Japanese import towing weights

Why are Japanese import towing weights important?

A lot of the popular vehicles being imported from Japan at the moment are large, with big engines and loads of torque.  These characteristics generally make for a good towing vehicle, but what about these Japanese import towing weights?  This is a hot topic, so here is my attempt to offer some clarity.  It’s important because towing over the permitted weight for your vehicle could earn you a fine, a whole load of hassle and invalidate your insurance.

Lots of people want to tow with their imported vehicles, and it’s easy to see why.  I’m asked about towing with Alphards and Elgrands in particular on a regular basis, but the following applies to almost any vehicle imported from Japan.  There are some concerns about damage to the automatic transmission of these imported vehicles from the extra loads involved in towing, but I’m not going to cover that here.

Towbars are available for many imported vehicles, so just get one fitted and you’re good to go, right?

Well, sort of….in the UK, we are used to our cars having information about their maximum towing weight stamped on the VIN plate.  Here is an example from my old Honda CR-V:

Picture of a Honda CR-V VIN plate showing towing weights

In this picture you can see 4 weights on the VIN plate:

  • 1990 kg is the gross vehicle weight.
  • 3490 kg is the gross train weight or gross combination weight.  It is commonly stated that the maximum weight the vehicle can tow is the gross combination weight minus the gross vehicle weight i.e. 3490 – 1990 = 1500 kg in this case.  However, if the vehicle isn’t fully laden, you could tow more than 1500 kg as long as the gross combination weight is not exceeded.
  • 960 kg is the maximum front axle weight.
  • 1080 kg is the maximum rear axle weight.

In Japan, towing is much less common.  Most of the cars imported from Japan don’t have a towing weight on their chassis number plate.  Here is an example from the Toyota Alphard I’ve got for sale at the moment:

Picture of Toyota Alphard chassis plate to illustrate Japanese import towing weights

There are spaces for weights to be stamped, but there isn’t a single weight on the plate, not even the gross vehicle weight (more on that later).

How much can I tow with my Japanese import?

This isn’t going to be about how much your Japanese imported vehicle is capable of towing, rather it is about the legality of towing.  This is the subject of much debate so I thought I’d do some research.  I’ve contacted the DVLA, the Police and DVSA (VOSA) on your behalf.  I’ll go through the responses I received in the following sections.

International Vehicle Standards Division – Department for Transport

I made an initial phone call to the DVLA, and I was advised to contact the International Vehicle Standards division of the Department for Transport.  Here is the message I sent to them:

“This is an enquiry about the legality of towing with vehicles imported from Japan. I refer in particular to large luxury MPVs like the Toyota Alphard and Nissan Elgrand.  As far as I’m aware, these do not have a towing weight or gross train weight indicated on their VIN plate. As such, is it legal to tow with them at all? If so, how could the legal maximum towing weight be calculated?  I look forward to receiving any clarification you can offer on this matter.”

I received the following reply:

“You will need to contact the vehicles manufacturer and ask them if it is legal for you to tow with the vehicles you mention.”

I didn’t do this, because I didn’t see how a vehicle manufacturer could be best placed to comment on a point of law.

Next, I asked the Police about Japanese import towing weights

I sent the same set of questions via the Ask the Police website.  I received the following in reply:

“This is potentially a very complex matter. In some instances the vehicles don’t conform to UK dimensions/specifications and cannot be driven in the UK. If you are considering importing such a vehicle, we would suggest you use a reputable company who can advise you on all the various legal issues.

With regard to VIN plates, in some instances you may be able to have the vehicle retested – you will need to contact the DVSA about this via the information below:

enquiries@dvsa.gov.uk

Telephone: 0300 123 9000

The link below provides further information about vehicle approval/testing:

https://www.gov.uk/vehicle-approval

We hope this information is of use.”

This was a more helpful response in my opinion, and spurred me on to contact the DVSA (formerly VOSA) as suggested.

Japanese Import Towing Weights – Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency viewpoint

Part one of the response contained some useful information about who would be responding:

“Your query has been forwarded to a HGV/PSV Technical Officer who will respond to you directly.  Should you need to contact them directly you can contact them on the following:

Email: technicalofficers@dvsa.gov.uk

I hope this information has assisted you with your enquiry, but if you have any further questions please do not hesitate to contact us again.”

A few days later I received the following from one of the heavy vehicle technical officers at the DVSA:

“If a manufacturer has not specified a train weight it is usually because the vehicle’s design does not permit towing. Japan do not specify train weight on vehicles intended for use in Japan. As these vehicles do not have a train weight they will only be able to tow a combination weight (vehicle and trailer) up to the gross weight of the vehicle.”

This will not make comfortable reading for some people!

What does the GOV.UK website say about Japanese import towing weights?

This should probably have been my first port of call, but it was actually the response from the DVSA that led me to look.  The gov.uk website states:

“If your VIN plate doesn’t list a train weight, you should not use your vehicle for towing.”

Summary

I hope it has been helpful for you to read about my research on the subject.  Obviously nothing in this post is intended to be legal advice, nor is it intended to be the last word on the subject.  This seems to be one of those areas where there are lots of viewpoints, with each person asked giving a slightly different answer.  However, the response from the DVSA does seem to have been given by someone who knows their subject. If this is indeed how the law stands on the matter, some people will need to rethink their towing.  I know there are a number of people with Japanese imports towing way in excess of the gross weight of their vehicle.

If I find any more information on Japanese import towing weights, I’ll come back and update this article.

Your views on Japanese Import Towing Weights

I would love to hear your views on towing with vehicles imported from Japan.  If you know lots about the subject and feel the above information is incorrect, please let me know by commenting on this post.  If you can go as far as citing points of law or regulations, even better.  I haven’t made any enquiries about having a vehicle retested (as mentioned in the response from the police) but if you have, I’d love to hear about it.

38 Comments

  1. I have a 3ltr.Alphard and had a towbar fitted on purchase. I tow a abbey expression 540 and have towed it to Scotland and back with 5 people and a mobility scooter with no trouble.Not pulled over so I’d say no one is making a decision. As you say they don’t tow in Japan.

    • Hi John thinking of buying a 3ltr alphard to tow my caravan just wondering what is the weight of your caravan you pull with your alphard mine is 1700kg would a 3ltr pull this weight I have a 2.4 hybrid at the moment which will not pull this sort of weight thanks Angie

    • We bought our Alphard with no intention of towing but getting back into sailing l wanted to tow my dinghy. l contacted the dvsa and was specifically told l could not tow without any weights on the VIN. They gave me a list of companies approved to issue a new VIN. l contacted a company called SVTech who issued me with a new VIN with a gvm of 1880 kg and gtw 3130 kg. This was done in conjunction with data from Toyota. So not a huge towing capacity but legal. My ins co would not insure without this. DVSA confirmed once my new plate was in place l was good to go. Total cost £144 . Took a few months but l’m happy l’m fully insured and legal.
      Nick

      • Hi Nick

        Thank you so much for sharing this information, I’m sure it will be helpful to lots of other Japanese import vehicle owners wishing to tow.

        Andrew

      • The question is.. how did you find the GTW? Or did SVTech manage to calculate this somehow?

  2. My advice from the police is, grey imports don’t come under the EU 1998 regulations, therefore we would not try to apply them.
    Rules that do not exist can’t be applied.
    A trailer should not exceed the kerbside weight of the vehicle, preferably less and the tow bar should be fit for purpose.
    I personally tow with an E51 Elgrand, I tow a trailer with a Goldwing Trike on board, total weight of fully laden trailer 1250kg with a tow bar marked as, max towing capacity 1,500kg.
    I have no issues towing this weight with the 3500cc 6 speed auto Elgrand.
    One point I would make for the doubters, Is there any evidence or records of a comparative grey import driver being prosecuted for towing with their grey import vehicle, I don’t know of any.

    • Hi Dave

      Thank you very much for your input. Makes complete sense and is exactly the sort of response I was hoping for.

      Cheers
      Andrew

  3. Hi Andrew. Thanks for doing this research. Have you had any more information on this?
    My interpretation of DVSA comment is that if your GTW ( combined weight of towing vehicle plus trailer] cannot exceed the weight of the towing vehicle then the maximum weight of the trailer is zero.???

    Do you have any information about towing with a Volvo imported from Japan possibly?

    Many thanks.

    Adrian

    • Hi Adrian

      I don’t have any more information but I’m most grateful to those of my readers who have contributed the results of their own research.

      Not necessarily the case that the trailer weight has to be zero. If the towing vehicle was designed to carry 7 people but is only carrying one person, then based on the answers I’ve received, the trailer weight could be the difference between the gross vehicle weight and the current actual weight of vehicle plus driver. Obviously you’d need to visit a weighbridge to answer this question!

      About the Volvo – I don’t have anything definite, I guess it would depend on what is stamped on the chassis plate.

      Cheers
      Andrew

      • Hi guts the caravan club recommends not exceeding 85% of the gross vehicle weight of the towing vehicle, thus has served me well over the years, and to be honest mist people have seen a land rover with a 3.5ton towing capacity towing another land rover on a trailer the trailer and Land rover on board combined weight is possibly close to but doesn’t exceed 3.5ton but it us mist certainly over the 85% rule, in thus cenario the tail can wagg the dog so to speak, and I would certainly not attempt this, but the police seem to be mainly unaware of these issues and seem to only take into account the weights stamped on the plate
        We have just bought a 2017 Kua Niro and although this vehicle can tow on continental Europe unfortunately not in the UK even though we were told there’s a towbar in the accessories list on closer investigation this is only for a cycle carrier, most frustrated, when the car power output and GVW would easily tow a small trailer.

        • Larger 4×4 vehicles such as Landrover etc , will have a far higher towing capacity and permitted train weight ( towing vehicle and loaded trailer ) well in excess of this suggested 185%

  4. The issue is less about it attracting police attention, and more about the invalidation of insurance.

    I’m happy to take a spot fine on the chin if it comes to it, but being in a prang with invalid insurance, or getting drummed up for invalid insurance worries me a lot!

    I’m currently in the process of enquiring about having vehicles tested or retested to have a towing limit applied, but so far all I seem to be hitting are dead ends and merry go arounds, but as usual with matters like this if 6 different people ask a question like this they’ll get 10 different answers, I’ve already had different responses to what Andrew has had above asking similar questions!

    It’s well worth people asking the questions of the relevant authorities as well, in the hope that someone gets an answer that sticks and leads to a solution to this ridiculous technicality situation.

    (All I want to do is tow a 350kg trailer, not the titanic!)

    • Hi Mark

      Thanks for your comment and addition to the debate. I feel your frustration – very similar to what I felt!

      Cheers
      Andrew

    • I would think the most important people to ask is your insurance company. They could cause all sorts of grief if involved in an accident.
      Invalid insurance could prove very costly.

  5. Another nail in the possibility of legally towing with a JDM import. I emailed MIRA as they do official vehicle testing, and it was suggested they might be able to help. I’ve pasted their response below but it’s looking increasingly like only the manufacturer can provide a GTW figure. The only way I can see around this is maybe finding a fairly “understanding” company that offers an up-plating service, although I did already talk to SV Tech and they weren’t willing to entertain this, but maybe another company would?

    Dear Mr. Andrews,

    After contacting our relative department , unfortunately we would like to confirm that we do not do testing for GTW, it is only determined by manufacturer declaration. In this case it would then be best to contact the manufacturer and try to obtain a retrospective permitted GTW declaration from them.

    Sorry we could not take this project further.

    In the meantime, should you require further information regarding our services please take a look at our website http://www.horiba-mira.com.

    Thank you for your interest in HORIBA Mira.

    Kindest Regards

    • Well that’s it, dead end I guess. No way of getting it tested. It’s all down to the manufacturer. See below.

      Thank you for your email of 23 May to the DVSA enquiries inbox. This has been forwarded to the Department for Transport, International Vehicle Standards Division and I have been asked to reply.

       

      We advise that you contact the manufacturer of the vehicle and explain to them that the towing weights are not shown on your vin plate, and ask them if the vehicle is designed to have any towing capacity. If it has, are they able to provide a plate for the vehicle which indicates this.

       

      You cannot use a vehicle for towing which has no towing capacity shown on the vin plate.

       

      We are unable to assist with your enquiry as the Department has no knowledge of the vehicle’s specifications or whether it is suitable for towing.

       

      Yours sincerely

      ***Name supplied but removed for publication here***

      | Energy, Technology & International Directorate, International Vehicle Standards Division, Department for Transport

      • Hi Mark

        Thank you very much for taking the time to update this thread with your findings.

        Andrew

    • This is an exceptionally helpful thread. I fancied an Estima Hybrid and we have a camping trailer to pull and my conclusions are similar. You would probably be ok for normal driving but that one time you have a serious prang then you would probably be left high and dry with the insurance company using it as an excuse to drop you in it. I have an old trailer and it actually does have a rating plate. I looked into this when taking it to europe as there is a weird we “they have a law” “we don’t have a law” thing around registration and plating of trailers. I suppose in my case the easiest thing to do would be find an insurer willing to insure with a specific acceptance clause around the use of a trailer to a specific weight using (in the estima’s case) a fabricated towbar rather than a commercially made one. Or I’ll just buy a landcruiser, probably with a towbar already fitted.

  6. People who say that they don’t tow in Japan are obviously overlooking the fact that there’s plenty of Elgrands in Japan fitted with tow bars, also if you search any Japanese online parts/auction sites then you can buy tow bars that are manufactured in Japan.

    • Hi Rob

      Thank you for the correction. I know other comments have suggested towing doesn’t happen in Japan. In the article itself I said it was much less common and I stand by that comment, which is based on my own experiences of driving in Japan on numerous occasions.

      However, clearly it does happen and I agree there are tow bars available, including the humorously titled TugMaster by Suntrex!

      The focus of this article is more about the legality of towing in the UK rather than the capability of any particular vehicle to tow.

      Cheers
      Andrew

  7. Very interesting post, and a bit disappointing to read.

    has anyone thought to contact Toyota?

    I would but I do not have an Alphard. I’m just interested at the moment, but maybe not if it cannot legally tow (with insurance in mind).

    • I haven’t contacted any of the manufacturers myself. I wasn’t sure how much they’d be able to add to the debate. However if anyone out there reading this has contacted one of the manufacturers, please feel free to add your information to the comments.

      Cheers
      Andrew

  8. ok if you had one fitted already to your Elgrand have you got to take it off or is it ok to have one but not tow with it i ask this because a lot of bike racks use them ???

    • Hi

      All of this is my interpretation:

      If you’ve got a towbar on, I don’t think there is any need to remove it. And using it for a bike rack is likely to be fine, as it is much less likely that the weight of bikes plus rack plus passengers will take the vehicle over it’s gross weight. Unless you’ve got it full of 7 people, 7 bikes and 7 sets of luggage on the roof rack!

      Cheers
      Andrew

  9. There seems to be a head in the sand attitude to this issue, but that doesn’t prevent the insurance from wriggling out of a payout, plus if Vosa or the ‘Interceptors’ are having a slow day and decide to have you follow to a weighbridge, a potentially massive fine for ‘overloading a vehicle’ and then prosecution for invalid insurance with the associated massive fine plus 9 points is going to dampen your day!
    I think a bit of urgent research is needed if you’re determined to tow with a JDM vehicle that isn’t train weight defined?

  10. I have contacted Nissan and they have said the Elgrand has not been homologated to tow. I also contacted the DVSA and this is the response I had;

    Customer Service Centre,
    DVSA,
    Ellipse,
    Padley Road,
    Swansea,
    SA1 8AN.
    Good morning Mr.Adams,

    Thank you for your enquiry which has now been passed to me, due to its technical nature. This has caused a delay in you receiving a reply, for which I apologise.

    Unfortunately, it is a legal requirement that your vehicle is approved to receive a towing attachement for you to be able to tow a trailer. If the vehicle manufacturer has not approved your vehicle to tow, then you should not fit a coupling to the vehicle. In addition, your manufacturers plate must also display the train weight of the vehicle, if it is equipped to tow.

    It would not be possible to have an inspection by the DVSA, as it is a requirement of the Individual Vehicle Approval (IVA) regulations that the manufacturer provides confirmation of the train weight of the vehicle. This can only be provided if the vehicle has been approved to tow.

    While I appreciate that this is not the answer you had hoped for, I do hope that you have found this information to be of use. However, if you feel that I can be of further assistance in this matter, please do not hesitate to contact me.

    Best regards,

    Mark

    Technical Officer IVA M1 N1 O1
    Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency | Ellipse, Padley Road, Swansea, SA1 8AN

    I am obliged to emphasise that this advice is the view of DVSA and is not intended to be an interpretation of the law; Only a court of law is able to give a legal, definitive interpretation.

    Useful Links

    | IVA Scheme | Find Your nearest IVA Test Station |

    The staff at the DVSA Customer Service Centre are keen to hear your feedback on the service that they provide for you. This will enable us to further understand customer requirements and make improvements where possible. Please take a few moments to complete our Customer Service Centre Customer Feedback form by clicking here

    Stay informed: Sign up for free email alerts and newsletters from DVSA Direct

    • Hi Patrick

      Thank you very much for taking the time to add your findings to the discussion.

      Best wishes
      Andrew

  11. Firstly may I say, excellent and informative post. As an Elgrand owner, I fitted my own tow bar and have towed a loaded car trailer without any issues. However this was before even considering any of the legal issues. I doubt I will tow again without confirmation of the legalities. I wouldn’t imagine that the Police would ever pull you up for towing, as I doubt they would want to open a can of worms. However, having worked for Insurance Companies as a Motor Engineer Assessor, I am almost certain they would void an insurance policy in the case of an accident. They would put the onus onto you to prove you were towing legally, and as it appears, you would never be able to do this without confirmation from the manufacturer. I would be interested if anyone has ever tested this with an insurer? The consequences of the aftermath of an accident could be tremendous and hence I wouldn’t recommend anyone towing with one of these vehicles without legal confirmation that it is ok to do so.

    • Thanks for your comment Paul, I’m glad it was useful. As you say it’s the grey area over insurance that is key for me too. I can think of loads of Japanese import vehicles that would be great for towing, but I don’t use them due to this uncertainty over the towing.

      Cheers
      Andrew

  12. Hi Paul

    As I said in my earlier post, Nissan Japan have been contacted and they confirmed that the Elgrand had not been “homologated”, or in other words approved to tow. At some point I also enquired about the new e-NV200 and was given the towing weights. Which unfortunately I can’t find right now but essentially was told the 7 seater was not homologated, the 5 seater could tow a small amount and the 2 seater could tow a bit more. So it can vary within a specific model of vehicle so if in doubt contact the vehicle manufacturer.

    The Elgrand may have between 7 and 8 seats but it’s not the heavy load carrying vehicle most people assume it is just because they have big engines. Nissan Japan use to have a legacy vehicle website where you could look at the original web pages detailing these vehicles. Only in the last year or so they have taken these down. I believe this maybe due to the demise of the Adobe flash player. However, I did take some snapshots of the technical details for the E50 and the E51 which gave details about some of the train and gross weights of each variant of the vehicle.

    The weights vary slightly between models and whether they are 2 or 4WD but essentially the unladen vehicle weights are roughly around 2,000kg (2wd) and 2,100kg (4wd). The fully laden weights of the vehicle are only around 2440kg (2wd) and 2540kg (4wd). This means that the MAXIMUM LOAD for these is only 440kg so if you’ve got an 8 seater that’s only 56kg (8st 11lb) per person (the average weight of a Japanese adult) and that’s not taking into account for any luggage.

  13. Interesting point of view from the authorities, that applies to type approved vehicles but imports are not part of this. The requirement to display weights was only introduced in the UK in the 1980’s so with a classic car that had towbars and were towing before that date it was acceptable and to my understanding it still is. So just because a number isn’t displayed does not make it illegal. Only going to court could determine the correct answer. Hasn’t anyone asked the vehicle makers directly?

    • Thanks for your contribution Ian. I’ve seen a few instances where people have asked the manufacturer: from what I’ve seen a meaningful answer is not usually forthcoming.

  14. Hi,

    Hopefully, this is useful info…

    It’s possible to have the imported vehicle assessed in the UK and a new chassis plate created via a ‘Design Weight Certificate’. You can use this in applying for the initial V5c when it’s first registered in the UK – or apply to have the registration modified.

    The process is basically the same as when commercial vehicles are modified into mobile homes and the various weights need to be recalculated for the extra weight, uprated brakes and suspension etc.

    The good news is that calculating a max towing weight can often be done by an appropriate engineer without a physical examination – as long as they have access to the correct info. I had my imported Toyota Hiace Super Custom issued with a new chassis plate and the appropriate docs for registration reasonably quickly.

    There are a few places in the UK that will do this – the main one (based up North) take care of a lot of commercial type approvals, so I think individual applications can take a while, but as you can apply for the new weights retrospectively, then that’s OK. I found a smaller company that turned things around very quickly, but I don’t want to use this platform for advertising (though the engineer does seem to have a soft spot for strange imported Japanese vans).

    I was issued with a secondary chassis plate and various certification – and they helped with the registration process too.

    • Hi, I bought a Mitsubishi Delica specifically for towing, only to find I legally can’t. I really don’t want to part with the vehicle but need something I can tow with, so if you could share the name of the smaller company it’d be hugely appreciated.

  15. If you could let me know the name of the company that helped you out to get the secondary chassis plate it would be much appreciated. The towing weight legal/not legal issue is the only reason I’ve not purchased an Alphard yet.
    Many thanks ????

  16. If you could let me know the name of the company that helped you out to get the secondary chassis plate it would be much appreciated. The towing weight legal/not legal issue is the only reason I’ve not purchased an Alphard yet.
    Many thanks ????

  17. I asked a tow bar fitting company in Ireland about fitting a toe bar to a Japanese Corolla Fielder import, that’s a 1.5 l engine on a hybrid car, estate body. I got a reply that cars for the Japanese market are not built for towing. On checking the plate there was only the vehicle weight around 1150kg, with no mention of gross capacity (forgot the exact word used). The guy asked if the chassis was of double skin manufacture. On a visual inspection under the rear I could only see a single skin, except the tow points which are double. The chassis itself is single skin. While the Fielder model was not sold in Ireland on checking the Corolla weights of models sold here they seem to generally be heavier….around 1400kg. I had been hoping to toe a small trailer a less than 5km.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.