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Can you tow a car if it’s uninsured?

22/07/2021

SORN
If you find yourself in a situation where you need to tow a car it’s vital that you understand the rules and regulations involved, particularly where insurance is concerned.
One of the most common reasons for towing a car is to move it to a location for repair or disposal. This could lead to questions around whether the vehicle being towed needs its own car insurance policy.
First things first: when doesn’t a car need car insurance?

Generally speaking there are only four scenarios where a car will not require insurance in the UK:

  • If you have a valid statutory off-road notification (SORN) for the car
  • If the vehicle has been off public roads since before 1st February 1998
  • If the vehicle has been scrapped, stolen or exported and you have given official notice of this
  • If the vehicle is between dealers or is being held in stock by an authorised dealer.
When do I need to declare a SORN?

A SORN provides official notification to the government and the authorities that a car is not being parked or driven on public roads and is officially ‘off road’. It means you don’t need to pay tax or car insurance for that vehicle, but also that you aren’t legally permitted to drive or park it on a public road.

Common reasons for declaring a SORN include:

  • Putting a car into storage if you don’t plan to use it for a while
  • Temporarily storing a vehicle that is waiting to be scrapped
  • Working on restoring a car that isn’t yet roadworthy.

If you fail to declare a SORN and don’t have proper tax and car insurance, you could face an automatic fine of £80.

Furthermore, it’s important to remember that as soon as the vehicle is out on the road it must be insured and taxed, and in some cases this rule holds true even if the vehicle is being towed.

Can you tow an uninsured car?

If you’re planning to tow a SORN car then whether you need separate car insurance for that vehicle before you tow it will usually depend on how the vehicle is being towed.

If you are using a rope or chain to tow the vehicle and will be towing it on public roads the vehicle will still need to be taxed, insured and have a valid MOT.

A car being towed could still be involved in an accident or pose a hazard to other road users or pedestrians, after all, so it’s essential that third-party only insurance is in place at the very least in order to protect those third parties.

Furthermore, if you’re using a rope or chain to tow the car the people behind the wheel of both vehicles must be properly insured to drive those particular vehicles, or they could receive financial penalties and points on their licences.

However, if you’re planning to tow a SORN car but you’ll be using a tow-bar rather than a rope the rules are rather different. When using a tow-bar the towed vehicle will be legally classed as a trailer, so provided your own car insurance policy includes cover for pulling a trailer (or you take out a standalone trailer insurance policy) the towed vehicle won’t need its own car insurance policy.

Does car insurance usually cover towing a trailer?

Many comprehensive car insurance policies will provide cover for towing trailers, but it’s worth checking if this extends beyond third-party liability.

If your policy only goes as far as third-party liability your trailer (or in this case the car you’re towing with a tow-bar) wouldn’t be covered in the event of an at-fault accident.

The wisest course of action is to speak to your insurer about exactly what you’re planning to do, and make sure you’re satisfied with the level of cover you have.

Is temporary insurance a suitable option?

If you are planning to use a rope to tow the car you don’t necessarily need to take out an annual car insurance policy in order to ensure it’s covered – temporary car insurance could be a suitable (and more cost effective) option.

Short-term or temporary car insurance can be a useful option in a whole range of different situations, of course – if you are lending your vehicle to a friend or relative for the weekend, for instance. While it’s possible to add a named driver to your existing car insurance policy in many of these situations, this could have drawbacks such as the potential cost and the risk of losing your no-claims discount if a claim is made.

These temporary policies are also useful if you’re towing a car and only need to insure it for the duration of that journey. If you are towing a car in order to dispose of it, for instance, a temporary option such as one-day car insurance could be ideal to ensure you are legally covered at an affordable price. However, it’s important to remember that the person in control of the car that’s being towed must also be a qualified driver and be properly insured.

There are a number of dedicated providers that offer specialist one-day and temporary policies suitable for various situations. It’s worth shopping around and comparing quotes to find cheap temporary car insurance that meets your needs.

Towing rules and safety tips

As well as having the proper insurance in place, anyone involved in towing a car – whether it’s the driver of the towing vehicle or the one being towed – should be fully aware of the rules governing this type of driving and the safest way to go about it.

Here are some of the key rules and recommendations:

  • An ‘on tow’ sign must be placed at the back of the vehicle being towed
  • If the vehicles are attached by a rope or chain, the maximum permitted distance between them is 4.5 metres
  • If you are the towing driver, go slowly and steadily
  • Avoid any sudden braking and indicate in plenty of time, so the driver behind you has time to react
  • The person in the vehicle being towed must be a qualified driver
  • The driver of the car being towed should keep the ignition switch in the ‘on’ position to disengage the steering lock
  • Actively steer and brake in synchronisation with the driver towing you
  • Maintain tension in the tow rope or pole by applying light braking pressure
  • Stay as alert as you would be if you were driving, and pay attention to the towing car’s brake lights and indicators.

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