Caravan laws in the UK

Owning a caravan gives you freedom over when and where you go on holiday, but you still need to know and follow the laws around towing and insurance.

There are quite a few bits of legislation you need to know about when you become a caravan owner, but fortunately most of them aren’t too hard to abide by.

You need to comply with laws around:

  • Caravan ownership, insurance and maintenance
  • Towing
  • Parking and storage

Caravan accessories and the law

Mirrors – You need to be able to see down the sides of your caravan and to a distance of 20 metres behind you. That usually means you’ll need to fit towing mirrors, which attach to your car’s wing mirrors. 

Breakaway cable – Caravans built after 1 October 1982 must be fitted with a breakaway cable. The cable is attached to your car’s towbar and applies your caravan’s brakes if it somehow unhitches while you’re moving. 

Lights – The back of your caravan must have two red stop triangular reflectors, as well as sidelights, brake lights and indicator lights. Check your caravan’s lights are functioning correctly while hitched before every journey.

Number plate – You need to have a number plate made that matches your towing car to put on the back of your caravan. It needs to be illuminated at night, so check these lights before you set off as well.

Caravan ownership, insurance and maintenance laws

Do I need caravan insurance?

You don’t legally need to have caravan insurance. But you do need to make sure you have at least third-party cover on your car insurance to cover any damage to others you cause while towing your caravan.

Most car insurance policies will have third party cover for anything you’re legally towing, but don’t assume that just because you have comprehensive car insurance that it extends to comprehensive cover for your caravan as well. Also, your car insurance will only cover your caravan while it’s hitched up to your car and being towed.

Although you don’t legally need it, caravan insurance is well worth considering. Without it, could you afford to replace your caravan if it were in an accident, stolen, or damaged by a fire or flood?

It’s not just your property that you caravan insurance could cover.  If someone was injured by your caravan while it’s not attached to your car – for example if they trip over part of your awning set up – it could help protect you from personal injury claims against you. 

Does my home insurance cover my caravan contents? 

If your home insurance has cover for personal possessions away from the home, some of your property might be covered while you’re caravanning.

You usually need to pay an extra premium for personal possessions cover on your home insurance.

Does my caravan have to be registered like a car?

You won’t have a logbook for a caravan like the V5C you get when you buy a car. Caravans aren’t registered with the DVLA.

There is a voluntary scheme to register ownership of your caravan called the Caravan Registration and information Scheme (CRiS) with a one-off lifetime fee of £15. You don’t legally have to join CRiS but it could help you to prove ownership of your caravan which might improve your chances of getting it back if it’s stolen.

You might need to register with CRis as a condition of taking out caravan insurance with some providers.

Do caravans need an MOT?

Caravans don’t need an MOT to be road-legal like cars do. But you do need to make sure your caravan’s in a legal and roadworthy state. For example, you need to make sure your caravan’s tyres have the legal minimum tread depth.

You can put your caravan through an annual service to help keep it in a good, roadworthy condition.

Caravan parking and storage laws

Can you park a caravan on the road? 

It’s technically legal to park your caravan on a public road as caravan parking isn’t specifically mentioned in the highway code, but you still need to make sure you’re not causing an obstruction, that you park in the direction of traffic and that your caravan’s lit at night.

In practice, there might be restrictive covenants for your street prohibiting parking caravans there and your local council might ask you to move it even if you feel it’s not causing an obstruction, especially if a neighbour complains.

Your caravan insurance might also have a clause saying it’s not covered while parked on the road and unhitched from your car.

It’s sensible to make sure you have off-road parking for your caravan before you buy it.

Do I need planning permission to store my caravan? 

You don’t need planning permission to store your caravan in a garden or on a drive.

In some locations, for example farmland, putting a caravan on the land can be seen as a ‘change of use’ of the land, which would need planning permission.

Check with the local authority planning department if you’re not sure whether you can store your caravan on an area of land.

Can I live in my caravan in my back garden? 

You and your family are free to use your caravan as an extension of your home, for example as an extra bedroom or office, without applying for planning permission.

If the caravan is effectively a separate dwelling, for example you’re renting it out to someone else, then you might need to apply for planning permission to do this legally.

Caravan towing laws

Do I need a special licence to tow a caravan in the UK? 

It depends on what you’re towing and when you passed your car driving test.

If you passed your test before 1 January 1997 you can drive a car towing a caravan with a combined maximum authorised mass (MAM) of 8.25 tonnes for car and caravan.

If you passed after 1 January 1997 you can:

  • drive a vehicle of up to 3,500kg MAM plus a caravan of up to 750 MAM
  • tow a caravan over 750kg MAM as long as the combined weight of the caravan and trailer is 3,500kg or less

MAM is the weight of your car or caravan, plus the maximum load that can be carried safely. You’ll find your car’s MAM in your owner’s manual and on the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) plate. Your caravan’s MAM is normally written on a plate on the towbar or chassis.

If you passed your test after 1 January 1997 and your car and caravan combination have a MAM greater than 3,500kg, you’ll need to take another driving test to give you B + E entitlement on your driving licence. There’s no theory test, but you’ll have to show that you can drive and tow safely in different traffic conditions.

Is there a maximum length for towing caravans? 

The maximum length for caravan towed by a car weighing up to 3,500kg is seven metres, not including the A-frame (the structure at the front of the caravan where your hitch is). 

The maximum width for a caravan is 2.55 metres.

What’s the speed limit when towing a caravan? 

You must stick to speed limits for road you’re travelling on, for example 20mph or 30mph in built-up areas.

You’re also limited to driving at 10mph below the limit where national speed limits apply – so 50mph on single carriageway roads and 60mph on dual carriageways and motorways. 

If you’re on a motorway of three or more lanes, you must not drive in the outside lane while towing your caravan.

Can passengers ride in a caravan when its being towed? 

No, it’s illegal and extremely dangerous to tow a caravan with anyone inside it.

It’s technically legal to tow with your dogs or other pets in the caravan, but it’s a really bad idea. They could become too hot, stressed and uncomfortable – caravans bounce and move during towing much more than cars.

They won’t be well protected in an accident and they could even escape while the caravan’s moving. It’s much better to secure them in your tow car with you.

Can I tow a caravan with a leased or hire car? 

When you lease a new car, you can arrange for it to be fitted with a towbar when you order it so the cost is part of your lease agreement.

You can also usually fit a towbar to a car you’ve already got on lease, but you’ll need to get the approval of the lease company first for the modification.

It’s possible to hire a car to tow a caravan. You’ll need to find a hire firm that rents out vehicles fitted with towbars (some companies specialise in this).

When you arrange your car hire, make sure you let the hire company know you’re planning to tow a caravan and check the hire vehicle will have the right type of towball for your hitch. 

By Derri Dunn

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