Payload and load volume remain two of the main buying criteria for many van fleets. Yet managers are having to balance these factors with a desire to downsize and to seek increased efficiency from existing vehicles.
Combine this with the growing unladen weight of many vans, as manufacturers cope with emissions compliance technology, Stop/Start systems and a host of driver assistance, and payload in particular can be the part of the equation that has to suffer.
The answer for some fleets could be opting to tow a trailer. Yet simply fitting a towbar and hitching a trailer to your van or pick-up might not be as simple as you think.
Firstly you need to assess the towing capacity of the vehicle, which is easily found on the VIN identification plate, to ensure that you don’t overload the van or pick-up. Secondly, you need to check that your drivers are entitled to drive a combination of that weight.
• If your driver passed their car test before 1 January, 1997, then they will have a B+E licence and are generally allowed to drive a vehicle and trailer combination with a maximum authorised mass (MAM) or combined maximum weight of up to 8.25 tonnes.
• Drivers that passed their car test after 1 January, 1997 will have a category B licence only, so can drive a vehicle up to 3.5 tonnes, or having a MAM of 3.5 tonnes with a trailer of up to 750kg. They can tow a trailer that is heavier than 750kg as long as the combined MAM is no more than 3,500kg. For anything heavier than that, they will need to take a B+E driving test.
• Drivers that passed their test after 19 January, 2013 will also have a category B licence and can tow small trailers of up to 750kg, or a trailer that is heavier than that where the combined MAM is no more than 3,500kg.
If the combined MAM of the towing vehicle and the trailer exceeds 3.5 tonnes, there may also be a requirement to fit a tachograph and for the driver to adhere to driver’s hours regulations. As a company you may also be required to have an Operators’ Licence.
A tachograph is required if the towing vehicle is to be used for hire or reward and the MAM exceeds 3.5 tonnes. There are some exceptions to this rule however. The first is that if you don’t travel more than 33 miles from base, then a tacho is not required.
Also utility contractors are in general exempt from the regulations, so can tow a mini digger to site without using a tacho. That said, a plant hire company pulling the same mini excavator behind the same type of van, will need a tacho if the gross MAM is over 3.5 tonnes, as this becomes hire and reward.
Complicated? Indeed it can be for the unwary. There can also be problems fitting a tachograph to a van or pick-up, if the vehicle hasn’t been designed with a way for the techo drive to tap into the transmission. Retro-fitting a tacho drive can be considerably more expensive than ordering one when the vehicle is new, so it’s worth bearing in mind if you intend to tow when specifying vans and light trucks.
Towing a trailer can provide much needed carrying capacity or additional payload, but it is well worth fleet managers checking how the rules and regulations will effect their individual operation before looking for a suitable trailer and coupling.