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:
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:
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:
Telephone: 0300 123 9000
The link below provides further information about vehicle approval/testing:
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:
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.”
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.