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Tow bars /couplings

Tow bars are something that are generally taken for granted, but there’s a raft of laws governing their height, type and the way they’re fitted. In this section, you’ll find an overview of the information that it’s important you know before towing your horse trailer.

What do I need to know?

According to European Law all light passenger vehicles registered on or after 1st August 1998 require a type approved towbar tested to Community Directive 94/20EEC. This law governs the height and dimensions of the towball to ensure a safe and level towing height of between 350mm and 420mm (ground to centre of towball).

Any vehicle requiring an approved towbar also requires an appropriately approved towball – its  'D' and 'S' values must match or exceed the towbar 'D' and 'S' values (these figures may be found on the towbar stamp or plate).

Please note: This is not retrospective and does not affect any vehicle registered before 1st August 1998.

How do I know if my towbar meets EC regulations?

Check your towbar for a label, plate or stamp - if it’s type approved you’ll find a number, e.g. E11xxxxxxx, and the details of the vehicle for which it is an approved fitment.

These labels must not be removed or defaced as this will invalidate the towbar manufacturer's warranty and would result in the towbar or towball not being identified as Type Approved.

Can I fit a type approved towbar myself?

Yes, provided you use the car manufacturer's approved mounting points and follow the tow bar manufacturer's instructions.

However, we would recommend seeking professional advice on at least the type and height at which your towbar should be fitted to tow your horse trailer, to ensure you don’t encounter issues with noseweight, and ideally that you get it professionally fitted for avoidance of doubt.

Tow bar height

According to EC Directive 94/20/EC the towball height before hitching should be between 350 and 420mm with the vehicle in the ‘laden’ condition. Alternatively, the towball may be at the height or within the height range specified by the vehicle manufacturer in the homologation documents / vehicle handbook.

The height of the trailer coupling should be 385 to 455mm with the trailer in the ‘laden’ condition. ‘Laden condition’ in this instance is when the trailer is loaded to its maximum specified mass, with this evenly distributed over the loading area.

As you can see, this is an area fraught with potential for error, so if you are in any doubt as to the height of your towbar, or feel that it is not at a suitable height for towing your trailer, i.e. when hitched your trailer floor slants (it should be completely level, or will seriously affect your noseweight), we recommend you consult a professional.


Tow Bar Heights & Noseweight

The noseweight of a trailer is the downward pressure that the laden trailer exerts on the towball of the towing vehicle. If this pressure is too high, the towing vehicle’s rear suspension will be compromised and the steering affected. It’s impossible to check a trailer’s noseweight with horses on board, so use the trailer manufacturer’s estimated noseweight for any calculations.
Tow bar height can also affect towing performance. If the towball is too high, it will have the same affect of too great a noseweight and will also cause the trailer to be unlevel.

If your towbar is fitted either too low or too high, DO NOT attempt to tow horses – you need to get it professionally re-fitted to be safe.

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Last updated: 25/04/2010
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