I recently had the misfortune of experiencing engine failure in my beloved Kia Sorento – conveniently it went kaput on me just a week before Christmas, which wasn’t ideal! However I think my lucky stars that I was not towing at the time, and that I just happened to be pulling into a service stop when the trouble began. Imagine the stress I would have gone through trying to get Paddy home too!
The cost of repairing my car was a large percentage of its value, and as I’m not a mechanic (I KNEW I should have put this as my second choice on the CAO, but would my mother listen?) and couldn’t do the labour myself, I decided to cut my losses and invest the money plus some savings in a replacement car that would hopefully last me a few years. Being the overanalyser that I am, I spent the majority of my Christmas holidays poring through Carzone & DoneDeal, making a shortlist, reading multiple vehicle reviews, and adding in a few spreadsheets for good measure. This experience, and all of my research, has taught me two things:
- Not enough people know about or understand our Irish towing laws/regulations.
- There is no such thing as a car that will safely & legally tow a horse, and also double up as a cost-efficient day-to-day car.
I wish that I had a resource with the essentials of towing in Ireland when I was trying to search for a vehicle, but I couldn’t find one, so I have decided to compile everything I have learned into a simple guide – hopefully it will help someone! I have broken it down into the steps I took when researching a vehicle myself, so hopefully it is logical.
The most important thing you must ensure before taking your equine friend out and about is that you have the correct licence for your adventures. The RSA explains it very clearly here on this page, but briefly:
- A standard car licence (B Licence) allows you to drive a vehicle and trailer where the combined maximum mass of the two does not exceed 3,500kg.
- Maximum mass simply means the total authorised weight – so the total weight of your vehicle, passengers, kit and the maximum authorised trailer weight must not exceed 3,500kg combined.
- The most important bit here is the word authorised – a trailer may only weigh 750kg including the load but could have a maximum authorised mass of 900kg for example – this could potentially change whether or not you are legally driving on a B Licence.
- There are very few setups which would enable the holder of a B Licence to tow a horse in a trailer – they do exist, but require a lot of research, and my recommendation is that you get your BE licence to give you complete peace of mind.
- The BE Licence allows drivers to tow trailers where the combined maximum mass of the vehicle and trailer exceeds 3,500kg.
- You only have to do a theory test once – if you did one for your B licence you do not need to do it again to get a provisional BE, but if you have never done one before then you’ll need to do it. You will also need a qualified Category BE driver (licensed for 2+years) with you when on a provisional – same as a car.
Basically, get your BE licence and you are legally good to tow your buddy to all the shows and clinics in the land. Well, as far as your licence is concerned anyway. I’ll get to the towing vehicle in a bit.
The Category BE Driving Test
The BE Category driving test is actually quite straightforward. You can book it on RSA just as you would with a car test, but the waiting times are usually much shorter as there is less demand.
- You do your theory in the test centre, followed by your practical checks on both the car, and the trailer.
- You will be asked to demonstrate coupling and uncoupling (I was only asked to talk through it rather than do it!)
- The driving element is pretty much the same as a driving test, with the only difference being your reverse around a corner is done in a safe enclosed space, rather than out on the road.
- My recommendation is to hire the vehicle and trailer, as you are required to place blocks in the trailer to ensure the weight of the trailer is correct in the test. These blocks must be of a specific dimension and they do check them. Hire companies will have this all set up for you.
As I had never towed at all before I booked my test, I chose an offer from the Irish School of Motoring which gave me a block of towing lessons, a pretest, and the hire of their vehicle + trailer for a fixed price, and I personally found it worth every penny. Not only did I pass my test first time (!), but I also felt more confident when it came to towing my own neddy.
OK, so you’ve got your BE licence, now just go buy a car with a towbar and off you go, right? No. Not right. Just as having a scalpel does not legally allow me to operate on people, having a towbar does not mean the car is legally capable of towing a trailer.
Vehicle Towing Capacity
Every towing vehicle has a legal towing capacity set out by the manufacturer – you can find this in the owner’s manual, on a plate on the side of the door, or a quick trip to Google should sort it out for you too. Do not rely on the person selling the car to know/tell you the truth!The towing capacity is the maximum weight that the vehicle can legally tow, and this is what the Guards check for – a couple of things to note on this:
- There are two towing capacities quoted – Unbraked and Braked Towing Capacity. All horse trailers have their own braking system so you should look at the Braked Towing Capacity (the higher figure).
- The towing capacity includes the weight of your trailer, and whatever is in it – so you will need to know the weight of both to make sure you are legal. The actual weight of the trailer & its contents, rather than the maximum capacity, is what is assessed to make sure you are legal.
- The average horse weights 550kg and the average pony weighs 500kg. Please bear in mind that some are heavier/lighter so know the weight of your own horse.
- To tow an Ifor Williams trailer plus one horse, I would recommend a vehicle with no less than a 2,000kg (2tonne) towing capacity.
- To tow an Ifor Williams trailer plus two horses, I would recommend a vehicle with no less than a 2,500kg (2.5tonne) towing capacity – 3,00kg if it is a larger trailer (510) with two large horses.
- You can use this site to input your trailer type and your horse(s) weight – this will tell you which vehicle’s are legal.
- Automatic cars usually have a lower towing capacity than a manual.
- Four-wheel drive usually have a higher towing capacity than their two wheel drive cousins.
One final tip/warning: Not every single version of the same model of car has the same towing capacity! Take the screenshot on the right hand side for example – a range of vehicles from the same Santa Fe line (2008-2012), yet they all have vastly different towing capacities. Do your research – read the owner’s manual on test drive, look up the car online, and don’t make an expensive mistake.
My Towing Vehicle Must-Haves
So you’ve pleased the legal towing gods, but the most important thing of all is making sure that your four-legged friend who willingly walks into the big metal box for you is safe on his journey. That means choosing a reliable, safe and sturdy towing vehicle which won’t let you down when you need it most. It also needs to be practical for you! Here is the list I went through when looking for a towing vehicle:
- Four-wheel drive – this is an absolute must for me, especially if I plan to event. I don’t fancy getting stuck in a field! Also, our yard is up a hill so I need to be able to go up and down without worrying.
- SUV – I won’t tow with a car. Lots of people do (I hear the Passats and Octavias are great). I just won’t. Plus I like being all high and mighty in my SUV.
- Big boot space, collapsible back seats – I have way too much stuff to try and jam into a car and I need lots of space.
- Manual – again, each to their own. However I have found that automatics tend to have lower towing capacities, less power, and I like to have the option to get myself out of trouble if I find myself stuck.
- Diesel – fuel economy!
- Decent horsepower – I need something with enough guts to get me up some of the hills around our yard!
- Optional four-wheel drive. Being able to turn 4WD on and off means better fuel economy.
- Traction control & Hill Descent. Depends where you live and the seasons!
- Reversing Camera & Parking Sensor. I’m a shite reverser. And it takes me about four hours to park the trailer.
- Leather seats – horsey people. Much mud. Enough said!
- Detachable tow-bar. I have heard too many horror stories about these and I refuse to tow with a vehicle that has one. Each to their own.
- Bonkers Tax – I tow one horse, once a week max, and do on average 12k miles a year. I cannot justify spending €1,500+ on taxing a 3l engine, as my budget doesn’t stretch to the newer versions. However most towing vehicles pre-2008 (some as far as 2011) will have tax of 950+. My Sorento was €1,080 and an automatic Freelander is €1,200! I set my limit at €1k per annum in tax to allow for a decent sized engine that balanced with my budget.
So, what did I go for?
In the end, I went for a Hyundai ix35 2.0 Diesel. It is 4WD, tows 2,000kg and is economical enough to run as my day to day car. I was lucky enough to have the chance to hitch my box up and take Paddy for a quick spin around the area to see how the car towed and it was perfect. I wouldn’t put a second horse in it but it does exactly the job I need it for. Other vehicles I looked at were (criteria: max 2.5 engine, 4WD, low tax as possible, min 2,000kg towing capacity):
- Hyundai Santa Fe 2.2
- Volkswagen Touareg 2.5
- Volkswagen Tiguan 2.0
- Landrover Freelander 2.2
- Nissan X-Trail 2.2
- Toyota Rav4 2.2
- SsangYong Rexton
No matter what vehicle you choose, remember that towing really puts a strain on the engine of any vehicle. Ensure that you service your car regularly (I do mine every 10,000 miles/15,000kms), check the oil often, and don’t leave it even a day late to replace worn parts. The safety of both you and your horse is too valuable to compromise, and a few quid saved now is not worth what could be a more serious accident or financial loss down the line.
To Sum Up:
- In most cases to legally tow a trailer you will need a Category BE Licence.
- Take my advice and hire the vehicle & trailer for your test if you can – and do a pretest at least!
- The weight of your trailer & its contents must not exceed the towing capacity for the vehicle you are towing with.
- Thoroughly research your vehicle before purchase and ensure you are both legal and safe.
- Happy (& safe) travels!
Please note: This is my experience and interpretation of my research, and is no way intended to be used as a substitute for the rules of the road. I recommend you consult the RSA & NDLS websites and read the section on trailers thoroughly to ensure you are fully informed on the legalities of towing a trailer. Always research any vehicle thoroughly before purchasing.