Towing A Car.
More and more motorhome users are looking for a smaller transport solution to take on trips with their motorhome. Normally this means taking the ever more popular electric bicycles, a motorcycle, or a small car. In this article I’m going to focus on the small car, and specifically towing on an A frame system.
Driving separately to a destination is often a disliked option for a number of obvious reasons, so this leaves the choice of Trailer or A Frame.
The benefits of towing a car on a trailer include, the ability to tow different cars (providing they fit the trailer), change car
regularly, reduced (rolling) wear and tear mileage on the car, and no legality confusion.
The benefits of towing a car using an A frame include, less to store and maintain, no yawing or snaking during towing, lower centre of gravity, quick and convenient to assemble/disassemble, and now often better braking systems.
When I talk about A frames, I am referring to properly converting a car into a trailer to be towed for regular or long distances behind your motorhome. Recovery A frames, dollies and alike are not suitable or legal for this kind of use. They are referred to as towing implements and are required to be used at speeds of less than 20mph or 40mph if on a motorway.
There are a number of different types of devices being used to tow cars behind motorhomes. Some of them legal, some not, and some questionable. This adds to the confusion when A frame legality gets questioned.
Britain has a number of companies offering towcar A frame conversions, for towing your car behind your motorhome. They vary considerably in style and price, and each one will give their case why theirs is the best or why theirs is legal.
So what’s required to be legal?
Before you can address legality in Europe, first you need to be legal here in the UK. The UK Department For Transport (DFT) recognize a towcar on an A frame as a category O2 Trailer, therefore it must comply with current European trailer legislation.
There is no category for A frames to be European Type Approved (strength tested and certificated) so it is not required. However it should comply with the following trailer legislation:
1. The Road Vehicle Lighting Regulations (RVLR) This requires all legal lights to be duplicated at the back of the trailer and controlled from a connection to the towing vehicle. Reflective triangles must be positioned on the rear of the trailer to identify it as a trailer, and the towing vehicles number plate must be displayed and at night illuminated on the rear of the trailer.
2. UNECE Regulation 55. This requires the Coupling to have been tested and approved using either a formula or a 2 million cycle fatigue test. The coupling is then stamped with the approval mark. As couplings are normally bolted to an A frame, an approved coupling is normally purchased and added.
3. UNECE Regulation 13. This is the current trailer braking directive, introduced in November 2014. This legislation is very big, covering every type of trailer from your small camping trailer to a lorry trailer, it has not been written specifically for A frames, it’s a complicated read, with relevant applicable parts in various different sections of it. Due to the axles of a towcar being greater than a metre apart, many of the requirements are very different to that of a caravan.
A few of the key points from the braking directive are as follows:
This braking directive is difficult for some A frame systems to meet the criteria.
An A frame system that does meet the legislation required is therefore a UK recognized category O2 trailer.
Now Europe, …some countries in Europe, have a local laws (by local I mean this is not a Worldwide or
European law) that can conflict with A frame users. I will use Spain as my example but the following will apply to most of Europe. Spain doesn’t permit towing of a motor vehicle by another motor
vehicle unless by an authorized breakdown service. This is designed to stop amateur recovery of broken down vehicles, but Spain does however permit the use of
trailers to be towed by motor vehicles.
So my first point would be you are not towing a motor vehicle but a vehicle properly converted into a category O2 trailer (if it is). It should be identifiable as such by its reflective triangles, the lights duplicating the towing vehicle, the towing vehicles number plate displayed, and if demonstrated the trailers brakes being operated solely by the towing vehicle.
My second point is your residency. If you have lived in the country for longer than 6 months, are a resident, or your vehicle is registered in the country, then their local laws will certainly apply to you, and whilst the UK DFT may recognize your towcar as a trailer, Spanish authorities may not.
However if you are a UK resident and are travelling in the country for less than six months you are considered to be a vehicle in international traffic. Then the Vienna convention states, as long as your combination of vehicles is legal in your home country no other state has the right to reclassify your combination or deny free passage. This is how lorry trailers can travel from country to country under one combined legal umbrella (You don’t see many lorry trailers being asked to decouple at the border).
I have read arguments that the UK DFT verdict of an A Frame being a category O2 trailer would not be accepted as an authority in Europe. But in fact the Vienna convention only states that the combination has to be legal in it’s home state, and therefore as long as in UK the DFT verdict is accepted then you are legal in your home state as long as you are compliant with trailer legislation.
I can understand that a police officer may pull you over and try to explain that they do not endorse this kind of towing, as it is likely to be his understanding. Language barriers can be an issue, so some manufacturers will supply translated documentation to present to an authority explaining what you are towing.
You may well read of peoples bad experiences having been stopped for towing a towcar. Again people use many types of devices and systems to tow. Some of these may well be rightly stopped, some may not qualify their case, and nobody has yet gone to court and won or lost their case to clarify a definitive position.
My belief, and that of the European ministers of which I have communicated is that the law, on paper
is on your side, if you are a compliant trailer. My company converts well over 100 towcars a year, most of which are used in Europe. If the problem was as big as is often made of by the unfortunate
who are stopped. Then I would expect to receive numerous feedback from my customers on this issue. I can honestly say I know of only one of our towcar conversions being stopped. They showed
documentation, demonstrated the braking and were permitted to carry on.
Some people I speak to are quite passionate about this subject, and therefore my advice is simple. If you feel more comfortable towing on a trailer then do so. If you would rather tow using an A frame, then do your homework, choose a good system that you are confident with, and be as informed and prepared as possible.
Personally I find taking a car with my motorhome really useful, especially in the UK where nearby pubs, shops etc. may not be close to the campsite, and of course its much easier to park a small car in villages and beach carparks than a large motorhome.
Leigh Bryant Director of LNB Towbars & Vehicle Extras Limited
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