Guide to caravan towing – stay legal

Caravan magazine


Caravan towing mirror laws

It is a legal requirement to have mirrors capable of enabling you to see clearly down the side of your caravan to a distance of 20 metres behind the driver.

This requirement almost invariably means that towing mirrors must be fitted, even on wider 4x4 vehicles. Failure to comply can lead to a Fixed Penalty fine (for each missing mirror) or, in the case of a more serious incident, three points on your licence and a fine of up to £1000.

Towing mirrors fitted to cars registered from 26 January 2010 must comply with European Directives 2003/97 or 2005/27 or ECE Regulation 46.02. There is a popular misconception that compliance with these standards is confirmed by a simple ‘E’ mark on the mirror. In fact mirrors have had to have EC type approval since 1979 to be legally used and have carried various ‘e’ and ‘E’ marks since that date.

Compliance with the new standards is confirmed by E markings similar to the ones shown here. The new standard means that, in the event of a mirror breaking, no large fragments of glass will be released.

Towing mirrors should not extend out more than a set distance from the vehicle. For non E-marked mirrors this is 200mm; for those carrying the mark it is 250mm.

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As with many caravan accessories, towing mirrors come in two basic types – flat and convex. A flat mirror will give you an accurate indication of distance, but a rather limited field of view. A convex mirror will make things seem further away than they are but give a much better field of view. From a legal point of view, either type is suitable for towing, so it’s really down to personal preference in terms of how you like to view the road.

Remember to remove your mirrors when you are not towing a caravan; failure to remove them is an offence. Makes of towing mirror which carry an E marking include Grove, Milenco, Pennine and Reich.


Breakaway cables – how and where to attach them

Caravans built from 1 October 1982 must be fitted with a breakaway cable, anchored to the tow vehicle; this applies the brakes in the unlikely event that the caravan becomes unhitched while in motion. These cables are designed to be looped around an anchor point and clipped back on themselves.

If you ever need to replace a breakaway cable ensure that the replacement is of the same standard as the original. These are available from many caravan accessory shops.


Tread carefully on caravan tyre law

The law in relation to caravan tyres simply says that tyres must be capable of carrying the gross load of the caravan and have a tread depth of no less than 1.6mm across the central three-quarters of the breadth of the tyre and around the entire circumference. You also need to keep an eye on the tyre's pressure, too.

It’s a fact that caravan tyre treads rarely wear out – but they do deteriorate with age. When buying a used caravan, be prepared to change the tyres if they are more thanfive years old. Read more top tips for caravan tyre safety here.

Insurance requirements – for car and caravan

You will need to tell your motor insurer that you are planning to tow. Firstly, fitting a towbar counts as a modification to a car and, secondly, your car insurance company needs to provide third party cover for the caravan. This will protect you in the event of your caravan being in an accident where a third party is involved. You may have to pay an additional premium to get this necessary insurance.

A motor insurance policy will not cover a caravan for accidental damage or theft, nor will it cover your liability to a third party while it is unhitched. For this type of cover you will need separate caravan insurance.

There is no legal requirement to have such insurance. Most people do, though, and there are many specialist insurance companies happy to take your business. Some of the larger ones include Vantage (Camping & Caravanning Club), Devitts (Caravan Club), Simple, Towergate, Caravan Guard, Caravanwise, E&L, and Adrian Flux.

Read about the secrets to getting the best insurance policy.


Carrying gas cylinders in a caravan

Caravan gas cylinders are housed either in a compartment at the front, or on the side, closer to the axle. The law requires that they be switched off at the valve on the cylinder when you are towing.

The caravan must carry an appropriate warning label to alert people to the fact that flammable gases are carried. This is something that may be missing or illegible (faded) on a used caravan, so do check when you buy.


Road light requirements

UK law says the back of a caravan must be fitted with two red stop triangular red reflectors in addition to side, brake and indicator lights. Caravans built after 30 September 1990 must also have front reflectors and front position lights.

Reflectors can sometimes drop off, so it is worth checking they are present and correct when buying a used caravan.

If you decide to fit a protective front cover to your caravan for travelling, you must ensure that the cover doesn’t obstruct the lights and reflectors.


Does my caravan have to be registered like a car?

Unlike most of Europe there is no legal requirement to register a caravan bought in the UK. However, since 1992, the NCC has been operating the Caravan Registration and information Scheme, better known as the CRiS scheme.

When a new caravan is sold, the dealer registers it to the new owner using the CRiS scheme. When buying a used caravan, ask to see the CRiS registration document that should be with it. The Notification of Sale or Transfer section at the bottom of the document should already have been filled in by the previous owner and sent to CRiS.

If you are unsure about the ownership of any caravan, or want to discover if it has outstanding finance against it, or even if it has ever been an insurance write off, CRiS can help. The check costs £14.95 and can be made by ringing 0203 282 1000 and quoting the caravan’s VIN number.

If you’re planning to take your caravan abroad you are advised to take a copy of the CRiS certificate with you as you may need it to prove ownership. Never leave this document in your caravan as it could help a thief to sell it.



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