With most farmers still using a car and trailer to carry out farm duties, there has been much discussion on farms and at meetings about whether you can tow a trailer at all behind a car and, more specifically, whether you can tow a tandem-axle or four-wheel trailer safely behind a car.

  • Legislation around trailer standards and towing licences and testing has changed since October 2012 and many people remain unsure of the regulations. In most farming situations, a standard category B licence does not entitle the holder with a standard large 4x4 commercial or SUV to tow a horsebox or livestock trailer because the combined maximum weight often exceeds 3,500kg.
  • However, many of the larger cars on the Irish market come with a good towing rating of over 2,000kg. In practice, that means they are rated to safely tow a trailer with its load as long as the combined total weight, including the car, does not exceed 3,500kg.

    Whether the trailer has one or two axles is not relevant. What is important is the car’s rating and the weight of the trailer. For example, a Skoda Superb Combi 4x4 can legally tow a standard 900kg horsebox and two 500kg horses on a standard B licence.

    It is important to first check the towing rating of your car. This information is usually located at the inside of the driver or passenger door on a small plate. Alternatively, you can check the towing rating of your car in the owner’s manual which has probably remained undisturbed in the glove box since you bought the car.

    A third and easy approach is to check www.malcolms.ie, the website for tow-bar supplier Malcom Witter. All vehicles are listed on this website and you can simply check the towing rating by make and model of your car, 4x4 or van, using the information in the tow-bar section of the site.

    It is important to know your legal obligations when towing trailers and to ensure you do not drive a vehicle or tow a trailer that your driving licence may not cover. You also need to know the following:

  • The towing capacity of your vehicle.
  • The load-carrying capacity of your trailer.
  • The unladen weight of the trailer.
  • You must ensure that you do not exceed any of these. As a general rule, a category B licence would not entitle the holder to tow a horsebox or a livestock trailer because the DGCW would be more than 3,500kg. This applies unless they are towing a very small load.

    Let’s take two examples of towing vehicles, one of which is a Skoda Octavia Scout with a maximum authorised mass (MAM) of 1,835kg plus 900kg for the weight of the trailer with an additional two 400kg animals on board. This gives a total MAM of 3,085kg, so the combination is less than 3,500kg and it can be driven by a person with a B licence.

    If we change the towing vehicle to a Toyota Land Cruiser, the weight numbers differ. The MAM of the Land Cruiser is 2,740kg and when the 900kg weight of the trailer is added, along with two 400kg animals, it pushes the combined MAM to 4,400kg. This is above the maximum of 3,500kg for a B licence and so the driver of this combination will be required to have a BE driver’s licence.

    Speed when towing trailers

    The maximum speed limit for a vehicle towing a trailer is 80km/h. This also applies on roads where the posted road sign speed limit is higher. As always, drivers are subject to the lowest posted speed sign, so it will not always be possible to travel at 80km/h.

    Weights – what can I tow?

    The vehicle unladen weight is the weight of the vehicle or the trailer without its load. The MAM you are permitted to drive with a standard category B licence is no greater than 750kg and/or if the MAM of the trailer is greater than 750kg, but the combined MAM of towing vehicle and trailer combination does not exceed 3,500kg.

    What is the heaviest trailer load with a BE licence?

    The heaviest trailer that a person can tow with a BE licence is one with a MAM of 3,500kg, or less. Therefore, the combined MAM for a BE driving licence holder must not be more than 7,000kg, that is, 3,500kg in respect of the towing vehicle and 3,500kg in respect of the loaded trailer.

    If your trailer has a MAM exceeding 3,500kg, it is classified as a ‘‘heavy trailer’’ and must be licensed with the local authority in which it is ordinarily kept. It must also undergo an annual roadworthiness test at the network of CVR test centres. To tow a heavy trailer, you will need a category C1E, CE, DE or a D1E driving licence, depending on the type of vehicle used to draw the trailer.

    Trailer weights

    There is a maximum gross design vehicle weight (GDVW) rating for every trailer sold and it must be marked on the manufacturer’s plate. Smaller trailers must have an O1 trailer rating, which means that the MAM of the trailer is 750kg, or less. Larger O2-rated trailers have a MAM of at least 750kg, but not exceeding 3,500kg. All O2 trailers must be fitted with brakes by the manufacturer.

    Where can I buy a trailer?

    Many farmers and small engineering companies are capable of manufacturing a small trailer for use behind a car or 4x4. The current law states that ‘‘every vehicle owner must ensure that his or her vehicle or combination of vehicles complies with all applicable regulations’’.

    This rules out buying a trailer from a company which cannot provide a manufacturer’s plate, along with an O1 or O2 rating.

    Keep the load safe and secure

    Loads carried in any vehicle, whether a motorbike, car, van, lorry, truck or trailer, should be secured so that they cannot move or fall off or out of the vehicle. Loads must be secured even if the vehicle is only travelling a short distance or at low speeds. We have been advised that gardaí will now issue penalty points for unsecured loads under the heading of dangerous driving.

    Different loads will require different methods of securing, for example fastening straps, chains, adjustable brackets, and/or the use of dunnage, blocking or bracing. However, what works for one type of load will not necessarily work for another type. The vehicle must always be appropriate to carry the load and have suitable attachment points for chains, straps and other load-securing devices.

    To read the full Motoring Focus click here.