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How to tow a car

Someone attaching a tow rope to a tow hook.

Looking after your car properly can mean you're always learning, from testing tyre pressures to fitting spares and topping up oil levels. But there's one skill many drivers are yet to master – how to tow a car.

Whether it's your car that's broken down or a family member needs your help, knowing how to tow will mean you can quickly and safely get the car where it needs to be, whether that's back home or to the garage.

This handy guide contains all you need to know about towing a car:

Rules for towing a car

What's the law on towing cars?

The laws for towing a car vary depending on how many years you've been driving. If you passed your driving test after 1st January 1997 and haven't sat a specific car and trailer test, restrictions apply – the GOV.UK website has more information.

By law, the broken down car must display an 'On Tow' sign at the back whilst being towed, while the person behind the wheel needs to be a qualified driver.

Are you allowed to tow a car with a rope?

If you're wondering how to tow a car without a tow bar, you can use a rope or chain, though as the RAC notes, the distance between the cars can't exceed 4.5 metres. If the distance is greater than 1.5 metres, the rope or chain must be made clearly visible to road users from both sides – for instance, by tying a bright piece of fabric around the middle.

The best way to tow a car is to use a specific tow strap, which has hooks on both ends that easily attach to both cars' towing hitches. If you're using chains, it's possible for the links to stretch and break under the strain.

Can you tow a car with no insurance?

If the car's wheels make contact with the road, it needs to be insured. Even if it's broken down, there's still a chance the car could be involved in an accident in transit, with car insurance you're protecting against these events. As well as insurance, the car needs to be taxed and have a valid MOT, if applicable.

Can you tow a car on the motorway?

You can't tow a car on the motorway if it didn't break down on the motorway. The speed of other vehicles travelling on the carriageway would make it extremely dangerous for you, the other driver and all other road users.

Can I tow a car blocking my driveway?

If you wake up to find a car blocking your driveway, the first thing to do is ask your neighbours if they know who owns it.

The Ask the Police website explains that, in most areas, local councils have taken on the responsibility of enforcing parking provisions under the Civil Parking Enforcement (CPE). Check if your local council uses CPEs – if not, consider contacting your local police.

How to tow a car

Now you know the rules, here are some tips for towing a car:

Before you set off

  • Only cars with manual gearboxes can be towed, so you'll need professional assistance if your car's automatic.
  • Make sure you check the rope, chain or strap for weaknesses or damage before setting off.
  • Agree a route with the other driver beforehand, ideally one that avoids built-up areas and won't require you to do a lot of stop-starting.
  • Don't connect the steel hooks to the bumpers, as it's likely they'll be ripped off.

On the road

  • Use the clutch to pull away gently to prevent sudden movements which could cause the rope to break.
  • Slow and steady wins the race, never exceed 15mph.
  • Avoid sudden breaking when you're in transit. A handy tip is to tap lightly on the brake ahead of any actual braking to warn the other driver.
  • Indicate in plenty of time so the other driver can prepare.
  • Check your mirrors regularly to ensure everything's OK behind you and pull over if you notice changes in your oil pressure or temperature gauge.

If you're the driver being towed

  • Leave the ignition switch on to disengage the steering lock. If the car has power steering or power-assisted brakes, you'll need to apply a little elbow grease to operate it when the engine's off and it's being towed.
  • If it's dark, you need to switch on the lights as usual.
  • Make sure the car is in neutral and the handbrake is off before you start moving.
  • Watch the driver in front at all times – steer and brake in coordination with them and look out for brake lights and indicators.
  • Aim to keep the strap, rope or chain tight at all times to prevent jolting – this can be controlled by tapping lightly on the brake.

Frequently asked questions about towing

Do you need a key to tow a car?

Yes, you'll need your car keys to start the ignition. A car can be towed without a key but this usually requires professional equipment to lift the car off the ground.

Can towing a car damage it?

As long as you follow all of the above advice for safe towing, there's no reason why either car should get damaged in transit.

Car insurance with Hastings Direct

While towing a car is a good skill to have, you can save yourself the headache by taking out quality breakdown cover with Hastings Direct. We offer four levels of optional breakdown cover with our car insurance policies, all of which feature benefits such as UK-wide coverage, roadside assistance, and cover for misfuelling in the UK.

Car insurance

Our straightforward car insurance is Defaqto 5 Star rated, so you can be sure you're getting a great product. Plus you can choose from a great range of optional extras.

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