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Towing Tales: Understand the Dos and Don'ts of Vehicle Towing

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Learn how to tow a car - and the rules on towing a car in the UK 

If you break down and need a tow, or want to tow someone else's vehicle, it's sensible to understand in advance how to deal with a towing scenario safely. 

The main risks with towing: 

  • Collision between the towing and towed vehicles 
  • Damage occurring to the tow rope 
  • Other road users failing to notice a vehicle is being towed 

In this article, you’ll learn all about towing and how to minimise the risks, so both vehicles reach their destination safely. 

Rules on towing a car 

Note that the distance between the towing and towed vehicle should not be further than 4.5 metres. And if the distance exceeds 1.5 metres, you need to take measures to ensure other road users can see the tow rope - for example by tying a colourful handkerchief to the centre of the rope. 

You must attach an "ON TOW" sign to the rear of the vehicle being towed. The towed vehicle must also have working lights, just as a fully operational vehicle would.  

Before you begin 

Examine the tow rope to ensure there is no damage. If it does show signs of wear or damage, replace it. Do not attempt to tow a vehicle with a damaged tow rope. 

Note that the driver of the towed vehicle must have a full UK licence.  

Tips for the towing driver 

  • Keep your speed down, below 15 mph. This will give the driver of the towed vehicle enough time to react to changes in speed and direction. 
  • Pull away gently; avoid yanking the tow rope since this can damage or break it. Braking should also be gentle, so the driver of the towed vehicle has enough time to react. Before braking, gently tap your brakes so the brake lights come on, warning the driver of the towed vehicle that you are about to slow or stop.  
  • When you need to make a turn, use your indicators in good time so the driver of the towed vehicle has time to react. 
  • Monitor your oil pressure and temperature, since both may be affected by the effort of towing. 
  • Keep checking your mirrors to ensure everything is as it should be. 

Tips for the driver of the towed vehicle 

  • Most modern cars have power steering. With the engine off, this feature will not work - so steering may require significant physical effort. Be ready for this before you begin. 
  • Ensure the ignition is on. This will turn off the steering lock and make the towing process easier. 
  • Maintain tension in the tow rope by keeping pace with the towing vehicle. Going uphill, tension will be maintained, but when you’re going downhill you may need to brake lightly to maintain tension. Brake and accelerate gently, aiming to stay under 15 mph. Avoid jolting or moments when the tow rope becomes slack. A slack tow rope is more likely to get damaged by contact with the road surface. 
  • Stay alert just as you would with an operational car. Concentrate on the brake and indicator lights of the towing vehicle so you can anticipate its behaviour. You also need to be alert to other road users and hazards, as you normally would. 

Keep up to date with GEM Motoring Assist at:

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