Towing with a motorhome has never been an easy feat. The rules around it are unclear and murky and differ widely depending on where you are in the world.
However, this does not halt the need for answers, and so we have decided to dedicate this article to provide you with a clear set of guidelines for towing with a motorhome in 2021.
We will be looking in particular at the ever expanding issue of A-frames, and whether they are legal in the EU (European Union). So, buckle up because with this topic you are in for a bumpy ride.
What do we mean by ‘towing’?
If you are a newcomer in the world of caravanning, camping, and motorhome-having, first of all welcome! Secondly, you may be wondering what on earth we mean by towing with a motorhome.
Sure, we can all understand that caravans can be towed on the back of our vehicles, but if we have a motorhome, why would we need to tow anything?
Well, towing from a motorhome is actually a more common desire than you may think. Some people want to tow trailers full of their gear that won’t fit into the motor home itself, whilst other want to tow their actual car so they can use it when they’ve set up on-site, leaving the motorhome there ‘static’ (by this we mean just leaving it parked up as you would a normal caravan) and using their personal car for travelling from their base.
When you want to transport your personal vehicle behind your motorhome, you will typically choose to do one of two things:
- You may place the car on the ground with all four wheels on the floor, attaching it directly to the motorhome. This way the car can travel along behind your motorhome, moving along as if it was driving behind you.
- The second option involves mounting the car onto a trailer and towing the trailer. The trailer is attached to your motorhome and has its own wheels to follow you along the road. The car is safely on top of the trailer, static and unable to drive along behind you. Some people may even tow motorbikes or push bikes in this way.
The former – the towing of a car on the back of a motorhome without a trailer – is often done via an A-frame. What is an A-frame, we hear you ask? Well, head on over to the next section where we answer that question for you.
What is an A-frame?
An A-frame is a frame which, yep, you guessed it, is shaped like the letter ‘A’. Its purpose is solely for towing, and gets attached to a vehicle (typically a car) using the two symmetrical ends of the ‘A’ and then gets attached to the back of another vehicle (typically a motorhome in our experience) using the ‘pointed’ end of the ‘A’.
The use of an A-frame is the source of most of the confusion, stress and lack of clarity around towing. This is because, in many countries around the world, and certainly in the EU, A-frames are illegal for towing.
This is because vehicles are not permitted to tow other vehicles. However, here in the United Kingdom, the rules are very different. Here, the use of A-frames is absolutely fine and towing vehicles with other vehicles is common practice.
A Frame Towing Law in Europe
We have often heard stories from fellow motorhome owners of being stopped by police in EU countries such as Spain and Germany and told that they are not allowed to tow their vehicle on the back of motorhomes.
This understandably leads to confusion over whether they should be allowed to because it is legal in the United Kingdom. As it stands, you should absolutely follow the laws of the country you are in – especially when it comes to road safety.
In fact, the official United Kingdom Government website states that you should not even venture to risk it, leaving your A-frames at home when travelling outside of the UK, and managing without another vehicle or trailer full of things unless of course, you have thoroughly investigated the situation in the country you intend to visit.
A quotation from the Government website tells us:
Again, to clarify, the United Kingdom government specifies that you should thoroughly investigate the situation and legality in regards to A-frame and towing if you plan to travel outside of the United Kingdom. It is not a case of A-frames being illegal, but more a case of a vehicle towing another vehicle being illegal.
Now, there are rules and legal issues surrounding the use of A-frames even in the more lenient UK. These will be explored in detail in the next section of our guide.
A-frames in the United Kingdom
As we have already explored, A-frames are legal in the United Kingdom. However, they must be used following strict guidelines set by the Government here.
The first important point to make is the fact that when a vehicle has an A-frame attached to it and another vehicle is consequently being towed by the vehicle, the towed vehicle and the driving vehicle essentially become one unit.
They are no longer classed as two separate vehicles but as one whole vehicle. In this way, it is treated as a trailer. The vehicle that is being towed must have its number plate covered and instead display the same number plate as the car that is driving, as you would a trailer.
As well as having the same number plate as the car that is driving, you should also make sure that the vehicle being towed (the car and A-frame assembly) have a braking system that complies with the legal requirements set out in UK law and the construction, fitting and performance specifications that are required by the European Community Directive (71/320/EEC).
As an alternative to this, you can also ensure it complies with corresponding regulations from UNECE (No.13.09. Regulation 86A of C&U). These regulations regard the use of a secondary coupling.
There are also weight restrictions and guidelines in place with regards to towing with an A-frame. As we mentioned earlier, towing a vehicle on another vehicle with an A-frame gives the towed vehicle the status of a trailer.
If your trailer has a maximum laden weight that is under 750kg, then they are not required to have brakes fitted. Good news for trailers, right? However (and this is an important point!) if the trailer (whatever size it is, whether it is above or below 750kg) already has a braking system fitted, then it must be used. What this means for you is as follows:
The vehicle that you are towing with an A-frame is classed as a trailer. Of course, as it is a vehicle (likely a car), it will already be fitted with a braking system. In order for it to be allowed to be towed, the braking system of the towed vehicle must be in full working order. By this, we mean that the brakes must operate correctly and efficiently.
An exception to this rule can be actioned if the vehicle being towed has broken down. In this case, there are special provisions in place by the C&U (Construction and Use).
Also, keep in mind that if you are using a remote device to actuate the brake pedal of your towed vehicle, then the remote device must also be properly set up in line with regulations to ensure that the vehicle can brake safely, efficiently and stably.
Can all vehicles be used with an A-frame in the United Kingdom?
It is important to note that not all vehicles are compatible with an A-frame. These vehicles tend to be more modern vehicles that have been equipped with safety features such as advanced emergency braking, regenerative braking, and electronic stability control.
All of these advanced safety features can mean that the vehicle will not be compatible with an A-frame, because it will not meet the legal requirements needed for using an A-frame.
Our best advice would always be to consult the manufacturer of both vehicles (the one you intend to tow and the car you are driving if needed) as well as the manufacturer of the A-frame. This will ensure that you can get an answer on whether the requirements will meet all the regulations you need them to meet.
Again, to make it clear, we want to remind you that the vehicle being towed must have the number plate of the vehicle you are driving clearly displayed. As well as this, the towed vehicle should also have red triangular reflectors on the rear.
Pros and Cons of Using an A-frame
There are many different factors that should be considered before choosing an A-frame for the purpose of towing a vehicle on your motorhome.
We thought that the best way to explore whether it is the right choice for you is to break down the pros and cons for you. This way you can see what applies to you and weigh up whether it is worth it or whether you should seek other ways of towing.
We always like to give you the good news first, so let’s have a little look at the pros of using an A-frame installation to tow a car.
- One of the biggest pros when it comes to fitting an A-frame is that of space. Towing a vehicle with an A-frame is a huge space saver, especially when you compare it with the other forms of towing such as a towing trailer or transporter trailer. This is immensely helpful if you are going to be taking your motorhome and vehicle to a campsite. It cuts down on the need to have even more space around you that you may have to pay for since the A-frame can be safely stored under the motorhome when not in use.
- Campsites typically provide pitches for a car along with a caravan or motorhome. However, it is rare to find one that will also supply the room for a transporter trailer, unless of course, you pay for it (but even then, many campsites just don’t have the extra space for this).
- Buying an A-frame is considerably cheaper than the price of a transporter trailer. If cost is a huge issue for you, you will definitely be thankful to go for something like an A-frame as a way of transporting your vehicle instead. They are also fairly simple to install, too. This means you can do it with relatively little experience and with as little fuss as possible.
- If you are travelling within the UK, then an A-frame set up will be more than good enough. Provided you follow the regulations set out by the government that we have relayed back to you above, then you will have no issues and will be able to tow your desired vehicle behind your motorhome with ease.
- It can be quite difficult to modify an A-frame to every car. You need to thoroughly research and check that the A-frame you buy will be compatible with the vehicle in question. As we mentioned earlier, not all cars will be compatible, especially when considering braking. It is an incredibly important thing to get right.
- A-frames tend to only work with very small cars – typically 750kg and under. For example, smaller Fiat models like the Fiat 500, and Smart Cars are ideal for this purpose. However, not everyone will have these cars, and it may seem like a silly waste of money to buy a small car especially for the purpose of towing with your motorhome.
- It is almost impossible to properly reverse. You may be able to move a few feet behind you, but that is all. This is because there is no pivot point of the car being towed. It is not being steered in any way, and can only move forwards in the direction the motorhome is driving.
What are your other options?
The other options you have for towing a vehicle centre around the use of a trailer. The best option is to get a car transporter trailer.
These trailers tend to come in a variety of sizes with the allowance for a variety of different weight capacities. This means you will be able to find one for whatever car you have with relative ease.
Of course, you will still have rules and regulations to follow, and you should seek advice from the United Kingdom government website if you are unsure.
Generally, though, the rules are very much the same to the ones we laid out in the earlier sections of this article with regards to A-frame towing.
A car transporter trailer is not just for cars either. You can also use it to tow motorbikes, pushbikes, and other equipment that you may need on your trip. You may not even want to tow another vehicle on it at all.
Some people may choose to tow furniture and equipment that they may need for ina and around their motorhomes such as garden furniture or a BBQ – the choice is entirely yours. Thankfully this way of towing is far more versatile and allows for more freedom of use.
Of course, a car transporter trailer allows you to reverse. This is a huge positive point when compared to the A-frame method. Albeit tricky, reversing a trailer can still be done safely. There are, of course, some less positive factors that should also be considered.
For example, car transporter trailers tend to be a little more expensive to purchase, and can often be a little trickier to fit. That being said, they are more universally appealing, and they hold their value well if you ever want to sell it.
They also take up much more room in an A-frame. When you camp with your motorhome, not only will you need space for the motorhome itself and the vehicle you bring, but you will also need somewhere to store the transporter trailer.
There you have it! That is our complete guide on towing with a motorhome in 2021. We hope we have been able to answer your question ‘are A-frames legal in the EU?’.
We are sure you will agree with us when we say that the laws surrounding A-frames are murky at best. In our opinion, it is always most beneficial to err on the side of caution and perhaps seeking other avenues for towing.
However, as the government website states, it is worth researching the country you plan to travel within to see their specific rules.
Here in the United Kingdom, A-frames are absolutely fine to use, provided the guidelines are followed exactly. If you are ever in doubt, you could always opt for a car transporter trailer instead.
Happy travelling, folks!