Catch a Tow

15 October 2012: It is a little-known fact, but not all cars on the market are automatically able to tow a trailer, and a growing number of cars are legally defined as non-towing vehicles. In addition, not every driver’s licence is an automatic passport to towing.

The basic “B” licence only allows a motorist to tow a light luggage trailer weighing less than 750 kilograms (fully laden), but if you want to tow a caravan or braked trailer, say, with a boat on it, then you need an EB licence.

An EB licence allows you to tow a vehicle with a gross combination mass (the combined tare weights of the tow vehicle and caravan) not exceeding 3,500 kilograms. Although, this could fairly comfortably be exceeded if you are using a top-end SUV (which can tip the scales at about 2,500 kg) to tow a large, twin-axle caravan that weighs in the area of 1,500 kilograms. So, if you have a B licence and will be towing a rig similar to what is outlined above, you will be illegal on two counts!  

All licences issued prior to the year 2000 and the change-over to the credit card system, were issued with a numerical coding, and 08 licences were automatically converted to EB licences. However, most motorists who have taken the test since then have the basic ‘B’ licence, which means a retest is required to qualify for an EB. Essentially, you need to go back to the testing station (making sure beforehand that you have selected one where the instructors and facility are equipped to carry out the test) and redo the test.

“It is not just the licence issue that needs to be considered. There is also the question of how suitable your vehicle actually is for towing,” says the Automobile Association (AA). “A number of car models on sale in South Africa, most small cars or hybrids, cannot be fitted with a tow bar, either because of structural or cooling limitations, or both.” 

Motorists considering purchasing these cars, either new or second-hand, often don’t know they are categorised as non-towing cars by their manufacturer, and cannot legally pull a trailer - ever. It could theoretically be done by having an ad hoc tow bar made up, but doing so could invalidate the vehicle’s  warranty and also potentially compromise vehicle stability.

“When considering a new car, check its towing capability and confirm if a tow bar can be fitted without voiding the warranty.  Obviously if you don’t plan on towing anything, then the choice is even simpler,” adds the AA.

Sidebar: Some tips for fitting tow bars

If you are planning on getting a towbar fitted (on a vehicle that is designed for such a fixture), make sure that the ball doesn’t obscure the numberplate, otherwise you can expect trouble from the law. A towbar with a removable ‘neck’ is an option, and you simply clip it in place when needed. When not in use, store it securely under the boot floor with the tools – don’t leave it lying around in the boot of the car…in an emergency situation it can become a dangerous missile.

Automobile Association of South Africa (AA)
011 799 1126

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