The next time you're out, look around -- you'll probably spot someone towing a vehicle. Of course, there are plenty of tow trucks, but there's a lot more towing going on than just by the pros. You'll also see several towing methods. There are trailers that keep all four wheels off the ground, tow dollies that lift only two wheels, and tow bars that keep all four wheels on the ground. You may think, "What's the difference? Towing is towing. The way you pull a car or truck behind your vehicle doesn't really matter, right?"
It matters a lot. If you let a towed vehicle's drive wheels stay on the ground, you risk severe transmission damage. If you want to tow a two-wheel-drive vehicle, you have a few options. Trailers that keep all four wheels off the ground are good for any vehicle, including two-wheel drive. Since all four wheels are off the ground, it doesn't matter if your vehicle is front- or rear-wheel drive.
Tow dollies, which lift only the front wheels off the ground, can also be good choice. But these are most effective for front-wheel-drive cars since they lift the drive wheels off the ground. If you plan to tow a rear-wheel-drive vehicle on a tow dolly, you'll have to disconnect and remove the drive shaft so you don't damage the transmission [source: Penske Truck Rental].
A tow bar is another option. It's a rigid set of bars in the shape of a triangle. One point of the triangle has a coupler that attaches to the ball hitch on the tow vehicle. The wide end of the triangle attaches to the bumper of the vehicle being pulled. All four wheels of the towed vehicle roll on the ground. If your two-wheel-drive vehicle has manual transmission, you can just pop it in neutral and disengage the parking brake to tow it with a tow bar. But if the transmission is automatic, you'll need some accessories to protect it.
One is a lube pump, which provides lubrication to the automatic transmission in a front-wheel-drive vehicle. The lubrication pump is normally driven by the engine. When you're towing the vehicle, the engine isn't working, so the pump isn't working, either. With a separate lube pump, you can make sure the towed vehicle's transmission gets the cooling that it needs [source: Remco Towing].
Another is a drive shaft coupling device, which you can use when you're towing a rear-wheel-drive vehicle. Instead of manually disconnecting and removing the drive shaft, a drive shaft coupling allows you to quickly switch between driving (drive shaft engaged) and towing (drive shaft disengaged) modes right from the driver's seat [source: Remco Towing].
The last component is an axle-lock. If you're towing a front-wheel-drive vehicle with the drive wheels on the ground, you should probably invest in an axle-lock. Rather than manually disconnecting your front axle, this device disconnects the automatic transmission with just a simple twist. Once you have the axle unlocked, you can safely tow the vehicle. A twist in the opposite direction locks the axle for normal driving [source: Remco Towing].
Probably the best bit of advice anyone can offer you for towing a two-wheel-drive vehicle is that you check your owner's manual for towing instructions and precautions. Manufacturers set guidelines that are specific to the year, make and model of every vehicle they build. Ignoring this valuable information resource could be a big (and potentially costly) mistake.
To read more about towing and other related topics, follow the links on the next page.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- How to Tow a Four-wheel-drive Vehicle
- How to Tow at the Maximum Controllable Speed
- How Trailer Towing Safety Works
- How Transmission Coolers Work
- Green Towing: Is there a green way to tow?
- 10 Tips for Easy Towing
- Using Mirrors While Towing
- Passing While Towing
- Braking While Towing
- How to Turn While Towing
- HowStuffWorks - Trucks Channel
More Great Links
- Penske Truck Rentals. "Tow Dolly - Car Carriers and Tow Dollies." (Oct. 1, 2008) http://www.pensketruckrental.com/personal_rental/accessories/towing_tow_dolly.html
- Remco Towing. "Remco's Axle-Lock." (Oct. 1, 2008) http://www.remcotowing.com/remco_axle_lock
- Remco Towing. "Remco's Drive Shaft Coupling." (Oct. 1, 2008) http://www.remcotowing.com/remco_drive_shaft_coupling
- Remco Towing. "Remco's Lube Pump." (Oct. 1, 2008) http://www.remcotowing.com/remco_lube_pump
- RV Supply Warehouse. "Tow Bars, Tow Dollies and Accessories." (Oct. 1, 2008) http://www.rvsupplywarehouse.com/product/catalog.cfm/nid/219