Can towing mess up transmission? (top 9 tips)

In this short guide, we will answer the following question: Can towing mess up transmission? We will give you the ultimate ten tips for towing your vehicle safely.

Can towing mess up transmission?

Yes, towing can mess up your car’s transmission.  Without the use of special equipment, you can cause catastrophic damage to the automatic transmission by towing. Because the torque converter (a vital and expensive component within the transmission) is constantly in the “pilot” position, no matter where the selector gear is, it can be damaged even with the shortest, slowest trailer. 

In addition to physically disconnecting the train from the pilot by unscrewing the universal joint on the driveshaft, there are a number of safety precautions that you can implement:

  1. Raise the drive wheels. The drive wheels (the front axle for a front drive wheel vehicle and the rear axle for a rear drive wheel vehicle) must be raised off the ground and immobilized to prevent damage to the transmission and the wheel. torque converter, even with the shortest trailers. 

Try to get one with an integral handle to get the vehicle onboard. Don’t rely on the assumption which axle is the drive shaft (if you’re not sure, check your owner’s manual or call the manufacturer before loading).

  1. Exceptions to the “raise the drive wheels” rule. Check the vehicle manual. Some manufacturers claim that a short trailer at minimum legal speed is unlikely to damage the transmission; most manufacturers recommend not exceeding 25 mph (40.23 km / h). 

Follow the instructions in the manual to the letter. The vehicle must be in the “neutral” position. Note that when towing a vehicle without the engine running there is no power assist for the brakes or the steering wheel, so the handling will be peculiar and noticeably less responsive.

  1. Permanent Drive Four Wheel Vehicles. Permanent drive four-wheelers, such as Range Rovers, often have high- and low-range gearboxes; Between the high and low select positions, there is a neutral position in which the shafts are not meshed with the transmission. 

By placing the high-low selector in neutral (this is different from putting the transmission in neutral) the vehicle effectively becomes a complex twin axle trailer, and can be towed without any special equipment or fear of damage.

  1. A word of warning. Any direct connection between the road wheels and a non-running engine is likely to damage both the engine and the transmission. A connected drive train can flip the engine in the same way as starting a vehicle with a gearbox, and a dead engine will take the damage in no time. 

Since the engine is not circulating and leaking lubricating oil, the oil pump and housings could be destroyed. The cost of repairing such damage is likely to be much greater than the cost of hiring a tow truck.

How to protect your vehicle while towing

Discover these three techniques to make sure your vehicle is not damaged during towing:

  1. Release the handbrake. Every time you call a heavy truck tow truck you know your car won’t move on its own, so it may make sense to put the handbrake on. However, it could potentially damage the car if towed, especially if it is a traditional tow truck using the two-wheeled road method.

When you release the handbrake, you can then tow the car safely even with two wheels on the road. It is important to do this in order to take care not to damage the brake system but also the tires. You must make sure that the wheels which are on the ground are free.

It will therefore be necessary to take care to remove the gear in the case of a manual gearbox but also in the case of an automatic gearbox In the event of towing your car via a flatbed truck, the brakes are obviously less of a problem, as there are no wheels on the road, but you need to make sure that the vehicle brake is off when loading onto the flatbed truck. A good tow truck driver, however, should tell you this.

  1.  Reassemble the windows. This is an aspect often overlooked when towing, but be sure to close all vehicle windows. This will prevent dust and particles raised from the rear of the tow truck from entering the vehicle, which could damage the seats and require a major cleaning. You should also be aware that it could start to rain while your car is being transported by the tow truck.
  1. Take pictures. Taking pictures is always recommended before getting towed. With most of us now having a window phone or smartphone, equipped with cameras, in our pocket, we just have to remember to photograph the vehicle at the right time. 

It will then be easy to quickly establish the condition of the vehicle before it is towed and picked up. Information that may prove to be of great use to your insurance company in the event of litigation or additional damage caused by the troubleshooting.

More tips for safe towing a vehicle

  1. Stop and turn signals should work. To use the tow bar, it is essential to know the weight of the disabled vehicle and the towing capacity of the car. Rule number 1 is that the vehicle towing must be heavier than the vehicle it is towing. This makes perfect sense, because the towing vehicle must have enough power to pull and control the other car. 

If the authorized total rolling weight (i.e. the authorized weight for a set of vehicles) is greater than 3500 kg, the B permit will no longer be sufficient, then a B permit will be required for an authorization up to 4250 kg.

  1. Check the lights of the disabled vehicle before hooking up the tow bar. Stop Lights and turn signals must work on the towed vehicle. You can hook up a plate to the broken down vehicle with the different lights and a wiring system can allow you to link and coordinate the lights for braking and turn signals of both vehicles. While you are driving, do not forget to turn on the warnings.
  1. The tow bar is to be reserved for small roads. Do not use the freeway or an expressway and limit your speed to less than 50 km / h. Of course, try to drive as short as possible and make the trip as short as possible.
  1. When driving, respect the alignment between the two vehicles and especially do not make sudden movements such as hard braking or a sudden change of direction.

By respecting these few safety rules, you will be able to reach the nearest garage or any other place without hindrance, where you can put your car in a safe and secure place before repairs can be carried out.


Towing a vehicle is no small task and it is always best to call a professional first. Depending on the situation, sometimes there is even no alternative. Otherwise, using a tow bar can do the trick, as long as the drivers are well aware of the various rules to follow. 

By respecting the distances, by indicating your presence on the road as necessary and by making sure that the total weight does not exceed that authorized, you will be able to cover the distance which separates you from the next garage with all the necessary precautions.

Please do not hesitate to get in contact should you have any questions or comments on the content. 

FAQ on Can towing mess up transmission?

How do you tow a car?

Here are a few rules to follow when towing a car:

  • Favor secondary axes.
  • The vehicle towing the towed car must be more massive.
  • Reduce the trip to the bare minimum.
  • Adapt your speed, limiting it to 50 km / h if possible.
  • In the event of a maneuver, switch on the hazard warning lights.

How to tow a car with power steering?

To tow, a car with power steering, get in your car and switch on the ignition so that the steering does not lock up. You should also put the gear in neutral and remove the handbrake. Remember, the speed should not exceed 25 km / h and the tug should adopt a smooth ride to prevent any danger

How to move a broken down vehicle?

To move a broken down vehicle, always stop in the emergency lane, park your vehicle as far to the right as possible and signal your presence by activating your hazard lights. For added safety, if you have a warning triangle, place it about 30 meters behind the vehicle.

Is it forbidden to tow a car?

Image result for How do you tow a car?

If you are on a freeway or expressway, the answer is no. If you are on the motorway: it is forbidden to tow your car alone with ropes for example. For all towing, you must use an approved bar. Ropes and straps are prohibited.