An increasing number of motorists are considering a hybrid, plug-in hybrid or electric model for their next car, replacing a diesel or petrol. While this can be a great move for cutting pollution and ensuring you have an affordable car to run, what if you often tow a caravan, horsebox or heavy trailer?

You may have read that some alternative-fuel vehicles like the best-selling Nissan Leaf electric car aren’t suitable for towing, but does that apply to all of them? And what about hybrid and plug-in hybrid models, many of which are tough-looking and powerful SUVs?

Read our guide and you’ll soon know which vehicles offer the best compromise between low emissions, excellent fuel economy and being able to tow a reasonable load.

Why can’t many electric cars tow a trailer?

Electric vehicles are currently the most limited when it comes to towing, particularly if you’re after a supermini or hatchback. When every car is designed and engineered, the manufacturer works out exactly how much it can tow and establishes a legal towing limit in a process known as homologation. For customers who want to tow, the two figures that matter most are the maximum weight limits for towing an unbraked trailer and a braked trailer. If a car doesn’t have these figures published, it usually means the manufacturer deems it unsuited to towing – and this is the case with most electric cars.

Electric models that can tow

The only electric car on sale today that’s approved for towing is the Tesla Model X SUV. Not only can it tow, but its maximum towing limit is a substantial 2,270kg – easily high enough to haul a large caravan or trailer. Just be aware you’ll need to have passed your driving test before 1997 or have taken an extra car-and-trailer driving test if the combined weight of the Model X (weighing 2,439kg itself) and trailer comes in at more than 3,500kg.

Once you plug a trailer’s electrics into a Model X, it enters ‘trailer mode’, disabling many of its driver-assistance features like automatic steering and parking, active cruise control and the rear parking sensors. The Model X also activates Trailer Sway Mitigation, where automatic braking of the vehicle’s individual wheels can prevent a trailer from swaying dangerously behind you.

But the Model X starts from around £78,000, a “distinctly premium price point, making it challenging for early adopters to buy them”, according to Martin Spencer, technical manager for the Caravan and Motorhome Club.

Plug-in hybrid cars and SUVs that can tow

Because plug-in hybrid models offer a combination of electric technology and internal combustion engines, many of the issues faced by pure electric models are less pronounced. For that reason, if you want to tow, protect the environment and lower your bills, a plug-in hybrid is probably your best option right now. The most affordable plug-in hybrid models are also less than half the price of the Tesla Model X, opening them up to far more customers.

Dipping just below the £30,000 mark – after the Government plug-in car grant of £2,500 is deducted – the Volkswagen Golf GTE is one of the cheapest plug-in hybrid models rated for towing. It’s not just suitable for a tiny trailer either, but up to 750kg for an unbraked load and 1,500kg for a braked trailer, making it ideal for pulling a small to medium-sized caravan. The closely related Audi A3 Sportback e-tron shares much with the Golf GTE and has a 1,600kg towing capacity – although it is a few grand more expensive.

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