Need to know how to tow a car? Look no further
Towing a car is rarely a planned event, but when it happens it pays to know how to go about it.
To better prepare yourself, read through our comprehensive car towing guide, which will give you the confidence and knowledge you need.
Bear in mind, though, that towing a car is not a simple affair, and must be done at your own risk. If you are uncertain or not confident about any aspect of towing, do not carry it out, instead calling in the professionals. A car should not be towed for a great distance, either, and should only really be considered in an emergency.
What to do before towing a car
If you are in need of a tow, make sure that you carry out the following steps first:
- Place an ‘On Tow’ sign on the rear of the car being towed
- Ensure that you have a tow rope or solid tow bar to hand – check that it is not damaged, and that it is certified to tow at least as much as towed car’s weight
- Check the owner’s manual for where to fix the tow device – most cars have a built-in towing eye hidden behind a plastic cover or underneath the bumper. Other cars may have a separate eye, typically kept where the spare wheel is, that requires screwing in.
- It goes without saying, but while cars have a recovery eye by the rear bumper, the car should only ever be towed from the front eye
- Leave the ignition in the ‘on’ position in the car to be towed to ensure that the steering does not lock
How to tow a car with another car
Both parties should agree on what hand signals to use before towing, and you can follow this handy guide to familiarise yourself with the accepted Highway Code hand signals.
The towing driver
- Do not attempt to keep up with traffic. Limit your speed to around 15mph and keep all throttle and brake inputs smooth and gentle – gently slip the clutch in a manual car when pulling away
- Ensure that the tow rope is always taut (this is something that requires some co-ordination with the person being towed)
- If you are using a towing pole, it is still important to brake and accelerate gently as harsh changes in speed or direction can damage the pole and/or vehicles
The driver being towed
- Make sure that your transmission is in neutral, and the handbrake is off
- Watch the car ahead for any hand signals from the driver and to see when its brake lights and indicators are activated
- Keep a light pressure on the brake pedal to make sure that the tow rope remains taut
- Do not pump your brake pedal as it will get harder to depress each time – it can also put undue tension on the towing rope and the drivetrain of the towing car
- Anticipate what will happen next by looking at the road ahead of the towing car
- Turn off the fan, radio and interior lights but keep the ignition in the ‘on’ position so the steering wheel doesn’t lock. Use the headlights if it is dark
Towing a car rules
The maximum speed limit for towing a caravan or trailer is 30mph in built-up areas , 50mph on single carriageways and 60mph on dual carriageways. These speeds are way too fast when towing another car, and while there is no specific speed limit for car towing, most experts recommend 15mph as a maximum. Using a tow bar instead of a tow rope will give you a bit more control if you need to exceed this limit.
The law covering towing rules in the UK changed on 16 December 2021, and most standard driving licences allow you to tow up to 3,500kg. You should still check the manual to see what your car’s maximum towing capacity is, trying to tow a Land Rover with a Mini isn’t a good idea.
Aside from some common-sense advice and following the basic rules of the road, there are some specific rules that you must also abide by when towing a car:
- The distance between the two vehicles should never be more than 4.5 metres
- If the distance between the two vehicles is more than 1.5 metres, a coloured cloth or flag should be placed in the centre point of the tow rope or bar
- Both people operating the vehicles need to have valid driver’s licences
Car towing FAQs
Can an automatic car be towed?
Check the manual to see what the manufacturer recommends, as towing longer distances or at higher speeds can damage an automatic transmission.
Towing an automatic car short distance to get it out of a dangerous or potentially hazardous area should be fine in most cases – just make sure to follow what the manual says.
Can you tow a car on the motorway?
No, it is illegal to do so. You will need to call a towing service with a flatbed truck to have your car moved.
Can you tow a car with a rope?
Yes. Towing with a rope requires extra care by both parties – it should be kept taut at all times to avoid jolting the vehicles and potentially causing damage.
Make sure that the rope has been designed for towing, otherwise it could snap under the stress.
What weight can my car tow?
The law covering towing rules states that most standard driving licences allow you to tow up to 3,500kg. This is called the maximum authorised mass (MAM).
You will need to check the owner’s handbook to see what the maximum allowable towing mass is for your particular vehicle. As a rule of thumb, the towing vehicle should always be heavier than the one being towed.
Change cars with carwow
Looking for the perfect new car to minimise your chances of breaking down? Then take a look at our latest deals.
A network of trusted dealers will come to you with their best offers. There’s no need to haggle or negotiate, and you can compare your offers in one place without even having to leave your home.
If you’re thinking of selling your old car before, you can do that through carwow as well. Our network of dealers bid on your car, leaving you to select the best offer — no haggling, no stress, and the price you’re offered is the price you’ll get. The dealership will make payment and collect your car.