Flat Towing with a Tow-Bar
A third option for towing a car is to flat tow -- a method where the towed car's four wheels are all touching the ground. Flat towing involves a tow bar, a tool that has several advantages to other types of towing. Tow bars are usually less expensive to purchase than a dolly or flatbed. They're also lighter (and thus more energy efficient) and are easier and faster to connect and disconnect than other methods of car towing.
Flat towing, also called four wheels down towing, requires a few upfront purchases, but these are usually one-time purchases. Once you install your tow bar set-up, you'll be good to go, especially if you tow the same car around with the same lead car during every trip.
There are different types of tow bars to consider. The three main types are self-aligning coach-mounted receivers, self-aligning towed vehicle-mounted receivers and the rigid A-frame tow bar. Of these three, the optimal set-up is a self-aligning coach-mounted-receiver tow bar. Since it's self-aligning, the receiver can be adjusted from side to side, allowing for a less-than-perfect approach between the vehicles when hooking up the car for towing. A-frame tow bars require precise driving when coupling the tow bar to the receiver, since these tow bars don't move. It's also generally better to purchase a coach-mounted receiver, since they are usually the heaviest component in a tow bar set up. If it's hooked up to the back of the coach, the front of the towed vehicle isn't bogged down with extra weight that can wear out the power train components of a towed vehicle. What's more, coach-mounted receivers usually fold up on the back of the coach vehicle, which is a plus when you're driving the towed vehicle around town during a stop.
Flat towing will cause your tires to wear out evenly (an advantage over tow dollies) but more quickly (a disadvantage to flatbed towing). As with two-wheel towing, it's a good idea to disconnect or remove the drive shafts when you're flat towing. Because flat towing is so popular among RVers who frequently unhitch their towed cars for use during trips, some companies manufacture aftermarket drive shaft couplings that can easily connect or disconnect the drive shafts of the towed car with the pull of a lever.
Some people choose to opt out of this extra cost and instead flat tow their cars with the transmission in neutral. While this method is rough on cars (and requires you travel with your car keys in the ignition), manual transmissions work best in this situation. They produce less resistance (and thus, less friction) than an automatic transmission. If you have a car with an automatic transmission, you can still flat tow in neutral; it's just a better idea to invest in an aftermarket component that lubricates your transmission during long trips to prevent wear and tear. Either way, when towing with a car in neutral with the drive shaft still connected, plan on your car's engine wearing out much more quickly than if you take the time to disconnect the shafts.
Regardless of which method of towing is best for you, be sure to practice towing before hitting the open road and contact your insurance agent to make sure you're properly covered.
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