How to Tow a Car with Another Car

Jeff Youngs | Oct 30, 2020

Most experts would agree that it's far better to tow a car with a tow truck or pickup/trailer combo than with another car, but not everyone has access to that sort of heavy equipment. Perhaps you are in a remote location where it's tough to get help, or your AAA membership has lapsed and you simply can't afford a tow truck. Sometimes you just have to improvise, and you may ask yourself: Can I tow a car with my car?

how to tow a car with another car

To determine if you can tow another vehicle with your car, you'll need to do some basic fact-finding. You'll need to know the tow rating of your vehicle (how many pounds your vehicle can tow), if your vehicle has a tow hitch installed, if the car you are towing has 2-wheel (2WD) or 4-wheel drive (4WD), and if the vehicle being towed has an automatic or manual transmission. And, if your vehicle has 2WD, is it front-wheel drive (FWD) or rear-wheel drive (RWD)? If in doubt on any of these, check your owner's manual.

Before we get into the details of actually towing a car with your car, a few simple guidelines are worth reviewing:

  • First, the tow vehicle should be larger and heavier than the car being towed, as it requires more engine and braking power to both motivate and stop two cars instead of one.
  • Second, make sure there is no one in the car being towed. Not only is it illegal for a passenger to be in a towed vehicle, but it is also extremely unsafe. The same rule applies to pets—they should always ride in the tow vehicle.
  • Third, turn on the ignition in the vehicle being towed, so the steering wheel doesn't lock. Last but not least, if you are driving at night, switch on the towed vehicle's parking lights so that motorists following behind can see it.

Next, we'll discuss the different methods of towing a car with another car. No matter what towing method you choose, you'll need a tow hitch on the tow vehicle. The tow hitch is attached to the chassis. Many trucks and SUVs come equipped from the factory with a tow hitch, but most passenger cars do not. Tow hitches are easy to install, however. You can do it yourself, but we recommend having a professional do the work for the best results.

How to Tow a Car with a Chain

Generally speaking, towing a car with a tow rope or chain should be a last resort and should only be done for very short distances at low speeds on local roads—no highways.

If you opt for this method, it's essential to know how to tow a car with a chain or rope. Don't use just any old rope or chain that may be lying around. Thin or frayed ropes and rusty or cracked chains can easily snap under the stresses of towing, creating a potentially dangerous situation.

Ensure the rope or chain isn't too short or long, as this can also cause problems. Also, if towing with a chain or rope, don't stop quickly as the car being towed will likely be in neutral and have no active brakes and can slam into the tow vehicle, potentially causing damage to both cars.

How to Tow a Car with a Dolly

A popular method for towing a car with another car is to use a tow dolly, which is essentially a small trailer. Using a tow dolly keeps the towed vehicle's front tires up off the ground, which helps to reduce both tire and driveline wear on the car being towed. One of the benefits of a tow dolly is that it eliminates "pushing" (discussed below) of the rear vehicle when braking. Tow dollies are lightweight, and you can rent one at many moving and storage facilities.

How to Tow a Car with a Tow Bar

Another option for car-to-car towing is a tow bar, and you can rent one if you don't already have one. Typically, tow bars have an A-frame design and mount to the towed vehicle. The tow bar attaches to the tow vehicle via the rear-mounted hitch.

Note that safety chains are required when using a tow bar. Also, use caution when simultaneously braking and turning, as tow bars are prone to pushing, which is when the rear vehicle's momentum pushes the back end of the towing car to the outside of the turn.

How to Tow a Car with a Trailer

A car hauling trailer, either open or enclosed, is the best and safest option for towing a car with another car. With a car hauler, all four wheels of the towed vehicle sit on the trailer. Simply drive the car up onto the trailer and secure it with straps and/or chains.

You'll need to use a truck as your tow vehicle for this method because the combined weight of the towed vehicle and trailer will exceed the tow rating of virtually any passenger car, as well as many of today's SUVs.

Towing a Car with 2WD vs. 4WD

As mentioned above, it's important to know if the vehicle you are towing has 2WD or 4WD. If the vehicle is 2WD, you need to know if the front or rear wheels provide the power.

If the towed vehicle is FWD, use a tow dolly for the best results. This will save wear and tear on the driveline components. If the towed vehicle has RWD, you will want to disengage the driveshaft, either via a switch (if equipped) or manually. Once that is done, depending on the transmission type, you'll either need to put the towed vehicle in neutral and release the parking brake (for manual transmission) or unlock the drive axle (automatic transmission).

Refer to the owner's manual for instructions on these procedures if you are unsure.

How to Flat Tow a Vehicle with 4-Wheel Drive

A popular choice among the RV crowd is flat towing a 4WD vehicle for use at an off-road park or other local attraction. But you don't have to own an RV to tow a 4WD vehicle. It can be done with a regular car as well, provided the tow rating will allow for it.

Depending on the type of transmission in the towed vehicle, the flat-towing procedure is slightly different. For a towed 4WD vehicle with a manual transmission, you'll need to properly disengage the transfer case and lockout hubs and transmission. You'll likely need to reference the owner's manual for this operation.

For a towed 4WD car with an automatic transmission, you'll need a driveshaft coupler to disengage the rear driveshaft. Again, check your owner's manual for detailed instructions.

Driving Tips for Towing Another Car

The rules for driving while towing another car are similar to those for driving a semi-truck. Keep the following tips in mind when towing a car with another car:

  • Drive slower than you usually would. The extra weight of the vehicle being towed means longer braking distances, so you need to adjust your speed accordingly. Leave plenty of room between your car and the one ahead.
  • Easy on the brakes. Avoid sudden braking or panic stops when you are towing a car with another car. Since the vehicle you are towing may not weigh much less than the vehicle you are driving, the physical laws of motion apply. Ensure your brakes are up to the task and that your rotors and pads are in good condition.
  • Use your mirrors and turn signals. Being aware of your surroundings is even more critical when you're towing something – especially another car. Ensure your mirrors are correctly mounted and secure, clean, not cracked, and adjusted to the driver. We recommend tow mirrors for longer towed vehicles or trailers. Also, use your turn signal! It's important to let other drivers know what you intend to do so they don't create additional problems for you.
  • Exercise caution when changing lanes. After you've activated your turn signal and checked your mirrors carefully, slowly change lanes when it is safe to do so. Combination vehicles create blind spots, and as it states on the back of many semi-trailers, "If you can't see my mirror, I can't see you."
  • Avoid sharp turns. Since a tow bar or A-frame tow bar may connect the two vehicles, sharp turns may result in the rear of the tow vehicle impacting the front of the car being towed, causing damage to both cars.

What Can Happen to the Towed Vehicle If You Do It Wrong?

Finally, before you use your car to tow another vehicle, be sure to check the owner's manual for both vehicles. Towing a vehicle improperly can damage the driveline of the towed vehicle and void the warranty. Replacing driveline parts can be extremely expensive, and you should avoid this at all costs.

Also, be sure to check the tow rating and payload rating for the tow vehicle. And keep in mind that while it may be safe to tow with your car, the car you're towing may not be designed for such activities.

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