Recovery Vehicles

A road recovery vehicle is one that is specially designed, built or adapted to recover broken-down vehicles. It must be fitted with a crane, winch or other lifting systems specifically designed to recover vehicles. 

3 categories of the recovery vehicle are allowed under Special Types (General Order 2003) (STGO): 

  • Locomotives - vehicles with an unladen weight heavier than 7,370 kg not built to carry a load 
  • An N3 motor vehicle - a vehicle built to carry goods with a maximum mass heavier than 12,000 Kg 
  • A combination of an N3 motor vehicle and an O4 trailer  - a trailer with a maximum weight heavier than 10,000 Kg 

Where a vehicle or vehicle/trailer combination is broken, recovery can be carried out using a drawbar or ‘lift and tow’ method. It cannot be carried or towed any further than is necessary in order to clear the road it obstructs e.g. to the nearest motorway services. At this point, the broken-down vehicle must be either fixed or transported onwards under Construction & Use (C&U) Regulations, which may involve separating the towing vehicle and trailer, and/or unloading any load that is carried. 

Maximum Weights 

  • Gross 36,000 Kg on 3 axles 
  • Gross 50,000 Kg on 4 axles 
  • Gross 80,000 Kg on 6 or more axles 
  • Maximum axle weight of 12,500 Kg
  • Maximum axle group weight 25,000 Kg 
  • A road recovery vehicle must not, when towing a broken-down vehicle, exceed the maximum train weight specified on the plate fixed to it under Regulation 66 of C&U Regulations. 

Speed Limits 

While carrying or towing a broken-down vehicle:

  • Motorway - 40 mph 
  • Dual carriageway - 30 mph 
  • Other roads - 30 mph 


The maximum width cannot be greater than that imposed by Regulation 8 of C&U Regulations of 2.55 metres. Though a trailer up to 3 metres in width can be used when it's in use and would be the only safe method of recovering a broken-down vehicle. 


The maximum length of a road recovery vehicle is 18.75 metres but there is no restriction on the combined length when towing a broken-down vehicle or combination. 

Vehicle Excise Duty 

A road recovery vehicle with a maximum weight of less than 25,000 kg is taxable as a special vehicle at the same rate as a basic goods vehicle. One with a maximum weight greater than 25,000 kg is taxable at 2.5 times the basic goods vehicle rate. One of the conditions of this taxation class is that the vehicle can only be used to support break-down recovery, and not for general haulage. 

Plating and Testing 

Road recovery vehicles are no longer exempt from the plating and testing regulations. They must be fitted with a plate that gives the maximum weight that can be lifted by any crane, winch or another lifting system.