Do you need a tachograph to tow?

Tachographs are usually associated with larger vehicles such as lorries and buses but some vans need them too.

Light vans that weigh less than 3.5 tonnes don’t need a tachograph on their own but if the driver or business plans to use the van for towing then that can put you over the 3.5-tonne limit, which means the vehicle might need to have one fitted by law.

What is a tachograph?

Tachographs record information about a driver’s time, speed and distance at the wheel of a commercial vehicle. Their purpose is to ensure employers follow the rules around drivers’ working hours. 

Drivers have individual smart cards that they insert into the tachograph unit when they start work, a bit like clocking in, and the recording starts from that moment. Tachograph units have to be fitted to the vehicle’s interior and within the driver’s field of vision so they can easy see any visual warnings – for example, the unit might tell them they are close to that day’s driving limit.  

Each unit typically has a set of instructions that tell you how and where to mount it and the Driver & Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) also has advice about where to fit a tachograph unit


Do the old card tachographs still exist?

Analogue, card tachographs were replaced by digital ones on 1 May 2006. Any commercial vehicle registered on or after that date that requires a tachograph must have a digital one. The vast majority of vehicles that need a tachograph are now using modern digital ones, though a small number of older commercial vehicles may still be using analogue versions. 

Who has to have one?

Companies are legally obliged to fit a tachograph if the vehicle in question weighs more than 3.5 tonnes. This is often referred to as the gross vehicle weight (GVW) or the maximum authorised mass (MAM). That limit means most normal vans don’t need one but anyone using a van to tow a trailer or anything else may find they need a tachograph.

Many modern vans and pick-ups are capable of towing more than two or three tonnes. For example, the most powerful version of Ford Ranger pick-up can tow 3.5 tonnes and its gross vehicle weight is 3.2 tonnes, so a vehicle like this would certainly need a tachograph if it were to be used to anywhere near its full towing capacity for business or reward.  

If you only drive light vans up to 3.5 tonnes and never do any towing then your vehicle doesn’t need a tachograph.

I only drive vans under 3.5 tonnes. Do I need a tachograph?

If you only drive light vans up to 3.5 tonnes and never do any towing then your vehicle doesn’t need a tachograph. You only need one when its gross weight – including the trailer – exceeds 3.5 tonnes.

--« Max Earey 278

How can I tell what my vehicle’s weight limit is?

You can find a vehicle’s weight limits in the owner’s manual and they are usually detailed on a plate or sticker somewhere on the vehicle itself. This might be on the body behind the driver’s door, on the back of the fuel filler cap or in the engine bay, for example. It should also be possible to find out a trailer’s weight from its owner’s manual or on the trailer itself.   

What if I go over the vehicle’s weight limit without realising?

You are breaking the law. It is the responsibility of the vehicle operator to ensure it is legally compliant so if there is any question about the weight of the vehicle and/or the trailer, check before you set off. The DVSA can prosecute drivers and companies that do not obey the rules.   

Don't confuse gross vehicle weight (GVW) with the gross train weight (GTW): The GVW is the maximum permitted weight of the vehicle (plus any load it is carrying), while the GTW is the maximum permitted weight of the vehicle plus any trailer being towed and its respective load.

Are there any exemptions to the tachograph rules? 

A van or van and trailer combination that does not exceed 7.5 tonnes is given an exemption for carrying materials, equipment or machinery for the course of the driver’s work if they do not travel more than 62 miles from the radius of the vehicle’s base.

This is on the condition that driving the vehicles does not constitute the driver’s main activity and the goods are not carried for hire or reward. This would apply to builders carrying tools or materials for their own use, for example.

Some vehicles used or hired without a driver for agricultural, horticultural, forestry, farming or fishery will also fall within the 62 mile radius exemption.

What if I’m not driving for work – do I need a tachograph?

You do not need a tachograph if you are making a personal journey and driving a vehicle up to 7.5 tonnes (though you would need an appropriate licence to drive a vehicle that size). Tachographs exist to help enforce the laws around driving for work so they don’t concern personal journeys – though you may need to prove the trip is not for commercial purposes if questioned.

If, for example, you are towing a horsebox at the weekend, the Government’s advice is: “You do not have to conform to the rules [on drivers’ hours and tachographs] if you drive a horsebox up to 7.5 tonnes gross vehicle weight for personal use.” 

I’m still not sure. What should I do?

Further information about tachographs is published on the DVSA’s website. You can also call 0300 123 9000 or email