How Flatbed Trailer Towing Works

Flatbed trailers can easily tow extremely large and heavy items over long distances.
Flatbed trailers can easily tow extremely large and heavy items over long distances.
Dan Moore/

­You've just put the finishing touches on your hot rod, and you want to show it off at a huge summer car show in Daytona, Fla. You've been blogging online throughout the restoration process, and ­your fellow gearheads from the various Internet chat forums you regularly prowl can't wait to see your ride up-close. The problem? You live in New York.

No worries. You scored a buddy's flatbed car trailer, so you get the car loaded up and chained down. It's time to hit Interstate 95 South for the coolest weekend you've had in years.

Everything is going smoothly. You're cruising, listening to Van Halen on the radio when suddenly you see traffic accumulating up ahead. No big deal: You're from New York. You can handle traffic. As you approach, you notice you've entered a construction zone and the local department of transportation has decided to close one lane and make you merge into one of the two remaining lanes. As you get closer, you start to get frustrated because all the people driving Honda Civics and other little nimble cars are darting into gaps and taking open spots left by big trucks and trailers.

­Finally, you see a gap. You know it's probably not the best idea to force your way in, but you throw reason out the window and gun the accelerator. The next thing you know, you feel a tremendous shake and hear a loud bang behind you. Someone has just slammed into you. You curse under your breath as you look in the rearview mirror, hoping your Camaro hasn't been damaged by the idiot that just rear ended you. To your horror, you see nothing but an empty trailer behind you and you hear nothing but a bunch of cars honking their horns in your wake. Instantly, it registers - - you just lost your car.

­It's rare, but this scenario has actually happened before. Flatbed trailers are specially designed to haul a wide range of loads, usually vehicles. But, as you know, cars roll freely. If you don't properly secure a vehicle on a flatbed trailer, you could be in for a long day. The next page contains tips on effective flatbed trailer towing and a list of reliable accessories you may want to consider before you make the terrible mistake of improperly towing a flatbed trailer and your painstakingly restored hot red.

The Purpose of the Flatbed Trailer

Make sure you secure your load before you hit the open road.
Make sure you secure your load before you hit the open road.
Kevin Miller/

­Flatbed trailers are also u­sed to tow bulky commercial loads such as large pipes, lumber and machinery. A low boy trailer is a flatbed trailer that sits very close to the ground. Low boys typically haul large tractors and heavy equipment to and from construction sites and strip mines.

Whatever your reasons for using a flatbed trailer, chances are you will be towing a heavy load. Quite often, that large load will be top-heavy. If you are towing vehicles, you have wheels -- and the possibility of rolling -- to add to the equation. In essence, whenever you tow a flatbed trailer, you'd better take extra precaution with how you load your cargo.

You need to fasten your load securely before you can even think about hitting the open road. If you don't, you'll end up losing your load, as we saw in the opening scenario.­ These are some of the most popular tie-down accessories:

  • Nylon strap - - Reinforced nylon straps used to tie-down loads. Straps come in varying width and length options
  • Basket strap - - Web-like nylon strap that fits over wheels and can be hooked and attached to trailer eyelets
  • V-Straps - - Nylon straps with steel hooks at each end used to latch onto parts underneath the a vehicle's undercarriage
  • Ratchet - - Steel ratcheting mechanism used with nylon straps to fasten and tighten the load

If nylon isn't available, you can use chains if you'd like. The same accessories listed above are also available in chain form.

Now that you have the proper equipment, let's go through the proper procedure of loading that car for the car show. First, position the car evenly on the trailer and over the axel. Pull the car as far forward as you can without touching the trailer's front. Next, set the parking brake and put the car in gear if it has standard transmission. Place a chock block in front of and behind at least one wheel, although the more the better.

Now, it's time for the fun stuff. If you have basket straps, use those first. Place one over each tire (if you have only one, use it on the front). You'll want the ratchet in front of the front tires and behind the rear tires. Once you've secured the tires, move underneath the vehicle. It's best to use a V-strap on the front and rear. If your car has tow hooks, use those. Most cars have tow hooks or tie­-down eyelets somewhere near the bumpers. Whatever you do, don't hook V-straps to any suspension parts. We don't want to tear anything up. Run the straps in opposite directions so that you can pull the car each way. Finally, ratchet everything down and check your light, hitch and safety chains. Now, you're ready to go.

Be very careful when you're driving a heavy load, like a car, on a flatbed trailer. Drive at a reasonable speed and avoid quick maneuvers. Give yourself plenty of time and room to brake and drive smoothly through curves and turns. Take it easy. Add more time to your trip if you must.

­For more tips on towing trailers and selecting the best towing accessories for your needs, explore the links on the next page.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links


  • "Towing a Trailer; Being Equipped for Safety." (Oct. 12, 2008)
  • "Towing Accessories." (Oct. 13, 2008)