UPDATED INFORMATION FROM DOT MAY 10th 2018
The information contained in this document relates solely to the construction requirements for vehicles. Readers should ensure that they are aware of, and comply with, all relevant requirements on other aspects of vehicle use (driver licensing, vehicle excise duty, insurance etc). CLICK HERE FOR FURTHER INFORMATION
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 vehicle's 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 from 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.
Some countries in Europe have 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 vehicle's number plate displayed and, if demonstrated, the trailer's 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 its 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 people's 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 with whom I have communicated, is that the law, on paper, is on your side, if you have 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 out by the unfortunate who are stopped, then I would expect to
receive numerous feedbacks 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 pubs, shops etc. may not be close to the campsite and, of course, it's 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)
The information contained in this article is for general information purposes only. The information is provided by LNB Towbars and while we endeavour to check the information is up to date and correct, we make no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, about the completeness, accuracy, reliability, suitability or availability with respect to the website or the information, products, services, or related graphics contained in this article for any purpose.
Any reliance you place on such information is therefore strictly at your own risk.
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