The warmer weather is upon us and I guess many are spring cleaning their caravans or scraping the barnacles off their boat trailers. Perhaps some drivers are tired of being bumped from behind by the shuffling of parking cars. Either way, the myths and legends surrounding tow bars in Spain has become a hot topic over the last couple of weeks

Back home if you fancy lugging a trailer behind your car, you have a tow bar fitted and just hitch up and go. Many of us will have seen home made tow bars bolted to angle iron and welded to the rear end of a van; well they work don’t they? Sort of I imagine

So we buy a car from the UK bring it here and have it re-registered. The ITV examiner looks at the tow bar and tells us to get it off. “What; it’s a Witter, the best brand on the market!” you say “I had it fitted at Halfords; there’s nothing wrong with it”. The inspector shrugs as he hands over the defavorable. Bemused you wonder what to do next and are faced with a barrage of helpful hints at the local bar from “take it off and put it back after the ITV inspection” to “try another ITV as that one is always too fussy”. Though heartfelt, neither response is helpful

The laws regarding what is allowed on a vehicle are very different in the UK than here in Spain. The Spanish are often accused of ignoring health and safety as ably demonstrated by the hunks on building sites wearing only flip-flops and briefs or electric cabling festooning the streets like so many redundant garlands. The absence of a canned voice telling us that we are at the top of the escalator always confuses me, how do I know when to get off? But where they are ahead of the game is in ensuring that anything added to a vehicle meets the right standards


Let’s go back to the stage where a car is made. Every batch of modern cars made for the European market is manufactured to an agreed standard and the specification of the car is defined in terms of its size, wheels, lights etc. The vehicle is then given European Type Approval, often referred to as homologation. In Spain any change to the homologation has to be approved

For my recent 60th birthday, I treated myself to my first Mercedes; it’s an old one as I am not well off, but in good nick and very robust. When I got a puncture, I was surprised to find a detachable tow bar by the spare wheel; I hadn’t realised that the car had one as it was so well hidden and was clearly fitted early on in the car’s life. A specific brand of tow bar is included in the homologation for this car, but in most cases tow bars are fitted as an after market item. The term “factory fitted” is a misnomer as generally any extras are fitted by the supplying dealer and are outside of the Type Approval specification; this is where the differences between the UK and Spain start to surface

ITV card
Each brand new vehicle sold in Spain is provided with a “ficha tecnica” known to one and all as the “ITV card”. The card shows the full specification of the vehicle at the time of sale, so may include an approved tow bar. Any changes to the vehicle once the card has been issued must be approved and added to the card so that it always shows the actual specification of the vehicle. It follows that approval is agreed by an ITV station that amend the card and charge you for the privilege

For a change of specification to be added to the ITV card, the procedure is fairly clear. The part must have its own Type Approval so no chance of welding a hook to the back of your van and expecting it to be approved. A letter, generally from the vehicle manufacturer stating that the part is suitable for use on your vehicle is needed and finally a certificate from the person that fitted the part confirming that the work was undertaken to approved standards is required. Doddle eh?

Approved extras

Why is it then that some people bringing their cars from the UK or Ireland have to take the tow bars off and some don’t? Previous articles have covered the regime known as “change of residence” which means that a vehicle was registered before the owner came to Spain. Under this regime it is assumed that a part has been approved in the country of origin, but the part must have Type Approval. For tow bars, this is shown on a small plate affixed somewhere on the mechanism. Where a vehicle is imported after the owner has moved to Spain, such a vehicle can only be re-registered in its original condition without any ad-ons. Any such extras have to be approved by the ITV station after the car has been re-registered

Approved extras may include a different exhaust system, spoilers, running boards, extra lights, wide wheels etc, but all such parts must be type approved, be allowed by the vehicle manufacturer and fitted in accordance with the required standards. Bull bars may be allowed, but this is a grey area. Any add ons are called a “reform” to the vehicle and as mentioned added to the ITV card. Where an extra cannot be approved as a reform in this manner, then a “project” can be undertaken via a specialist engineering company in conjunction with the ITV station, but as this is only for the serious petrol-heads, we’ll leave it there

The above means that vehicles in Spain should be completely safe to be on the road with no dangerous parts, making us all feel more secure. It’s a shame that having no brake lights, not using indicators and tailgating does not seem to receive the same attention, but that’s another story