The average car in the United States is now 11 years old, according to J.D. Power and Associates. This record number proves that cars are now lasting much longer than ever before, and it’s not uncommon to drive a car well past 200,000 miles. But that doesn’t mean cars aren’t breaking down. Tow trucks still make good money off of motorists stranded on the side of the highway in their vehicles, and emergency roadside assistance is a thriving business. If you’re driving an older car and it breaks down, or if you want to get your car across the country without wearing down its engine, knowing how to tow one could come in handy. There are a few different ways you can tow your car behind a truck, SUV, or RV. Which one you choose can depend on your resources, expertise, and needs.
1. Using a Trailer
If you have access to a flatbed truck and a trailer to hitch to it, you can tow your car very safely across long distances. As long as the trailer is hitched properly and the vehicle is securely tied down, this is the best way to avoid wear and tear on your car during the journey. However, you should never operate a flatbed trailer unless you know how because trailer accidents are extremely common, and you need a solid understanding of weight distribution, sag, and sway. A good trailer costs thousands of dollars, and if you don’t get one with its own brake system, you will put some considerable strain on the truck’s brakes and tires.
2. Using a Tow Dolly
Two dollies are like trailers with only two wheels, and they can be rented for not that much money. They’re used to tow cars with two wheels off the ground. The only downside to this method is uneven tire wear that comes from having the back tires on the highway, but if you’re traveling shorter distances it’s not a huge concern. Towing with two wheels works best for front wheel drive vehicles whose back wheels are not connected to the drive shaft. In rear wheel or all wheel vehicles, the drive shaft will have to be removed – a complicated and sometimes costly addition to towing. Never tow a rear wheel drive facing backwards, because the weight distribution can cause serious accidents.
3. Tow Straps and Recovery Straps
For vehicles that have been in accidents or are simply stuck in mud, sand, or ditches, straps are a cheap way of towing them to a mechanic. Recovery straps are often strong and stretchy, and they can hook onto the front of a car and help a larger vehicle pull it to solid ground. Tow straps are made of strong, non-stretching material and can be hooked to a disabled car to pull it to a safe location. This option is usually reserved for emergencies or even for totaled cars. You should never use a tow strap in place of a recovery strap or vice versa, because you can cause accidents and injuries if they fly off.
4. Tow Bars
Tow bars come in a few different varieties, and they enable you to tow your car with all four wheels on the ground. This method is popular for RV users and people who need to tow their car on vacation or when they’re moving. Just like with two wheel towing, it’s recommended to remove the drive shaft, but for many recreational towers, it’s easier just to put the car in neutral. Too much towing in neutral can cause a car’s engine to wear out more quickly overtime, but for one or two trips, flat towing can be safe and easy. Self-aligning tow bars work best, because they account for human error when you’re hooking up the car.
Learning to tow on your own might seem complicated and even risky, but it will save you a lot of money in towing fees. If you own your own car shop, sell used cars, or simply go on a lot of camping trips, you’ll benefit from understanding how to preserve your engine. That way, you can keep a car running well into its old age.