Tow Bar Buying Guide

the ultimate tow bar buying guide

The Ultimate Tow Bar Buying Guide

A tow bar for your car is one of the most essential accessories you could ever attach to your vehicle.

When it comes to off-roading or towing a caravan a tow bar can be extremely useful. However, when it comes to buying a towbar for your vehicle there are many different types available, from detachable swan neck towbars to the fixed flange ball tow bar. But, which do you choose? Use this handy guide to help you, and view our range of tow bar accessories here.

What is a Tow Bar?

This is a question we get quite often here at Milner off Road.

A tow bar (tow hitch) is a device you attach to the chassis of your vehicle, allowing you to tow other vehicles, trailers, caravans, horseboxes and so on.

How To Choose The Right Tow Bar For Your Car?

When it comes to buying a towbar for your vehicle, there are many things you need to bear in mind, such as knowing the make, model, year of your vehicle, and your driver’s licence.

You also need to know where the tow points are located on your car (usually found in your cars owners manual). Once you have all this information, you need to know the different types of tow bars available to buy.


Different Types of Tow Bars For Cars Available

Towbars come in various types and have several uses, Tow bars can be used to tow a non-functioning vehicle to a mechanic or back home. The most popular tow bars in the UK and Europe can be seen below. There are other tow bars not mentioned in the list below.

Car-Mounted Tow Bars

Car-mounted tow bars used to be the motoring industry standard for a long time. Car-mounted tow bars were the first self-aligning, foldable bars, and the majority of them have a quick release system making them easy and fast to setup.

Rigid Tow Bars

Also known as A-frame tow bars because of their triangular shape, are a removable, welded, inexpensive, lightweight and solid tow bar solution. Rigid tow bars are a good option if the use is not for more than a few times a year. This is because this type of tow hitch is hard for the driver to align the vehicle properly for towing as it is supposed to be at a precise location.

Flange Ball Tow Bars

The flange ball tow bar is an inexpensive tow bar that can function with ease with most tow bar accessories. This type of towbar has a tow ball mounted on a tow bar and is attached to the towing vehicle with bolts.

Self-Aligning Tow Bars

Just like rigid tow bars, self-aligning tow bars require manual hooking up, but as they are self-aligning they easily adjust to the position of the vehicle. These tow bars are a good option for frequent towing connection, disconnection, and reconnection.

Please note that not all styles of towbar are available for every vehicle. Visit our online shop to select your vehicle to see tow bars available.



Know How Much Your Vehicle(s) Towing Capacity

We often get asked here at Milner Off Road how much weight a specific vehicle can tow?

Knowing how much your vehicle can tow is essential for your vehicle, safety, and for legal and insurance purposes.

How Much Can My Vehicle Tow?

To find out how much your car can tow, locate your owner’s handbook or go to your cars manufacturers website, however, only take these as a guide.

To know your vehicles true towing capacity, locate your vehicles VIN Plate (Vehicle Identification Number Plate) which will have the exact towing capacity figure stamped on it.

Your VIN Plate can often be found under the bonnet or on a door pillar of your vehicle. The location of your VIN Plate will be in your owners manual.

Once you have located your VIN Plate, you will see either 3 or 4 sets of weight, these numbers determine to authorities whether your vehicle is over-laden. See the example image below.

VIN Plate
Image Courtesy of www.puredriving.co.uk

As you can see from the example above, this VIN Plate has 4 lines of numbers.

Top Line – 2505kg = Gross vehicle weight – the maximum allowable mass (MAM) of the vehicle including occupants, fuel and payload.

Second Line – 4200kg = Gross train weight – the combined maximum allowable mass of your vehicle and trailer.

The Bottom Two Lines – 1250kg & 1350kg = Maximum axle loads front and rear respectively.

To figure out the manufacturer’s recommended maximum towing capacity for your vehicle. You have to subtract the gross vehicle weight from the gross train weight. In this example, it will be

4200kg – 2505kg1695kg maximum towing capacity.



Tow Bar Uses

There are many uses for a tow bar. Some of the most common tow bar uses are to tow caravans, boats, trailers, and other cars. A good tow bar is an extremely versatile tool to have.



EU Tow Bar Requirements

On the 1st August 1998, the European Union set laws requiring all car tow bars and tow hitches to meet standards set in their 94/20/EC directive.

This directive states the ISO standard tow ball must have a 50-millimetre (5-centimetre) diameter and complies with the BS AU 113b standard. These are the same standards that exist throughout the world, with the exception of North America.

There are two categories of ISO tow balls within this standard.

  1. Flange Fitting.
  2. Swan-neck fitting.

The swan-neck has an extended neck which fits into the tow bracket and is a removable device. The swan-neck eliminates the inconvenience of a tow ball which protrudes from the rear of the vehicle when not in use.

This directive leads to manufacturers developing retractable two balls which can be stored underneath the vehicle when it is not in use.

If your car was first used before 1 August 1998, your tow bar doesn’t need to be type-approved.



UK Legal Requirements For Towing

As long as you comply with the rules and regulations set in place to maintain safety standards, it is perfectly legal to tow trailers, caravans, vehicles, horse boxes and so on in the UK. When it comes to buying your tow bar, there are several checks to make regarding your vehicle, the tow bar, and your own driving license.

Tow Bar Design

When purchasing your tow bar, you must make sure your potential tow bar complies with EU regulations.

If you choose to use a tow bar which is not designed to meet with EU regulations, then you could a face a fine and may even render your insurance invalid in the event of an accident.

You can be fined up to £2,500, be banned from driving and get 3 penalty points for using a vehicle in a dangerous condition.

Towing Mirrors

When towing, if your mirror visibility is blocked by your trailer or caravan, this puts both you and other road users in danger. Therefore, it is illegal to drive without proper towing mirrors when towing on British roads.

You can be fined up to £1,000 and get 3 penalty points for towing without proper towing mirrors.

Brakes – Trailer or Caravan

When towing your trailer or caravan, it must have a working braking system if it weighs over 750kg when it’s loaded.

All brake systems on trailers and caravans must be fully functional.

When towing a trailer or caravan, you must use a breakaway cable or secondary coupling in case the trailer becomes detached from your vehicle.

Number Plates

When towing, you must display the same number plate on your trailer as on your towing vehicle.

If you’re towing more than one trailer at a time, fix the number plate to the trailer at the back.

Width Restrictions

The maximum width for any trailer or caravan that is being towed in the UK is 2.55 metres.

The maximum length for a trailer is 7 metres.

If you purchase a trailer larger than 7 metres – and tow it using your vehicle – you will be liable for any fines or punishments incurred.

Always check the length of your trailer before purchasing.

Driving License

In the UK, any driver who wishes to tow a vehicle must hold a full and valid driving license (Learners are not permitted to drive vehicles towing trailers or caravans).

There are three different classes of driving licenses which will affect your eligibility to tow a trailer or caravan.

If your driving licence has been issued after 19th January 2013 and is for category b vehicles only, you will only be able to tow small trailers which weigh less than 750 kilogrammes as long as the total weights of the trailer and the vehicle used to tow do not exceed 3,500 kilogrammes.

If you acquired your driving license between 1st January 1997 and 19th January 2013 you are legally able to drive a towing vehicle weighing 3,500 kilogrammes towing a trailer of up to 750 kilogrammes. You must also tow a trailer weighing more than 750 kilogrammes if the towing vehicle and trailer combined don’t exceed 3,500 kilogrammes.

If you acquired your driving license before 1st January 1997, you may be permitted to drive towing vehicles with a combined weight of vehicle and trailer of up to 8.25 tonnes.

If you gained your drivers license after the 19th January 2013 you have to pass the car and trailer driving test if you want to tow anything heavier.


Milner Off Road Disclaimer

The information in this guide is intended as a guide. It is as accurate at the time of publication as the editor is able to make it. Neither the Editor nor Milner Off Road nor any other person or company associated with the production of this guide accepts any responsibility for any inaccuracies which may be in the text.

It is the responsibility of any person wishing to depend on the facts contained in the Milner Off Road’s website to check for themselves with original documentation or any updating regulations, instruments or changes in the law.

Purchased your tow bar? Make sure you give our ultimate list of caravan towing tips a read before you set off.