Towing a car – tips and rules for towing

These tips on towing a car are essential reading for all motorists.

Whether you find yourself needing a tow or coming to the rescue of someone whose car has broken down, it’s a good idea to know how to tow a car safely and legally just in case the worst should happen.

If you need assistance you can call the RAC on 03301 598 751 whether you’re a member or not.

Towing rules

Both parties involved in the towing mission must remember the following:

  • An 'On Tow' sign must be placed at the back of the vehicle being towed
  • When the vehicles are attached solely by a rope or chain, the maximum distance allowed between the vehicles is 4.5 metres
  • If the distance between the two vehicles exceeds 1.5 metres, the rope or chain must be clearly visible within a reasonable distance from either side to other road users, by tying a coloured flapping cloth in the middle, for example
  • The person in the broken down vehicle must be a qualified driver
  • If it's dark, the broken down vehicle must have its lights on as it would under normal circumstances.

Tips for the towing driver

You need to take everything slow and steady – never exceed 15 mph.

Use the clutch to pull away gently to prevent yanking on the rope suddenly, which can cause the tow rope to break, and avoid any sudden braking because the towed driver may not be able to react quickly enough to stop – tap gently instead to warn them.

Similarly, indicate in plenty of time and avoid any sudden changes of direction or excessive manoeuvres, as the driver being towed will find it hard to steer and brake with you.

While you’re towing, check your mirrors often to make sure everything looks okay. Also keep an eye on your vehicle’s gauges, particularly temperature and oil pressure – if they change suddenly there could be a problem so pull over as soon as possible.

Tips for the driver being towed

Before you set off, make sure the ignition switch is in the 'on' position to disengage the steering lock and make it easier for you to steer the broken down car.

Actively steer and brake your vehicle in synchronisation with the towing vehicle and keep some tension in the towrope or towing pole at all times by applying light braking pressure to minimise any jolting.

Stay as alert as you would if you were driving, paying particular attention to the towing car’s brake lights and indicators so you have as much notice as possible of what’s coming up.

 

Whilst our patrols fix 4 out of 5 vehicles at the roadside in just 30 minutes on average, you may still need to be towed to the nearest garage, so knowing what to do is an important skill even if you already have RAC Breakdown Cover.

Rules for towing a trailer

Rules for towing trailers have changed. From late 2021, all drivers will be allowed to tow trailers with a maximum authorised mass (MAM) of up to 3,500kg. Rule changes were delayed after they were originally scheduled for 15 November 2021.

All new photocard licences will show that the BE category has been added to your licence without the need to take a test.

Previously, drivers who passed their driving test from 1 January 1997 faced tighter towing restrictions.

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