No one wants this to happen, but unfortunately, it’s just a part of life. Your car breaks down, you’re in the middle of nowhere, and you need a little help to get back on the road. It’s inevitable, so the best thing to do in this situation is to calmly think of the best solution to the problem – using a tow strap or a tow dolly.
If you have roadside assistance, this is a good option to use. You can call the customer service number and ask for help, and then wait for the workers to make their way to your location. Some lucky customers may have a junk car that they want to have hauled away for free. Or, for the self-sufficient car drivers out there that want to keep their vehicles, you can try and tow the car yourself. If you have access to a heavy-duty vehicle, or your buddy’s truck, this option will save you some time and money. Plus, you’ll feel pretty bad-ass.
A good thing to know before embarking on this adventure is to realize the seriousness of what you’re about to do. This is not an easy task that anyone can do. You will need to be careful, in order to prevent damage to yourself, anyone else, or your car. We have compiled safe ways in which to tow your car so you can get your car home in one piece – and yourself.
Option 1: Use Tow Straps
Before you make the decision to use tow straps for your car, you have to first ensure that using a tow strap is legal where you live. Tow straps are typically considered to be a semi-dangerous way to tow a car, which is why many locations have restricted the usage. Check city and state ordinances to make sure you won’t be violating any laws – jail time won’t help your car get home safely.
The next step in using tow straps is to untangle the rope and place it in front of the vehicle. The end of the tow rope should line up with the vehicle that needs to be towed, helping you visualize the position in which to properly tow the vehicle. Double-check the tow rope to ensure that it is in good condition, and does not contain any frays. If the rope is slightly damaged, it could break when you start towing the broken-down vehicle, resulting in a dangerous situation on the road.
After the tow rope has been deemed safe and the vehicles are lined up, you need to find the recovery point on each vehicle. The recovery point is usually just a hole or a set of holes on the vehicle that provides enough lee-way for a rope to pass through. For the vehicle to be towed, locate the point to the front of the vehicle, and vise-versa on the vehicle that will be doing the towing.
Next up, you have to run the strap through the point on the car in need of towing. If the strap has a hook, you can use the hook to ensure extra safety by connecting the strap to itself through the recovery point on the front of the car. After you have properly secured the strap through the hole, you should lay the strap flat on the ground.
After the strap is in front of the car on the ground, make sure the tow vehicle is positioned properly in front of the broken-down car. Ensure that the position is correct so that both vehicles will move straight forward once you start driving the car. You really don’t want the back car to be at an angle when you start moving, since that could cause the car to easily roll off of a narrow road. After the positioning is correct, back the front vehicle over the strap so you can have a little bit of slack.
Once your front vehicle is positioned, you can attach the tow strap to the back of the vehicle. Try and run the strap through the recovery point and hook the strap to it, to prevent hooking a metal hook directly to the vehicle. Pull the vehicle forward a little to make the strap taut and until enough tension is on the tow strap to lift it off the ground.
Last but not least, it is finally time to start towing the car. This is possibly the most important step, because you need to make sure you are towing the vehicle very slowly. Make sure the broken-down car is in neutral, and there is a separate driver inside of the car in case of any need for braking while driving. If you have a long distance to go, you should use a tow dolly, which we will discuss next.
Option 2: Using Tow Dollies
The tow dolly is considered to be the best option for towing a vehicle. It is a great low-cost alternative to transporting vehicles for long distances, in comparison to the unsafe and unpredictable tow straps. Tow dollies are available to rent behind your own vehicle, or behind a company's vehicle, like via U-Haul moving trucks.
If you choose to use a tow dolly from a reputable company, the U-Haul car rentals can tow almost all four-wheel drive vehicles and rear-wheel drive vehicles. U-Haul is able to provide the correct steps and process to go through based on your personal vehicle and requirements.
If you are doing a tow dolly on your own, you will need to follow the correct steps to ensure safety and proper protocol. The first step in towing your car using a tow dolly is to attach the tow dolly to the hitch of the vehicle you will be using to tow your broken-down car. The hitch is the rear portion of the vehicle that is designed for use while towing a car. We recommend having someone else with you while you are trying to attach the dolly to the hitch, since it takes some technique and time to properly line-up the vehicles.
Step two requires you to connect the safety chains. There should be a minimum of two safety chains and a wiring harness from the dolly. Take both chains and cross them to form an ‘X’ shape, and then hang the hooks on the hitch. There should be two spots for chains on either side of a car hitch, helping to evenly distribute the pressure. After this, you can connect the wire harness to the towing vehicle.
Up next, you have to properly line up the vehicle you’re using to tow the broken-down car, the dolly, and the broken-down vehicle. This step is similar to the one for using tow straps, since all parts have to be properly aligned to safely use. After proper alignment is reached, you can back the tow vehicle and dolly up to the very front of the broken-down car.
The next step requires you to push the broken-down car onto the tow dolly. If the vehicle is able to run and the engine works, you can put the car into first or drive, and slowly accelerate until you position the car onto the dolly. If your car isn’t able to run, you will definitely need some help to push your car onto the dolly. One person will need to sit inside the car to ensure the wheel has the car lined up properly with the dolly, while a few friends (or really nice strangers) will have to push the car. Once your car is fully on the dolly, do not accelerate anymore – this could potentially push the car over the safety lip at the front of the dolly.
After the car is safely on the dolly, you need to ensure the car wont’ move during the transportation. Strap the vehicle to the dolly utilizing the wheel straps, which are provided with the tow dolly. These are meant to go over the front wheels by going over the top of the tires and then tightening them as much as possible. After the straps are over the tires, you need to repeatedly open and close the ratchet mechanism to ensure proper tightness. After the straps are fully tightened, you have to connect the safety chains.
Make sure you disengage the parking brake in the broken-down car so that the rear wheels can freely spin. Now it’s finally time to start to move the broken-down car. Be sure to treat this step just as carefully as you would with a tow strap, since you are in charge of another vehicle. It is a general rule of thumb to double your braking and acceleration distances while you’re driving.
Option 3: Using a Trailer
Another method you can use in order to tow your car is to utilize a trailer. First step in this process is to connect your trailer to the tow vehicle and then back up the vehicle to the trailer hitch. Once the ball of the thick is positioned directly below the lip of the trailer, you can then turn the handle to lower it onto the ball of the hitch. After it has been lowered, you should hang the hooks of the safety chains onto their pre-designated spots on the hitch.
The next step is similar to the two previous modes – you have to line up the vehicle for towing, the trailer, and the broken-down car in order to ensure movement in a straight line. After the vehicles are lined up, you have to move the towed vehicle onto the trailer. By either pushing the car or driving it onto the trailer, you need to move the broken-down car onto the trailer until the rear wheels are fully on. At this point, turn on the parking brake to make sure the car doesn’t roll off of the trailer.
After the car is securely on the trailer, you need to enhance the security and safety by sliding ratchet straps over each wheel and tightening them until they are immovable. You will get an idea of how close you are to finishing tightening the wheels when the vehicle begins to get lower on the trailer. After they are fully tightened, you need to attach the safety chains to the recovery points/holes on the frame.
Just like driving with the other two towing options, you now need to be extremely cautious while driving on the road with your vehicle in tow. It takes twice as far to slow down or accelerate while you're towing, so planning ahead and following traffic laws are imperative to the safety of both your vehicle and yourself.
There you have it – three different towing options that are each usable in differing circumstances.
Now that we’ve gone over the three main towing methods that you can use to transport your broken-down vehicle, you need to decide which one works best for you. Using a tow strap might be best for transporting over a very short distance and with an experienced driver. Using a tow dolly could be a great option for when you or a friend have a dolly to spare. Using a tow trailer could be the best option for you if you have a heavy-duty vehicle and a spare trailer. No matter what method you choose, be sure to remember the correct steps, enforce safety protocols, and follow all of the directions in the right order.