How Safe is a Towbar? (Expert Guide)

Used and maintained correctly, towbars are extremely safe. However, if the correct safety precautions are not followed, improper use of a towbar can result in a nasty accident.

You may want to cut corners and install your towbar as quickly and as cheaply as possible. But you have to bear in mind that using a towbar doesn't just impact the safety and wellbeing of you as a driver. It also affects any passengers you may have, livestock you could be towing and all other road users too.

So, in this guide we'll be discussing fixed and detachable towbar safety and why it should be your primary concern before you start towing. We will look at:

  • Choosing the right towbar
  • Towbar fitting
  • Legal requirements
  • How to use your towbar safely

Choosing the right towbar

The type of towbar you can have depends entirely on the make, model, variation and year of your vehicle. It is completely vehicle specific and should always be brand new. Why? Well, if you transfer a towbar from one vehicle to another, it might not fit correctly. Additionally, if you purchase a second-hand towbar, your safety could be compromised if you don't know the history of the towbar and whether it has been correctly maintained.

With all of this in mind, you should only ever purchase a brand new towbar that is specific to your vehicle. Luckily, these are really easy to find by putting your vehicle registration number into our towbar finder.

So, once you have found some suitable towbars for your car, you'll likely be presented with options including fixed, detached, flange and swan neck. One question we hear a lot is 'are detachable towbars safe?' and the answer is yes - as long as you use it correctly.

Detachable towbar safety is very important, and a fixed towbar is no safer than a detached towbar. It is all a matter of convenience and what you want to use the towbar for. If you plan on towing frequently, then a fixed towbar is probably best suited to you as it will be readily available all of the time. However, if you want a sleek design that can be removed when you're not using it, a detachable swan neck or flange towbar will be your best choice. Read about how to safely attach and detach the towbar neck here.

Towbar fitting

Lots of people probably have the ability to fit a towbar by following the instructions. However, most people do not have the right knowledge and expertise to fit a towbar safely and securely. And, if you tried to fit a towbar yourself or a friend offers to fit it for you, you could be seriously compromising your own safety and that of others on the road too.

To ensure your towbar is 100% safe to use, and under warranty, you should only ever purchase from a specialist towbar manufacturer and have it fitted by a professional fitter.

That is why we only supply the highest quality towbars and have a network of approved service centres that can fit your towbar at home, or in the garage at a time that suits you.

Legal requirements for safe towing

Towing safely is much more than having your towbar fitted correctly. You also need to know how to use it correctly and follow some strict guidelines on towing in order to stay safe on the road. These are just some of the legal requirements you need to consider when you are towing.

  • Notify your insurance company if you have had a towbar fitted as this is a modification to your vehicle. If you are involved in an accident while towing, you may not be covered if you have not included towing on your insurance policy.
  • Your rear lights should always be visible. You should have a vehicle electrics kit fitted at the same time as your towbar fitting so that your rear car signals sync with those on your trailer, caravan or cycle carrier.
  • Your number plate should always be visible. There will likely be somewhere on your trailer to fit your additional number plate. If not, you should purchase a lighting board and fit your number plate onto that.
  • Never exceed the towing capacity that your vehicle is capable of towing. Not only is this breaking the law, but it could cause your trailer to sway and be a serious risk on the road if your vehicle is unable to control the additional weight it is carrying. The towing weight of your vehicle is a total of the kerb weight, any passengers and cargo plus the maximum weight of your trailer or caravan. Towing capacity is the maximum weight your vehicle can tow behind it. You can work out your towing capacity here or by using a safe towing calculator.
  • Licences issued after 1st January 1997 can tow a trailer that weighs up to 3,500kg MAM
  • Licences issued before 1st January 1997 can usually drive a vehicle and trailer with a MAM of up to 8,250kg or a minibus with a trailer up to 750kg.
  • You may need to take additional tests if you are over the age of 70 or want to increase what your licence allows you to tow. This is often related to towing a caravan, which you can learn more about here.

How to use your towbar safely

Your towbar should be brand new, vehicle-specific, fitted by a professional and regularly maintained. That way, you know you are setting yourself up for the best chance of towing safely and keeping yourself, and others, safe on the road.

Where can I find my vehicle's towing capacity?

You can find your tow weight and towing capacity on the VIN plate which is usually stamped under the bonnet or in the pillar of the car door. You should always check what your towing limits are to be sure you are not towing more than your vehicle is capable of and that it is safe and legal for you to tow.

What to check before towing

Before you set off, always check your towbar and trailer, bike rack or caravan are secure and ensure that the breakaway cable is firmly attached. You should also connect your vehicle electrics to your towbar so your rear signals are visible to everyone else on the road. Learn all about towbar electrics, how they work and why they're important so you can ensure you have the right kit and it is installed correctly.

Pull off slowly to ensure your trailer is safely attached and test the lights, ideally with someone checking the back of your trailer. The latest Westfalia electrical kits have WLC2 functionality which allows you to test the lights without the help of a second person. Once you are satisfied the trailer is safe and secure, you are ready to set off.

How to maintain your towbar

Towing a bike rack, trailer or caravan is perfectly safe as long as you follow safety guidelines and maintain your towbar. To maintain your towbar, you should have it regularly serviced and inspected so that you are still safe to tow. This should be checked by a professional, usually when your vehicle goes in for a service at least once a year.

Which towbar should I buy?

Witter and Westfalia towbars are durable, high quality and extremely reliable so you can be sure that your towbar is safe and well made because your safety is at the heart of everything we do.

Our towbars are specific to your vehicle and vehicle-specific electrical kits mean that the towbar and the electrics can sync perfectly with your car. You can even book your towbar fitting at one of our trusted garages or service centres, or even book a mechanic to fit the towbar on your driveway with our WebFit service.

You should only ever purchase a brand new towbar and have it fitted by a professional to maximise the safety of your vehicle and whatever you are towing. Your safety and that of others should never be compromised. So, tow safely and you will have an enjoyable experience on the road.