Towing a Squib

By: David West, long time resident of the Squib Class Mid Fleet Club and much valued Publicity Officer.

A while ago, we put a questionnaire in Squibble seeking to discover what might encourage (even) more people to attend the Nationals. The results were not enlightening as only two people replied! One said that he had insufficient talent and the other, while saying he would not attend, did want to know a bit more about towing.

Now, here we are in a cleft stick. The people who know about trailers and towing say they cannot write and those who can write find the regulations almost incomprehensible. However, it seems that everyone finds the new regulations incomprehensible - including the AA whose site goes into spasms as soon as you put the words in to the search engine and the RYA who seem steadfastly to ignore the topic.

So here goes. Don’t take this for gospel and don’t buy or tow a trailer on our recommendations here, any more than you would buy a financial investment from a banker. Check out the link below:

http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/Motoring/DriverLicensing/CaravansTrailersCommercialVehicles/DG_192285

Licences - senior citizens

If you passed your test prior to 1997, and most Squibbers did, you keep your existing entitlement to tow trailers until your licence expires. This means you're generally entitled to drive a vehicle and trailer combination up to 8.25 tonnes maximum authorised mass (MAM).

Let’s explain this. A Squib weighs 680 kgs – or a bit over. With the trailer and the other bits you probably put into the Squib while trailing, your Squib + trailer is going to weigh, say, about 1,000 kgs - which is a metric tonne. 

A Ford Mondeo 2 litre diesel weighs just over 1800 kgs. Thus the MAM of your rig - car, Squib and trailer - is 2800kgs, or 2.8 tonnes, miles below the rig limit of 8.25 tonnes.

OK so far? Hang in there.

Licences - the nappy brigade (including second childhood)

Now, if you are a younger Squibber who passed the test after 1997, you are restricted to driving a rig (car, Squib and trailer) with a maximum of 3,500 kgs or 3.5 tonnes - as long as the MAM of the Squib and trailer does not exceed the unladen weight of the tow vehicle (which is unlikely.) 

The same goes for older Squibbers whose licence runs out and they have to get a new licence.

Again, the example of a Ford Modeo 2 litre diesel is still no problem. You are allowed to drive a rig weighing 3.5 tonnes and the rig of Mondeo, Squib and trailer is around 2.8 tonnes.

Bigger stuff

However, if your car is heavier … it is different. Should you be thinking of using your Rolls Royce Phantom Coupe, you can’t. It weighs 3050 kgs or 3 tonnes. The car plus trailer plus Squib rig is well over the limit. The one hope here is that you are allowed to tow a trailer of no more then 750 kgs but your Squib plus trailer is unlikely to come in under this (and if it does prepare for protests at the Nationals!) 

While the idea of a Roller is a bit daft, the idea of a Range Rover Discovery is perhaps not. However, this too is a no-no. The Discovery has a MAM of about 3,200 kgs; hence the standard limit of 750 kg is again invoked.

To be able to use a Discovery (or your Roller) to tow your Squib, you’d have to be someone who passed the test before 1997 and was still using the old licence or you have to take a further test – for a B+E licence.

Don’t look at your old licence. That won’t have the new categories on it. B+E and so on are unknown to those of us who passed the test on one of Boudicca’s chariots.

Minimum

The Ford Mondeo 2 litre diesel estate would seem to be an ideal car for Squib towing. It seems you can get away with a Focus 2 litre diesel as well (although a Fusion would not be on.) Neither would give you problems as a post 1997 test passer or indeed as a ‘second time around’ licence applicant. Anything much heavier may mean you need a B+E licence. Do check.

Anything lighter or less powerful may either not be legal or not up to the job. Remember you may not tow anything which weighs more than the car’s unladen weight. Just about everyone (particularly the Caravan Club) recommends this figure be further reduced to 85 per cent of car weight. Thus, the most a Ford Mondeo 2 litre diesel estate should tow is really 1500 kgs and a Focus with the same engine 1380 – both, as it happens, giving a safe margin for Squib towing.

All this assumes, obviously, that you use a braked trailer. Using an unbraked one is really only for those who also enjoy playing Russian roulette. If you tow a trailer without brakes, the weight of the trailer is limited to 50% of the kerb weight of the car or 750kg whichever is less. Don’t. Basically it is illegal to tow a Squib on an unbraked trailer.

Towing capacity of you car

A car that has EC Whole Vehicle Type Approval (ECWVTA) will have a Vehicle Identification Number plate (VIN plate). This plate is usually under the bonnet but it can sometimes be near the driver's door. The plate will look something like this:

VIN No - sometimes called the chassis number, unique to your vehicle

XXXX KG - weight of your vehicle

XXXX KG - the maximum permitted train weight: vehicle plus trailer

XXXX KG - maximum load front axle

XXXX KG - maximum load rear axle

For example, if you have a car with a maximum weight of 1800 kgs and a train weight of 3000 kgs, the maximum towing capacity will be 3000 kgs minus 1800 kgs which gives a towing capacity of 1200 kgs. Check your vehicle handbook.

Some cars have plates which show the weight of the vehicle but give no train weight. What does this mean? When no train weight is shown, it is not permitted to fit a coupling device or tow a trailer. Not that you’d want to use one to tow a Squib but the Ford KA has no declared train weight and has no mounting points for a tow bar. 

Approved tow bars

If you are going to fit a tow bar to a car registered after 1st August 1998 – that is to say 'S' registered cars or later - you must fit an approved tow bar. (This law applies only to cars, not to commercial vehicles.) All such tow-bars must carry a 'type approved' label showing: 

•    Maximum nose-weight 

•    Approval number 

•    Country where the towbar was tested (UK is e11)

If you fit a non type approved tow-bar to a car registered after 1st August 1998 you could be prosecuted under the Road Traffic Act and if you are involved in an accident you may find your insurance is invalid.

You can fit a type approved tow bar yourself provided you use the car manufacturer's approved mounting points, and follow the tow bar manufacturer's instructions.

Width

The maximum width allowed for a trailer is 2.3 metres if the towing vehicle has a maximum weight of 3500 kg or less. In old money, this is 7.54584 feet or 7 foot 6 & 3/5th inches. The beam of a Squib is 1.87 metres or 6 foot 2 inches. Allowing for the supports, your Squib rig should be within limits. It won’t hurt to measure it.

Speed

When towing, you are restricted to a maximum speed of 50mph on single carriageways and 60mph on dual carriageways and motorways. In the UK you are not allowed to use the outside lane of a three or more lane motorway when towing - except where there are lane closures which restrict the lanes to two or less or when instructed to do so by the Police. 

Other bits

You must have third party cover for your trailer as well as for the tow car. This may be part of your car insurance or you boat insurance - or both – or neither. Check!

The lighting board should be no more than 1.5m from the ground. Indicators must flash in unison with those of the tow car and a dashboard warning light or buzzer must be fitted. The number plate on the trailer must be identical in shape and colour to that on the tow car. 

Tips for towing Squibs

They tow really easily - and especially easily with one of Derek Higgins’s trailers. You may have seen the one at the Dinghy Show at Alexandra Palace under Squib 11. They are so well balanced and run so smoothly. If you go for the low loader, not only will the Squib centre itself fore and aft, when it is lowered by the crane, but you can do without the keel strap as well. It also has a lower centre of gravity and is easier to climb up.

You need a waist strap over the middle of the boat and down to the trailer – but not too tight. Hold the Squib firmly but do not distort it! The most important strap is the bow strap which must NOT let the bow move up and down.

Belt and braces – use a proper strap but also a rope at the bow. An old mainsheet is good. The rope stays on the boat until the last moment when the crane is ready to lift. Even then, you use it to keep the boat straight while in the air and later as a painter and buoy line.

Towing Tips

Make sure your trailer is regularly serviced and maintained. It is not a great idea to leave your trailer out in the rain for most of the year and then take it out on the road, loaded and at 60 mph. Check nuts and bolts, wheel hubs, brakes and tyres. Check the jockey wheel. Grease up all nipples, linkages and the trailer hitch. Make sure the trailer hitch springs work properly.

Don’t forget the emergency wire. It is connected to the brake and in the event of the tow bar breaking or the trailer becoming unhitched for some reason, the theory is it will apply the brake on the trailer and then detach itself from the trailer/car by means of that curious split ring straightening and releasing the wire. Why you would want this to happen is a mystery. I suppose avoiding a tonne of Squib and trailer hurtling unsteered down the road would be a good thing. Not having it attached to the back of your car by a wire would also be a good thing. It is the thought of being on a motorway behind a trailer than suddenly stopped on its own that is a bit disconcerting.

Before moving off, check all lights are working and that no electrical cables can drag on the road. As long as the trailer is evenly loaded, nose weight is correct and the whole outfit sits level on the road you are unlikely to experience a problem with snaking. If you do, keep the car straight and accelerate smoothly. Once the snaking has stopped, slow down gradually.

I use a boat cover which doubles as towing cover and winter cover. Not only does it stop things blowing about inside the boat and prevents rain getting in, when I get home, usually late in the evening, I can just slacken off the straps and leave other things until the morning, safe in the knowledge that the boat is protected. My cover came from White Marine.

If you have to stay overnight on the journey, you might want to invest in a hitchlock and wheelclamp. Your insurance may not be valid if you do not. Check.