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How Car Towing Safety Works

We see cars being towed all the time out on the road, but what are drivers doing to keep the whole process safe? See more truck pictures.
Rob van Nostrand/iStockPhoto.com

Whether you're conscious of it or not, you've probably seen lots of tow vehicles pulling cars down the road. Most of us don't really pause to think about the scene too often -- we may grip the wheel with both hands and drive with a bit more caution, but once we've passed, our focus is back on the road in front of us.

But there's a reason we clutch the wheel a little tighter, and it's­ a fairly obvious one: When one hulking mass of metal connected to another one rolls down the road together, the thought of the former separating from the latter is enough to keep us alert.

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It's a simple matter of safety. Did the person tow­ing make all the right connections? Is he or she driving safely? Are you able to tell if the two vehicles in front of you are braking? Of course, if you're the one towing a car, these are the questions you'll need to ask yourself. Car towing safety procedures can keep your mind at ease and everyone on the road safe.

 

Securing a car while towing, whether it's on a trailer or connected by a tow bar, is an extremely important safety measure.
Securing a car while towing, whether it's on a trailer or connected by a tow bar, is an extremely important safety measure.
Tony Page/­Getty Images

Before you head out onto the road with your car behind you, you need to think about several things. First, you need to be aware of how much your tow vehic­le can actually tow. Every car, truck and SUV manufacturer gives a towing limit for their vehicles, which can range from just a few hundred pounds for small cars and SUVs to several thousands of pounds for some trucks and bigger SUVs. It's important to know how much you'll be towing and how much you're allowed to tow. Always check with the tow vehicle's manufacturer for specific weight ratings.

There are several different ways to tow a car. The simplest solution, using a flatbed trailer, involves hooking the trailer to the tow vehicle, driving your car onto it and tying it down by the chassis or suspension with axle straps and ratchet straps. The car's wheels won't touch the ground while it's being towed, so it will be much easier to manage. You'll want to make sure the trailer's in good shape; check the trailer's tires before driving a car onto it, since trailers often sit unused for long periods of time and the tires can lose air pressure.

If you don't have access to a trailer, you can use a tow dolly or tow bar to connect the car to the tow vehicle, but you'll have to keep in mind whether the car you're towing is four-wheel drive or two-wheel drive (and you can read about both instances here and here).

Your trailer also needs the appropriate brake system, turn signals and lighting kits in order to synch up with your tow vehicle. Because the back of the tow vehicle will be mostly obscured by the car and trailer behind it, people need to be able to know when the two vehicles are going to slow down. Drivers who tow can use a variety of braking systems, including electric brakes and surge brakes. For legal and safety purposes, trailers need brake lights, turn signals and parking lights. Drivers can also consider adding reflectors for extra safety.

The most important part to car towing safety is, of course, proper driving skills. Here, a tow truck pulls a car from the flooded outbound lan of the Dan Ryan Expressway in Chicago, Ill.
The most important part to car towing safety is, of course, proper driving skills. Here, a tow truck pulls a car from the flooded outbound lan of the Dan Ryan Expressway in Chicago, Ill.
Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

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­­Once everything is sec­ure, knowing how to drive properly while you're out on the road is the next step to ensuring safety. If you've never towed before, practice first in an open space like a parking lot, working on various skills, such as applying steady, even pressure to the gas pedal, slowing down, turning and backing up.

Always start off slowly and continue to drive at a cautious speed. Putting too much pressure on your tow vehicle will cause damage to it in the long run, and the faster you go, the harder it will be to stop the tow vehicle and the car behind you. High speeds may also cause your trailer or car to sway, making it more difficult to control your tow vehicle.

Make sure you're using the right kind of mirrors, ones that allow you to see everything behind the tow vehicle and the trailer. You need to be able to see approaching cars on both sides as well as take turns and change lanes safely.

After driving a long distance, typically between 10 and 25 miles (16 and 40 kilometers), it's always a good idea to pull over and double-check all connections, making sure everything is tight and secure. Any loose ratchet straps or safety chains should be tightened before starting out onto the road again. Keeping these suggestions in mind while transporting your car from one place to the next will put you and other drivers at ease and safe from harm.

For lots more information on cars and towing, see the links on the next page.

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Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links

Sources

  • CarJunky.com. "Safety tips for towing your car or boat." Dec. 6, 2005. (Nov. 4, 2008) http://news.carjunky.com/car_safety/safety_tips_For_towing_your_car_or_boat_131.shtml
  • eBay Guides. "Towing and trailering basics." June 4, 2008. (Nov. 4, 2008) http://reviews.ebay.com/Towing-and-Trailering-Basics_W0QQugidZ10000000003616640

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