Towing Guides

Towing Vehicle Compatibility

All trailers are supplied with a European standard 50 mm ball coupling at approximately 430 mm to the ball centre. A 30 mm or 40 mm dia. eye for a pin type coupling can be fitted to special order.

Unless ordered a single standard type N, 7 pin electrical plug will be fitted. We can fit an additional type S (grey) or the European 13 pin plug which will also operate the reversing lamps, if the towing vehicle is compatible. We need to be notified at the time of order, but the alternative plugs can be retro fitted to new trailers. The power pins in the type S plug can also be used to charge batteries on trailers used to power electric tippers or winches.

Most vehicles have the recommended towing weights for both braked and un braked trailers, in the handbook. If it is not a commercial vehicle it is not illegal to exceed these weights within reason, but it may invalidate your vehicle warranty or insurance.

We are fortunate in the UK to have a large range of 4×4 towing vehicles, many of which are suitable for towing up to the legal maximum of 3500kg. Many larger cars can easily tow a horse trailer particularly if only loaded with one horse.

All commercial vehicles have a plate fitted either under the bonnet or in the passenger side door frame or step area. The top weight is the gross vehicle mass, the second is the gross train mass, which is the total permitted weight of the vehicle, trailer and loads. Subtracting the first weight from the second will give the maximum trailer weight that can be used with that vehicle.

Trailers can be ordered with the plated weights reduced to be compatible with your vehicle if required. Particularly for plant trailers don’t forget the weight of fuel and extra buckets, which may be better carried in the vehicle.

Driver’s License

September 2021, The law is changing, holders of a car licence will not need an extra test to tow up to 3500kg, trailer tests are no longer available. You must comply to existing laws until the law changes later in the year, holders of a B licence will be granted a B+E for trailers up to 3500kg, more details when available. Holders of driving licences issued before January 1996 and providing that they have Group A or if after 1990, category B, are entitled to drive a vehicle and trailer combination up to a maximum train weight of 8.25 tons.

If you have a car licences issued after July 1996 you can tow a vehicle and trailer combination of up to 3500 kg. maximum gross weight. If the towing vehicle has a plate showing the gross train weight, this should not be exceeded. Most vehicles have a recommended towing capacity which can normally be found in the vehicle handbook and if this is exceeded, a court may take the view that this constitutes a danger . Generally most people with a new car licence can tow an un braked trailer or lighter braked trailers, even horse trailers, as long as 3500 kg gross is not exceeded.

Holders of new licences can upgrade to tow larger trailers by taking another test, B+E for trailers.


A tachograph is required to be fitted to record the driver’s hours in a vehicle and trailer combination that exceeds 3500 kg. when used for commercial purposes.

Exempt from this requirement are vehicles used for the non-commercial carriage of goods for personal use. And from 2 nd March 2015 vehicles or vehicle trailer combinations with a maximum weight of 7,500 kg which are used to carry materials, equipment or machinery for the driver’s use in the course of their work, and when driving the vehicle is not the driver’s main activity, also vehicles used to carry live animals from farms to local markets or from markets to local farms or slaughterhouses. Within 100 km (60 miles) from the operator’s base, this is increased from 50 km.

There are other exemptions but they are not likely to be relevant to most trailer users.

Trailer Towing Speed

The maximum speed limit for trailers is 60 mph on motorways and dual carriageways, otherwise 50 mph unless a lower speed limit is in operation. Trailers are not permitted in the outside lane of motorways.

Operator License

Generally all trailers up to 3500 kg gross weight are exempt from operator licensing for private use and transporting goods and equipment in connection with your business. However since December 2011 any vehicle and trailer combination with a Maximum Authorised Mass (GTW) exceeding 3500 kg if transporting other peoples goods for hire or reward will need a Standard Operators Licence. Unless the towing vehicle is a Dual Purpose Vehicle, cars, 4 x 4’s, Land Rovers and Pick ups with 2 rows of seats etc. which are still exempt.

Maximum Size

The maximum width of a trailer must not exceed 2.55 metres (8’2.5″) overall. However the most popular widths are 2 , 2.1 or 2.3 meters (6’6″, 7′ or 7’6″). The trailer must not extend more than 305 mm (12”) outwards each side of the towing vehicle, irrespective of allowable width.

The maximum permitted trailer body length without the tow bar is 7 metres but the overall train length must not exceed 18.35 metres.

VIN Number

All road vehicles must have a 17 digit Vehicle Identification Number, stamped on a plate and on the chassis. On our plates the first 3 digits SBN refer to Bateson Trailers as a world manufacturer. The next 4 are the trailer model number, the last 5 are the serial number. The remaining 5 relate to the year of manufacture the country of destination, type of hitch and axles etc.

Certificate of Conformity

All trailers built after October 2012 have to be type approved and be supplied with a certificate of conformity. All of our trailers have European Whole Vehicle Type Approval, the ‘e’ number is marked on the trailer plate on the left hand side of the tow bar. It will be illegal to use a trailer, in Europe, built after this time without the appropriate type approval. The certificate can be used to register the trailer in any European country where registration is required. In the UK this certificate must be kept and passed to the new owner if sold. We can supply a replacement certificate if required, we will require proof of ownership and the VIN number which is stamped on the trailer plate on the left of the tow bar and in the chassis on the right hand side. This is only available for trailers manufactured after October 2012 and a charge of £20 is made to cover administration.

Trailer Care

New galvanised trailers weather naturally and the shiny silver becomes dull grey, a protective coating forms that is very resistant to corrosion and the only maintenance required is occasional washing. However when the galvanised coating is new it is very vulnerable to surface corrosion from road salt and other acids, this makes the surface rough with what looks like black or white deposits. This does not damage the protection but can look unsightly. The only way to avoid this is to wash the new trailer after every trip, particularly in winter. Zinc plated parts, nuts, bolts, hinges and fastens etc. can corrode if exposed to salt and not kept clean. It is advisable to spray these occasionally with WD40 or a similar product.

Keeping the trailer body clean both inside and out and lubricating all moving parts will pay dividends in maintaining its condition and resale value. The brakes and running gear should be adjusted at least once a year depending on the amount of use. A schedule for basic maintenance is in the operators’ handbook supplied with the trailer. All service and repairs of our trailers can be undertaken at our factory or at some of our larger dealers throughout the country.

Trailer Stability

All Bateson Trailers are designed to be inherently stable but they must be loaded and operated correctly. The axle centres are set back from the centre line of the body, assuming that the body is loaded evenly there will always be a positive draw bar weight. The trailer must never be loaded back heavy. If the centre of gravity is back from axle centres, a sway or snake can be induced by an uneven road surface, a deviation of course or the turbulence of a passing vehicle. This is usually on overrun probably descending a slight incline. Do not brake, endeavour to maintain control, and decelerate gently then reposition the load!

As stated the centre of gravity should be ahead of the axles but not too far. The nose weight should be about 100 kg to 150 kg. The legal limits are within 4% and 10% of the gross trailer weight. Too much weight will overload the back of the towing vehicle, making the steering light and unsafe and causing the back to dip, overloading the trailer’s front axle and effectively moving the axle centre.

Road Tax, Insurance and MOT

Road tax or excise duty does not apply to trailers in the UK. and extra duty is not charged on vehicles towing trailers up to 3500 kg.

Third party liabilities are normally covered by the towing vehicle insurance as long as the trailer is attached. Additional cover should be arranged if insurance for theft or damage to the trailer is required. Surprisingly the law requires no vehicle safety tests and if the trailer was built to comply with all relevant construction and use regulations, it is legal to use in the U.K.

It is illegal to operate a trailer in an unroadworthy condition, it is the users responsibility to ensue that the trailer is maintained in first-rate condition particularly as many trailers are used infrequently. Once you are past a trailer weight of around 75% of the weight of the towing vehicle you are entering a critical zone regarding stability and safety and a correctly maintained trailer is essential.

Trailer Brakes

Trailers up to half the kerb weight of the towing vehicle do not require brakes up to a maximum limit of 750 kg. Above this weight and up to 3500 kg. Auto-reversing over-run brakes are required on all wheels and all equipment must comply with E.U. regulations.

Trailers with older braking systems are still legal to use as long as they complied with the regulations at the time that they were built. Over-run brakes mean that the trailer brakes apply when the trailer begins to push a decelerating towing vehicle. Auto-reverse means that the trailer brakes disengage automatically when the trailer is reversed eliminating the need to mechanically stop the brakes applying when reversing.

1, 2, or 3 Axles

The principal reason for fitting more axles is to carry more weight. A single axle is usually fitted up to 1500kg. And twin axles up to 3 500 kg. A single axle trailer is easier to manoeuvre uncoupled and the tow bar height is not as critical, twin axle trailers can be more stable, the position of the load is not quite as important, they are certainly better for livestock where the load can move and they are more stable for loading.

Three axles are really only suitable for long trailers or where small diameter wheels are required where the tyre loading of two axles may not be enough. To fit three axles to a 3 500 kg trailer that would normally have two increases the unladen weight therefore reducing its carrying capacity. Its initial cost is greater and maintenance costs increase by 50%.

By example our 6OLT twin axle livestock trailer is 12 feet long and weighs about 1000 kg. It will easily hold 2500 kg. of livestock up to the 3500 kg maximum weight limit. A longer trailer with three axles will be a lot heavier and legally hold considerably less.

Also our 35MD twin axle plant trailer is built as strong and as light as possible to accommodate the largest possible machines of about 2800 kg. Building the trailer larger, stronger or with three axles would reduce its legal capacity.

Reversing a Trailer

Reversing a trailer is very difficult for the inexperienced. A long trailer with a short vehicle is the easiest. A trailer that is shorter than the wheelbase of the towing vehicles is all but impossible and it is always better to unhitch it and move it by hand.

With a longer trailer, turn the opposite way to push the trailer in the right direction then follow it, sounds easy and with practice it is!

All modern trailers have auto-reversing brakes so nothing has to be operated but slight drag may be felt. If this is a problem either in muddy conditions or on gravel, an optional mechanical interlock can be supplied. It is fitted to the coupling and can be engaged by hand to stop the brakes from applying; it will automatically disengage when the vehicle moves forward.

Trailer Security

All our trailers fitted with a 50 mm ball hitch are supplied with a barrel lock to immobilise the coupling head. The other most widely used security device is a wheel clamp that is available for all of our road trailers as an option. Datatag can also be fitted as a deterrent and to to aid identification if a trailer is recovered. The unique VIN number is marked on the trailer plate and is also stamped into the chassis. On certain models it is also marked in a secret location and the number remains in our files indefinitely with the name of the original purchaser.

Trailer Security

All our trailers fitted with a 50 mm ball hitch are supplied with a barrel lock to immobilise the coupling head. The other most widely used security device is a wheel clamp that is available for all of our road trailers as an option. Datatag can also be fitted as a deterrent and to to aid identification if a trailer is recovered. The unique VIN number is marked on the trailer plate and is also stamped into the chassis. On certain models it is also marked in a secret location and the number remains in our files indefinitely with the name of the original purchaser.

Horse trailer design, weight and stability

There have been many types and designs of horse trailers available in the past but from October 2012 all trailers are subject to European Whole Vehicle Type Approval. This has been an expensive process for manufacturers to ensure that the trailers fully comply with the latest regulations and are inspected and tested before approval is granted. The trailers can be used anywhere in Europe on production of the Certificate of Conformity. For this reason far fewer models are now available on the British market. Trailers built in Europe are available from time to time but availability seems to be dependent on the Euro exchange rate!

The most successful design was probably invented by Mr Rice in the 1950’s and the concept has yet to be bettered. The clever bit is to design the trailer to be as light as possible with maximum strength where it matters and reduced weight in other areas.

Ease of towing and stability is dependant on keeping the centre of gravity as low as possible with the correct positive nose weight irrespective of load. Smooth silent independent suspension and good aero dynamics also aid towing and minimise the effect of cross winds. Most trailers sold in the UK have front unload and full rear ramps because that what the market is used to and works well. On the continent however front ramps are rare and side hinging rear doors are more popular.

The details must be correct but the overall design is more important. Features to look for are good ventilation, a light welcoming interior, easy to operate breast bars, removable floor mats for cleaning and floor inspection, tying rings inside and out and tack storage. It is surprising how a light exterior colour keeps the interior cool and airy.

Larger cars can tow a horse trailer safely; there is a recommended towing weight normally in the hand book. This is a recommendation and it is not illegal to exceed this. In most cases the weights can be kept within the recommendations, our horse trailers weigh approximately 880 kg. With one horse approx 1300 kg and with two horses approx 1700 kg. Our trailers have a maximum permitted weight of 2300 kg.

As part of the new approvals new trailers must have reversing lamps, our trailers are fitted with these but the towing vehicle should have either an auxiliary 7 pin socket or a 13 pin socket for them to operate.

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