The Counter-Intuitive Tow Car Problem

OK so you’ve decided you want to try caravanning, and obviously you want to be as safe as possible, so your first thoughts might be to opt for a 4WD car to tow with. Seems sensible, right? Yes it does, and in an ideal world, that’s exactly what most would recommend.

Lets take a large 4wd car to give you an example:

Land Rover Discovery 3.0 TD6 – an excellent car for towing (and Practical Caravan’s overall Tow Car winner 2017), has a large towing limit far bigger than anything you’re likely to want to tow, of 3500kg so would be very comfortable towing a normal sized caravan.

The problem with this type of 4WD, although excellent and safe for towing, is that the car alone has a Gross Vehicle Weight of 3170kg. This leaves you with 330kg left of your Maximum Allowable Mass (MAM) of 3500kg. There isn’t a caravan weighing that little, you’d be lucky to tow a trailer tent within your limits!

*You can legally tow up to 750kg with a vehicle weighing up to 3500kg, but no caravan weighs this little.

The Caravan Club’s tow car of the year is a VW Passat Alltrack Estate, a great tow car but has a GVW of 2220kg, leaving you with 1280kg for the caravan, something that will allow you to choose a small 2 berth at most, not great if you have a family.

So, rather counter-intuitively, the tow car you choose has to be light enough to allow you a reasonable weight remaining for the caravan, but not too light and near it’s towing limit, to be unstable on the road. It’s a tricky balancing act.

We aim to advise you on the best tow cars and largest caravans towable whilst remaining legal and safe.



What The Law Says

If you passed your standard car test after 1st Jan 1997 the law changed regarding towing.

Since then you are only allowed to tow a trailer with a combined weight (car and trailer) of up to 3,500kg.

Before then you were allowed to tow a trailer with a combined weight (car and trailer) of up to 8,250kg.

You are allowed to tow an unbraked trailer weighing up to 750kg with a car weighing up to 3500kg (total 4250kg) but for our purposes we won’t be covering this as caravans weigh more than 750kg.

There used to be a law which said you couldn’t tow a caravan weighing more than 100% of the car’s kerbweight, but this was removed in 2013. You can legally tow up to the car’s towing limit as long as you stay within the 3500kg limit.


These weights are based on the MAM (Maximum Allowable Mass) figures for the car and caravan, in other words, the maximum laden weight, whether they are loaded to that level or not.


For example: if you were to tow a 1500kg MTPLM caravan with a car with Kerbweight of 1500kg but GVW 2010kg even if the car and caravan were unladen, you would be breaking the law (as the total would be 3510kg). If you hitched up a trailer capable of carrying a car, even though no car was on it, you would be breaking the law.

Please bear in mind it does not matter if the car transporter trailer is empty (no car on it), it is the allowable weight on the trailer weight plate that is important, so even though the trailer may weigh only 1,000kg unladen, it would still be illegal to tow as it’s laden weight would be too high to fit within your limit.

If you are unsure what your Driving Licence category means here is the relevant checklist https://www.gov.uk/old-driving-licence-categories

Kerbweight and the 85% Rule

If you read caravan magazines or look for tow car advice online you will see a lot about the “85% rule” for the caravan and car weight ratio.

According to this rule the caravan’s MTPLM ( Maximum Technically Permissible Laden Mass) should not exceed 85% of the car’s kerbweight.

This “rule” was invented by the caravanning fraternity before the 1997 licence restrictions, when the weight of the entire outfit was irrelevant as you could tow up to a combined (car + caravan) weight of 8250kg.

It should be made clear that the “rule” is not in fact a rule with any legal standing, it is a recommendation, and a bizarre one at that!

The idea is to increase safety by eliminating any “tail wagging the dog” pendulum effect of towing a heavy caravan with a light car. To that end they have completely ignored the practicalities of a family caravan holiday and assumed the worst ie. that the car will be towing with only a driver and zero luggage, and at the same time the caravan will be fully laden.

In reality the car would be laden with people and their luggage (ideally up to it’s GVW) and the caravan will be as unladen as possible with only the larger items inside that can’t fit in the car.

In this way the car will weigh 5-600kg more than the kerbweight and the caravan will weight less than it’s MTPLM (maximum loaded weight) and your ratio of caravan to car weight will be nowhere near 85%.

As an example, let’s take a car with a towing award from last year, the Skoda Octavia Estate 2.0 TDi SE L DSG

it has a kerbweight of 1374kg (kerbweight is unladen weight plus driver of 75kg)

with the 85% rule it can tow a caravan weighing 1167kg – even the lightest 4 berth is 1245kg –

but it’s GVW (laden weight) is 1944kg and it’s actual towing limit is 1800kg.

To fit under the 3500kg limit you can tow a caravan with an MTPLM of 1556kg, which is a reasonable figure for a family caravan.

Now with the car laden at 1944kg and even if the caravan is fully laden to 1556kg, you have a ratio of  *80%.

If you had stuck to the Caravanning fraternity “rule” you would have a ratio of  **60%, which makes the 85% rule a nonsense.

*80% maths – GVW (car) 1944kg MTPLM (caravan) 1556kg = 80%

**60% maths – GVW (car) 1944kg MTPLM (caravan) 1167kg = 60%

An average family sized caravan weighs approximately 1500kg MTPLM. To be able to tow this at the 85% rule you would need a tow car with an unladen weight of 1765kg (like a Mercedes E-class Estate) but then the GVW of a car this size will be around 700kg more, giving you a GVW of approx. 2500kg. This in turn limits the size of what you can tow to 1000kg.

Update 19-9-17

Funnily enough Practical Caravan TV tested a Mercedes E class Estate on the show today and was it towing a 1500kg caravan, to stay with the 85% figure? No, it was towing a large  twin-axle number from Swift, whilst they quoted the Mass in Running Order for the caravan, not the MTPLM.

You will hear a lot of noise about towing a caravan that weighs more than 100% of the kerbweight of your car being illegal. This is not true. It was written into law in but removed in 2013.

My view is that if it’s safe to tow a caravan ( as decided by the caravanning fraternity!) at 85% of the kerbweight, with no proviso that you can’t tow with an unladen car, then it’s safe to tow with 80% when the car is laden.

I will say and I hope this is making sense, that you should not tow a caravan that is fully laden, with a car that only has a driver and no luggage if you are going over the 85% rule…