Get Yourself a Checklist

Before you jump into the driver's seat, double check all your hookups. This involves performing the usual towing checklist, plus some additional items. Then, after traveling about 100 feet (30 meters), get out and look over the bolts, safety chains and cables, coupler, tire straps, ramps and other components to ensure everything is still in place and secure. It's a good idea to check these items again after about 5 miles (8 kilometers) and again every 50 to 100 miles (80 to 160 kilometers) thereafter.

Using Tow Dollies

Tow dollies are generally installed in the same manner as other hitch systems. You need to verify that your hitch and towing vehicle meet the necessary weight ratings and then check out all the components of your vehicles. Although you should follow the instruction manual closely for your particular dolly to complete this process, here are the basics involved.

The first thing to do when using tow dollies is to make sure the hitch ball is at the correct height. Then, securely place the coupler on the hitch ball and connect the safety chains between the tow dolly and the hitch, crisscrossing them beneath the tongue. If you have tow dolly lights and brakes, now is the time to connect them.

­Double check to make sure all the weights are OK (discussed in more detail in How Towing Weight Distribution Systems Work), and find a spot on level ground to load the vehicle on the tow dolly. Whether your towing dolly has tilting ramps or pullout ramps, unlock them and rest them on the ground. Drive up to the ramps and look to see if your vehicle is centered precisely, making sure everything will clear the ramps without getting damaged. Proceed to drive slowly up the ramps and onto the tow dolly's platform, then return the ramps to their proper positions. If the towed vehicle is an automatic, put it in park; if it's a manual, put it in first gear. Temporarily apply the parking brake and lock the steering wheel in the straight position. This is a crucial step -- if your steering wheel doesn't lock automatically, you must manually immobilize it.

Next, make sure the tire straps are the right size for the vehicle, and place them snuggly around the tires. They need to be positioned carefully so there aren't any twists in the material or contact with fraying metal or the vehicle's brakes and suspension. Tighten the straps and lock the ratchet, then you can attach safety chains between the dolly and the towed vehicle. You can also install lights on the towed vehicle to make other drivers aware of your cargo and help to keep the roads safe. Finally, release the parking brake, remove the keys, lock the door and you're good to go.

There are a few more items to note when using tow dollies. Whenever you plan on towing a vehicle, you want to be sure to hook up the tow dolly to the towing vehicle before you load the vehicle to be towed. Also, the towed vehicle should always be loaded facing forward. If the weight of the engine is in the back of the setup, the vehicle will likely sway uncontrollably, creating very dangerous driving conditions. If your car has a mid or rear engine, you'll probably want to look into getting a trailer in order to tow four wheels up.

Avoid sharp turns while pulling your dolly or the two vehicles could collide with each other. Follow normal towing safety precautions as well, some of which you can read about in Trailer Towing Safety. Never allow people to ride in the towed vehicle, and remember, it's a smart idea to install a braking and lighting system if your dolly didn't come with one.

Your tow dolly is loaded and you're ready to hit the road. However, there are a few issues with tow dollies you'll need to keep in mind as you drive off into the sunset.