How To Tow A Car

Dustin Hawley | Feb 25, 2021

Owning a vehicle can be one of the most gratifying experiences in the world. But inevitably, there are times when things go wrong. Chances are that, at some point, you’re going to face an incident in which towing your car is necessary. 

how to tow a car

It always helps to be prepared. This article will look at some of the most common forms of towing a vehicle and how to approach the situation in order to get your car transported. 

Towing A Car: An Overview

Unexpected breakdowns or unforeseen accidents can strike at any moment. While there's no scenario where towing a car would be considered convenient, you can be ready for such an event with a little foresight and preparation. 

Similar to applying first aid, using the proper technique with the right tools will help you carry out the task effectively. And utilizing the right tools and procedures is crucial to successful towing. 

There are several effective methods to tow a car, and different scenarios will force you to use specific techniques. In many cases, it may seem like a good idea to simply use a heavy-duty rope or cable. But often, using a tow strap or tow dolly can be the best bet to get the job done. 

Some of the most common methods of towing are:

  • Using a tow strap: This is great for short distance towing jobs.
  • Fitting a tow dolly to a trailer hitch: This requires the towing vehicle to have a tow hitch and is the preferred method for transporting damaged cars or for towing long distances.
  • Flat-bed trailer: Though most drivers don’t typically have one accessible, a flat-bed trailer allows all four wheels of the towed vehicle to be off the ground, making it ideal for long-distance towing or for transporting precious cargo.
  • Professional Tow Services: Unfortunately, not all tow jobs can be solved with DIY methods. Heavily damaged vehicles or cars that refuse to move may require the services and expertise of a professional. While this is the most expensive method in many cases, it is also the most reliable. 

Regardless of the situation, you want to ensure that your car is towed safely so no one is put in harm's way and that further damage to the vehicle won't occur. 

This guide will cover the two most commonly used DIY car towing methods: Using a tow strap, and using a dolly. 

Do’s And Don'ts Of Using A Tow Strap 

When towing a car or truck, you should always use a purpose-made tow strap. Using a hefty chain or cable may seem like the more obvious choice, but bear in mind that the possibility of these items breaking is much higher than using a tow strap. It goes without saying that having a solid metal object flying off, like a snapped chain link, can be extremely dangerous to both yourself and other drivers.

Tow straps are made of heavy-duty nylon and have hooks at each end, built for the sole purpose of towing vehicles with minimum risk to the user. In fact, having a tow strap in your car should be considered an essential item. 

Here are a few considerations when using a tow strap.

  • Do not use tow straps for long hauls, as they are not graded for longer duration tows.
  • Ensure that the steering wheel of the towed car is unlocked when using a tow strap.
  • Always ensure that no passengers are inside of the towed car during transport. This is both illegal and very dangerous. 

Check For Damage

It is essential to check your equipment before putting it to use. Although a tow strap is undoubtedly the safest option, a torn or frayed strap could fail under load, especially if the vehicle you are towing is on the heavier side. Check thoroughly for any signs of damage on the straps as well as the connecting hooks.

Attach The Strap To Both Vehicles 

Almost every car will have a factory-fitted hitch point. Avoid attaching the tow strap to any other point of the vehicle, as it could cause permanent damage. Once you have connected the hook to the hitch point, give the strap a couple of hard tugs to ensure that it is secure and in place. Once this has been verified, locate the towing vehicle’s rear hitch and secure the hook in place. Again, avoid hooking the strap to any other part of the body or suspension.

Begin Towing 

While having both vehicles human-crewed, ensure once more that the tow strap is not faulty by getting the towing vehicle to slowly move forward until there is just enough tension to pull the towed vehicle securely. If the tow strap holds, the driver controlling the towed vehicle will have to put the car in neutral and moderate its speed using the brakes to avoid a collision. The towing vehicle driver must work to move at a slow pace, preventing sudden pressure or tension from being applied to the tow strap.

Using A Dolly

If the vehicle that needs to be towed was involved in a collision and incurred damage to the front wheels, using a dolly is an effective method to transport the car. This approach is also more secure and reliable than a tow strap and will put less strain on the towing vehicle.

  • Research your local bylaws to ensure that personal use of dollies is permitted on public roads.
  • Do a quick recon when towing a car to avoid any potential obstructions. 
  • Use emergency flashers on both vehicles when towing to signal other drivers on the road. 

Once the towing vehicle and dolly are aligned, insert the tongue of the dolly into the hitch. The dolly will most likely have a couple of safety harnesses; make sure these harnesses are crossed and attach them to their designated points on the hitch. A third wire harness should also be present, so ensure that this harness is connected to the vehicle for extra support. 

Getting The Towed Vehicle On The Dolly

Once the dolly is secured to the towing vehicle, it's time to line it up with the immobilized car. Ensure that this procedure is carried out on level ground to prevent imbalance when loading the broken-down vehicle. Bring the dolly as close to the stationary vehicle as you can to ease the loading process. If the towed car still runs, drive it up the dolly as slowly as possible until you meet the lip at the end of the dolly. If you cannot start the towed vehicle, you will need a couple of extra hands to push the car onto the dolly after being shifted into neutral.

Strap The Vehicle In Place 

Tow dollies are equipped with wheel straps that enable you to keep the towed vehicle in place. The wheel straps will go over the front wheels and be tightened with a ratchet mechanism. Once this step has been completed, the safety harnesses that come with the dolly must be adequately secured to the vehicle's frame. Ensure that all straps and harnesses are tightly fastened to the recovery points as instructed on the user's guide before you begin towing the car. 

Summary

While towing a car isn't an ideal scenario on anyone's daily journeys, being prepared and following the necessary steps doesn’t have to be any more of a hardship than the inconvenience. If you’d like to find out more about towing a car and all things automotive-related, take a look at our other articles and helpful guides here!

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