If you need to tow a trailer with your vehicle, you will need to have a tow bar installed. However, in view of the serious implications of getting the installation wrong, it must only be done under certain conditions, in an authorised and qualified workshop and in compliance with the law.
In 2011, the law in Spain categorised tow bars. Prior to that date they were simply another accessory which could be added to the vehicle, but the new “anti-tuning” law standardised the European directive of 2007 which elevated the tow bar from an accessory to a “major reform”.
Therefore, all tow bars not only have to be of an approved and authorised type for the individual vehicle in question, they can only be fitted in certified workshops where a technical report can be issued, a requirement for the vehicle to pass its ITV inspection.
There are two types of tow bars, a fixed ball hook and a removable ball latch. The fixed ball hook, as its name suggests, does not disassemble and any form of manipulation is forbidden. In view of the installation procedures in order to ensure the legality of the tow bar, any action on the tow bar would be considered a manipulation of a major reform, which can only be done legally in a workshop.
The removable ball latch is, as the name suggests, detachable and consists of a fixed element and an easily removable part, which may be semi-automatic or by a thread, or by automatic pressure and ball rotation. There are other removable tow bars which can be retracted into the vehicle, but these form an integral part of the construction.
When tow bars are not in use, they can pose a hazard to other road users, as any protrusion from the vehicle can cause damage, such as when reversing into a parking space, especially as the tow bar is not visible, and interferes with the shape and design of the vehicle´s safety features and can cause considerable damage in the event of a rear-end collision.
That said, as we have already mentioned, a fixed ball hook cannot be manipulated in any way and therefore cannot be removed (unless done on a permanent basis by a qualified mechanic), and so there is no legal requirement to remove the tow bar when not in use. Similarly, the very design of a removable tow bar does not constitute a legal requirement to remove it either, although you may choose to do for your own safety.
There is a legal requirement however that no tow bar, fixed or removable, can interfere with the visibility of rear elements of the vehicle, namely the number plate and lights. Article 9 of the Ley de Seguridad Vial ensures that these items must be visible at all times and not obscured.
It is also important to remember that only officially approved tow bars are permitted in Spain and only for the purpose of towing a trailer (including caravans). The use of ropes, A-Frames and vehicle-to-vehicle towing bars or any other unapproved devices are not permitted by law.