How to Tow a Car Safely

By: John Fuller  | 
RV towing a car on a barren road.
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/

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. That's because we assume that our fellow drivers know how to tow a car safely.

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.


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. In this article, we'll explain how to tow a car, so that you can keep both your mind at ease and everyone on the road safe.

How Much Can Your Vehicle Safely Tow?

Yellow truck towing a blue car on the highway.
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 towing 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 able to tow. Always check with the owner's manual to learn the maximum towing capacity for your vehicle.


The Keys to Trailer Towing

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 towed vehicle's wheels won't touch the ground, so it will be much easier to manage.

You'll want to make sure the trailer, as well as the trailer hitch, are 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 towing vehicle. Keep in mind, you'll have to note whether the car you're towing is four-wheel drive or two-wheel drive (and you can read about both instances here and here).

Additional Towing Equipment

You'll need more than a tow hitch, tow dolly, and tow rope to manage this trek safely. 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 towing 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 or hazard lights for extra safety.


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.

Driving While Towing a Car

Tow truck towing a convertible out of a flooded roadway.
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

­­Once everything is sec­ure, knowing how to drive properly while you're out on the road is the next step to ensuring safety. You don't require a special driver's license in most cases. If you've never towed before, practice first in an open space like a parking lot. Work on various defensive-driving skills, such as applying steady, even pressure to the gas pedal, carefully turning the steering wheel, and backing up.

Always start off slowly and continue to drive at a cautious speed. Putting too much pressure on your towing car 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 Frequent Stops For Safety Checks

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. It's important to check the towed car or broken down vehicle to ensure it's fastened.

Any loose ratchet straps, tow hitches, 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.


The Benefits of Hiring a Towing Company

Hiring a professional towing company offers a myriad of benefits over attempting to tow a vehicle by yourself, and they're primarily centered around safety, convenience, and efficiency.

Professional tow truck operators are trained to handle a wide range of vehicles in various situations, ensuring that the towed vehicle is transported safely without causing further damage or risking road safety. They possess the right equipment for secure towing, including specialized trucks and tools designed for different types of vehicles and circumstances, from standard car towing to heavy-duty situations.


Moreover, towing companies offer peace of mind with their expertise and insurance coverage. Should any damage occur to the vehicle while under their care, reputable companies are insured to cover these damages, something an individual likely does not have when towing on their own.

Additionally, towing services are available around the clock, providing immediate assistance during emergencies, which means that vehicle owners can receive help at any time of day, significantly reducing stress and potential hazards associated with stranded vehicles. This level of convenience and reliability cannot be matched by DIY towing efforts, making professional towing services an invaluable resource for anyone facing vehicle trouble.

This article was updated in conjunction with AI technology, then fact-checked and edited by a HowStuffWorks editor.

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


Lots More Information


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More Great Links


  • "Safety tips for towing your car or boat." Dec. 6, 2005. (Nov. 4, 2008)
  • eBay Guides. "Towing and trailering basics." June 4, 2008. (Nov. 4, 2008)