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How to tow a car safely

Need to tow another vehicle? Here's all you need to know about keeping safe and secure

2 minutes

If you're ever tempted to tow someone's car, a few minutes watching YouTube fails may change your mind!

It's not that easy. Still, our handy guide should give you the confidence you need.

  • First things first - before you contemplate towing or being towed make sure you've got the right equipment!
  • Make sure your vehicle  can cope with the weight of the vehicle that needs towing - the owner's manual should tell you what you need to know
  • Avoid any sudden movements, especially when pulling away - This can damage both cars and even cause the tow rope to break

It may seem straightforward in principle, but towing another car can be trickier than you think

When you break down, your first call for help should be to your breakdown cover provider. They'll give you advice about what's best for your situation over the phone and send an engineer out to help.

With LV= Britannia Rescue, four out of five cars are fixed at the roadside*, but just occasionally, you may need to be recovered a short distance to a place where it's safe to work on your car. When this happens it's good to know what to expect.



Car towing essentials

Before you contemplate towing or being towed make sure you've got the right equipment. If you're using a breakdown service, they'll have everything you need.

This includes a suitable tow rope or tow bar. If you're towing a friend, don't just raid your shed for a bit of twine, as it won't be strong enough. Tow ropes are usually lengths of webbing with hooks at either end that allow you to fix the rope safely to both cars.

Most modern cars have a special towing bracket where you need to attach the tow rope. There will be one at the back and one at the front of the car. If it's not obvious where they are, you probably need to screw in an eyelet attachment, which can usually be found with the spare tyre. Your car owner's manual will show how this is done.

It's essential that the vehicle used for towing can cope with the weight of the vehicle that needs towing. Again, refer to the owner's manual, as it will tell you what weight can be towed safely.

You must also put an 'On Tow' sign in the back window of the car being towed. These often come as a set when you buy a tow rope but you can make your own if needed.



Being towed when you've broken down

Before you set off, make sure the car's gearbox is in neutral and the handbrake is off. If your car is an automatic or 4x4 it may not be possible to tow it because damage may be caused to the driveshaft or gearbox. Read the owner's manual for details. Your breakdown cover professional can arrange for a recovery truck to move your car instead.

Turn the ignition on so that the electrics in the car come on – if they're working. This will release the steering lock, so you can steer the car safely.

However, because the power steering may not be working you'll have more work than usual to do when steering the car. The same goes for braking. You may find it harder to apply the brakes, so will need to factor this in when anticipating coming to a stop.

As you'll be 'driving' so closely to the towing vehicle, stay very alert to every manoeuvre. Try to keep the tow rope taut between the two cars.

Agree some pre-arranged signals, such as honking the car horn, if you need to slow down or stop the car.



How to tow a car safely

The key to safe towing is slow and steady.

Avoid any sudden movements, especially when pulling away. This can damage both cars and even cause the tow rope to break.

Give the driver behind plenty of notice when you decide to turn, stop or slow down. Apply the brakes gently so they have time to react. Indicate well ahead that you plan to turn.

If possible, agree a route that you want to take before you set off, so that the driver behind can anticipate where they're going.

Avoid any sudden movements, especially when pulling away.

Keep to the car towing rules

  • Both the person towing the broken down car and the person driving the car being towed must hold a current driving licence.
  • You can't tow a car that's been declared as 'off road'. To be towed on public roads, a car must be insured, taxed and have an MOT, just like every other vehicle.
  • When using a tow rope it should be no longer than 4.5m. Any rope over 1.5m should have a brightly coloured cloth attached so overtaking drivers can see that they can't pull in.
  • Towing can be dangerous, so only tow for short distances.
  • If in any doubt, call a breakdown professional.

* Average response time of 49.30 mins. 87.93% of customers were able to complete their journey, based on 130,242 jobs from Agent Performance Review Report. Dec '17 - May '18