You need a license to tow

Today, one needs to have a licence that qualifies you to tow a trailer with a GVM of over 750 kg and, simply put, you could be fined or worse (such as in the event of a towing accident - your insurance company may refuse to pay out if you are caught towing anything heavier than your licence allows). To tow anything that has a GVM exceeding 750 kg you require a driver’s licence with an EB classification.
An EB classified driver’s licence allows the driver to tow up to 3 500 kg. If you don’t have this classification you have to book your learner’s licence at a nearby testing facility where you must be prepared to wait up to a year for a learner’s licence test. Regardless of whether you have a valid driver’s licence you have to pay your R60, submit two suitably sized pictures and sit for a learner’s test. On test day you will have to provide the car and caravan and do the test; to save time, try to book this test when you book your learner’s.

One would presume that an EB learner’s licence would work along the same lines as a driver’s licence in that you would have to find someone with an EB licence to go with you to practise towing! Luckily for all those ‘old’ drivers out there, you can apply for an exemption to get an EB licence; the criteria is that you must have been in the possession of a valid driver’s licence prior to the new credit card licences being issued. The minimum motor vehicle (car) licence allows the driver to tow up to 750 kg.

An interesting topic where the SABS are perhaps right on the money is what happens when you buy a standard caravan or trailer and opt to add extras. When this is done, the Tare mass must be recalculated, because when all the optional extras are taken into account, an overloaded suspension may result - and you have not yet added your clothing!

An example here is when you’ve purchased an off-road trailer for which the manufacturer quoted a predetermined Tare and GVM. You then add a non-standard deepfreeze, a water tank, extra batteries, a rooftop tent, a porta potti, spare wheel and fuel cans, and you end up with a trailer that is exceeding its GVM just with accessories. Chances are that you will be stopped at a weigh bridge, made to pay a hefty fine and will only be allowed to proceed once you have offloaded all the excess weight in order to bring the GVM back within what is stated on the trailer’s manufacturing plate.

KISS! “Keep it simple, stupid” is not a philosophy that will ever apply to traffic regulations. Local Authorities, in this writer’s mind, are only too willing to follow overseas trends that don’t always apply to South African conditions (two factors that come to mind are that we don’t have snow and road ice), and one can’t help but wonder how these regulations were arrived at.

Your car and ‘trailer’ is illegal if…

Did you know that by law, to tow any trailer with a GVM of up to 750 kg, the Tare of the drawing vehicle must be double the GVM of the trailer! In other words the drawing vehicle must have a Tare (licence weight) of 1 500 kg in the case of a trailer with a GVM of 750 kg, whereas a trailer of 300 kg requires a minimum towcar Tare mass of 600 kg. Let’s put that into perspective: a six cylinder 2.5-litre BMW 325 Touring has a Tare of 1 425 kg, which means that it would be illegal if towing a 750 kg unbraked trailer! Many cars towing unbraked trailers are therefore street illegal.

However, should the trailer be equipped with its own braking system and fall into the category of 751 kg to 3 500 kg GVM, then the Tare of the drawing vehicle must be more than or equal to the GVM of the trailer!

If you have service brakes (vacuum or hydraulic) fitted to the trailer you can tow up to your vehicle’s GVM providing that you do not exceed the 3500 kg trailer GVM. If you are going to tow a trailer that exceeds 3500 kg GVM, the trailer must have a service brake in addition to over-run brakes.

In addition to this there are other parameters that define what your car may or may not tow. The GCM or Gross Combined Mass has to be displayed on a vehicle’s identification plate. To determine what the vehicle may tow you have to subtract the GVM from the GCM, i.e. GCM less the GVM = 2925 kg -1725 kg = 1200 kg


A Chevron is a board with reflective yellow and red striping set at an angle that is fixed across the rear of a trailer or caravan. All new trailers as well as any vehicle with a GVM exceeding 3 500 kg require a Chevron board. A full chevron may be cut if the full chevron is wider than the trailer, and if a chevron does not fit at all, red reflectors may be used. In addition two red triangles are now required on trailers up to 3 500 kg.

Contour markings

Contour markings refer to the yellow reflective tape, which only applies to caravans in South Africa. According to Regulation 1192A this tape must be applied to all trailers after January 2006 and all new motorhomes from July 1, 2007.

Towing in tandem

There are some caravaners who like to tow an additional trailer or perhaps even a boat behind their caravan and do so quite successfully. While there is no immediate restriction to prevent this practise – other than the warranty of the caravan becoming null and void – there are certain restrictions.
The first restriction is that you may not have two vehicles (a vehicle is classified as having an engine driving wheels) pulling a trailer; rather you are allowed one towing vehicle pulling two trailers (a caravan and a luggage trailer or boat) providing the maximum length does not exceed 22 metres.

One regulation has been relaxed: you may now have passengers in a caravan providing you do not exceed 30 km/h! This is daft.

What you will be required to do

We apologise for the negativity in this article; we just think that the infrastructure of having someone teaching you how to tow a caravan does not exist and, most importantly, that facilities for such testing do not exist. And finally, what is the purpose of needing a special licence to tow? In America one doesn’t need a towing licence! Over-regulating may even prevent someone from considering going caravaning, and an industry stands to lose.

We telephoned the Cape Town Traffic department – Driver’s licence section – to find out how one goes about getting an EB licence. It turns out that all those lucky drivers who had a valid driver’s licence not marked as B can apply for an exemption for an EB classification.

We have approached the SABS for comment on this article, but have not received a reply.

Terminology and other requirements


• Motor vehicle – includes trailer.
• Trailer – includes all vehicles designed to be drawn by a motor vehicle and that run on wheels.
• Semi trailers – trailer with no front axle and at least 15% of the mass is carried by the drawing vehicle.

Manufacturer’s responsibilities

• Must register with the province
• Must comply with requirements of MIB Inspectorate – SABS
• Must have all relevant legislation and SANS specifications
• Must build trailers in terms of specifications and homologation requirements.

Driving licences

• B – Can drive a vehicle up to 3 500 kg Tare and GVM
• C1 – Can drive a vehicle of 3501 kg to 16 000 kg Tare and GVM
• EB – Can drive a vehicle up to 3 500 kg Tare, GVM and GCM

Brakes: Roadworthy requirements

• Any trailer up to 750 kg GVM requires a parking brake.
• Trailers weighing between 751 kg and 3 500 kg require a parking brake and overrun brake/service brake.
• Trailers weighing in excess of 3 500 g require a parking brake and service brake.
It is interesting to note that a parking brake can be a brick behind a wheel.

Manufacturer specifications: Reg 239 and Reg 245

• GA – Gross axle mass
• GAU – Gross axle unit mass
• GVM – Gross vehicle mass
• GCM – Gross combination mass
• GKM – Gross kingpin mass
• T – Tare
• P/D – power of engine – kilowatts


In relation to a motor vehicle this means the mass of such a vehicle ready to travel on a road and includes the mass of:
A) Any spare wheel and all other accessories and equipment supplied by the manufacturer as standard for the particular model of motor vehicle.
B) Anything that is a permanent part of the structure of the vehicle.
C) Anything attached to such a vehicle so as to form a structural alteration of a permanent nature.

It does not include:

• The mass of fuel
• Anything attached to such a vehicle which is not part of the nature referred to in paragraph (B) or (C).

Gross combination mass

In relation to a motor vehicle which is used to draw any other motor vehicle, this means the maximum mass of any combination of motor vehicles (including the drawing vehicle) and load as specified by the manufacturer thereof or, in the absence of such specification, as determined by the registering authority.

“Gross vehicle mass”, in relation to a motor vehicle, means the maximum mass of such vehicle and its load as specified by the manufacturer thereof or, in the absence of such specification, as determined by the registering authority.