A Tree Surgeon’s Guide to Towing Capacity and Vehicle Speeds for Commercial Vehicles

Guides Health & Safety

3rd September 2019 | Info

As Arborists, we are required to transport equipment, machinery, woodchips, and wood to and from jobs. It is important to know your vehicle’s towing capability and speed limit to ensure you meet legal requirements and don’t break restrictions as these could have adverse effects on your tree surgery business.

The weight and size of a trailer that you can tow depends on at least seven key factors. Any maximum load that is specified under any of these cannot be exceeded – even if other criteria may seem to permit a higher weight.

The seven key factors are:

  1. The capability of your towing vehicle.
  2. The maximum weight capacity of your trailer.
  3. The brakes on your trailer.
  4. Your driving licence entitlement.
  5. The gross weight of your towing vehicle and the size of the trailer.
  6. Driving hours/needing a tachograph and your operator’s licence – GCW over 3,500kg
  7. Understanding of the terms used.

Within the tree surgery industry, it is necessary to put these factors into practice.

1. The capability of your towing vehicle.

The chassis plate on the vehicle states the maximum weights allowed:

  • The Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW)
  • The Gross Combination Weight (GCW)

Your vehicle handbook will either repeat what is on the chassis plate or, for convenience, it may directly specify the maximum weight of a trailer (e.g. 750kg) that you can tow. Under sections ‘O1’ and ‘O2’ of the V5C registration certificate you can often find out whether your trailer has brakes or not. Exceeding any of the above weights may be interpreted as driving in a dangerous condition.

However, if the sum of the maximum plated weights of the towing vehicle, and the trailer added together exceed the GCW of the towing vehicle, then this is is not considered to be a problem. As long as the ‘actual’ weight of the vehicle and trailer (which may not be fully loaded at the time) does not exceed the maximum Gross Combination Weight, then you do not break these regulations.

2. The maximum weight capacity of your trailer.

The manufacturer of your trailer will have had to determine the maximum weight that your trailer can be loaded to which is known as the Gross Vehicle Weight – GVW. You can find this marked on your trailer chassis plate. This weight cannot be exceeded. In some instances, you may find that the maximum axle weights of your trailer have been quoted instead. If this happens, then you must not exceed these either.

3. The brakes on your trailer.

This will depend on your trailer’s gross vehicle weight. If your trailer has a:

  •       GVW of 750kg or lower then it is not legally required to have brakes. However, if you do have brakes fitted then you must ensure that they are in full working order.
  •       GVW from 751kg up to 3,500kg then it is legally required to have brakes. In most cases, automatic brakes (Over-run, inertia brakes) are fitted.

4. Your driving licence entitlement.

You are not allowed to exceed the ‘entitlement to tow trailers given on your driving licence,’ even if the vehicle that you drive can do so. Your entitlement will vary depending on when your licence was granted. If you passed a standard (category B) car test after 1st January 1997, your entitlement is more restricted than that of people who took a car test before that date.

Unlike the above situation, your driving licence entitlement is calculated on potential weight – Maximum Authorised Mass (MAM) – rather than the actual weight. This means that if your entitlement allows you to tow a trailer with a MAM of 750kg, you cannot tow a trailer with a GVW of 1,500kg that is unladen, and so only weighs 500kg. You can only tow a trailer with a GVW of 750kg.

5. The gross weight of a towing vehicle and size of trailer.

A towing vehicle with a GVW of 3500kg or lower restricts the size of the trailer that you may tow. The trailer can be a maximum of 7m long by 2.55m wide. A larger and heavier vehicle can tow a trailer with a maximum length of 12m and a width of 2.55m. This applies to every situation except for when the trailer is specially designed to carry long loads (e.g. one or more boats/gliders), as then, the 7m limit does not apply.

6. Driving hours/needing a tachograph and your operator’s licence - GCW over 3,500kg

Your towing vehicle may require a tachograph if used for commercial purposes- this only applies to combination vehicles that have a GCW above 3,500kg. In this situation you must obey the drivers hours regulations. Similarly, you may find that operator licensing may apply.

7. Technical terms used above.

  • Chassis plateA plate or sticker affixed by the manufacturer specifying the maximum weights allowed. It is often found on a front-door sill. If you drive an HGV then your maximum load weight will be displayed on the Ministry Plate, or you will have a Plating Certificate VTG.  
  • The information displayed on a typical chassis plate on a car, and what it means:

  • GVW (Gross Vehicle Weight)This is specified by the manufacturer, and it refers to the maximum weight that your trailer (or vehicle) is allowed to be when fully loaded. It is the unladen weight of a vehicle plus the maximum permitted payload (unladen weight + maximum permitted payload). It is also known as Maximum Permissible Mass – you can find this under section F1 on the V5C.

 

  • GCW (Gross Combination Weight)This is determined by the manufacturer of your towing vehicle and refers to the maximum permitted weight of your towing vehicle and your trailer (including the loaded weights of both of them). GCW may also be referred to as the Gross Train Weight (GTW). To help find the maximum weight of a trailer that you can tow, you can do: GCW (Gross Combination Weight) – the GVW (Gross Vehicle Weight) of your towing vehicle. However, it is important to remember that if your towing vehicle is not fully laden, then you can use any left-over weight capacity as long as you don’t exceed the GCW and trailer GVW.

 

  • PayloadThe maximum weight of the load that can be carried on a vehicle. (The GVW minus the unladen weight of a vehicle).

 

  • Unladen or Kerb WeightThe weight of an empty vehicle, with no driver.

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