On towing your vehicle to safety or the shop

The in basket: Jeff Griswell says in an e-mail, “Recently my truck was having some issues and it could not make it home on its own so I had to have my wife tow me home with her van. I was having a discussion with someone and they told me that it was illegal for me to tow my own car (home or even to a shop) so it could get worked on.

“I am curious about this,” he said. “I looked online (WSP site) and all I could find was about tow trucks and trailers. My question: Is or is it not legal and where could I read up on law(s) about it.
The out basket: When I was younger and foolish, I had a family member tow a car another family member had wrecked to a body shop for repair. I rode in the towed car and soon learned the tow chain should have been longer or the driver of the towing vehicle was unaware of how scary it was to be traveling 35 or 40 miles per hour that close to a vehicle directly ahead of me.

By the time we reached the body shop, I had worn the brakes of the car I was in down to nearly nothing and was just barely able to stop. I should have honked my helper over and asked him to slow down.

If the laws were the same then as now, we were definitely not a legal towing tandem. But it’s not illegal for a private party to tow a vehicle, if some rules we didn’t observe are observed.

I touched on this subject in March, when the question was limited to towing a car out of the ditch in the snow. State Trooper Russ Winger said then that the State Patrol discourages it because of the inherent danger of being close to moving vehicles when traction is bad and one or both of you probably is blocking a lane while hooking up.

Both he and Deputy Scott Wilson of the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office said there is no law against private parties towing one another, but safety chains and adequate lighting for turn signals and brake lights are required.

“There needs to be a separate set (pair) of safety chains attached between the two vehicles in addition to the primary tow bar / tow strap or other device,” Scott said. The chains must be on each side of that device.

“Since the vehicle being towed usually does obscure the rear signal / brake lights of the towing vehicle,” he said, “it’s imperative that proper lighting be rigged on the vehicle being towed to indicate to following drivers that the operator is braking or signaling to change lanes or execute a turn,” much like when towing a boat or trailer.

Russ said having a licensed driver in the towed car will work. “The licensed driver of the towed vehicle will obviously have to operate the brakes and there is no reason they cannot operate the turn signals and/or use arm turn signals in the daylight hours. Hazard lights activated on the towed vehicle is also a good idea.

“If the towed vehicle does not have operational lighting, then a lighting bar or harness connected to the towing vehicle’s lighting system would be required.

“It should be said that this type of towing situation should be used in more emergency type situations to get a vehicle off of the roadway and to a place of repair,” he said. “Motorists should not be routinely towing vehicles around using this method.”

He also added that in “collisions that occur during ‘normal’ weather and require traffic control and proper equipment to get the vehicles out in a timely manner, we are not going to wait around for the driver’s friend or family member to show up with equipment (tow strap/cable/chain) that may or may not be able to do the job. It increases the already dangerous and vulnerable position that officers and drivers are in while stopped along the highway.”

He and Scott referred Jeff and others interested in this subject to RCWs 46.44.070,  RCW 46.37.050 and RCW 46.37.495, which add a few nuances to what’s required.


28 thoughts on “On towing your vehicle to safety or the shop

  1. As someone who has in the past driven a tow truck professionally, I found your article on self-towing informative and curious as to why you not once mentioned insurance coverage.
    Unlike the good old everything we drove weighed at least two tons and was made of steel so it didn’t really matter how you connected the disabled car to the towing vehicle days, cars today are designed with specialized connection points that need to be used to distribute the stress of towing or pulling, across the chassis. Connect to the wrong point and you can easily tweak the frame, or damage some component mistakenly identified as structure. (I have seen this in person).
    I don’t know it for a fact, but I would bet that most auto insurance companies don’t endorse, (or for that matter, provide insurance coverage), for self-towing for the very safety reasons you pointed out, and the possibility of significant damage caused by an innocent person trying to do the right thing.
    Like everything else, towing has gotten expensive, but so has repairing a car when the damage is caused by someone without the knowledge/experience to do the job correctly. And if the car is damaged, most reputable companies are bonded and insured for the work they do, so you have some recourse. You best friend will no longer be that when their car suffers a few thousand dollars in damage because you had a better way to save a couple of bucks and didn’t call a tow truck.

  2. I definitely agree with you Bob. Owning my own towing company I think I have a little experience in that field. Everyone is trying to save dollars by risking hundreds. Just call a tow company, make sure the job is done right, quick, and by experts!

    1. My friend just blew a head gasket about 30 min away from home and I towed him back. Yes it can be a little sketchy if you don’t know what you’re doing. We had the lights on/were signaling and put a sign on the back that said “in tow”. We used a 15 ft tow strap (Straps are slightly better in a slack situation than a chain) and the distance seemed perfect. Towing on the back roads was not bad but one section of traffic lights that we couldn’t avoid was a bit stressful.

      It just takes a level head and good communication. Also we both have a lot of experience operating equipment, I wouldn’t recommend it if you are not 100% confident in your abilities. It would be very easy for the towed car to rear end the towing vehicle, especially since power braking and steering do not function when the engine in not running.

  3. It’s good to know that you need to have a method for showing turning signals when using a tow rope to tow your car. It’s important that you follow this process safely to prevent accidents. It’s definitely that you only use a rope that you know can take the weight of your vehicle without breaking.

  4. Great Job! Your blog is so informative for me.You share some beneficial tips I really like it.It also provides the personal satisfaction of undergoing and completing a creative project. Keep it up Admin.

  5. To be honest finding an accessible and reliable towing company is not an easy task to do, especially when you are entirely stuck in an entrapping situation. Every one of us must have experienced one of these dilemmas and would have made it even worse by calling an unreliable towing company.

  6. This is some really good information about vehicle safety. It does seem like a good thing to be aware of when you need to have a car towed. I don’t know if I would want to tow my own car to the shop. Tha sounds stressful.

  7. Thanks for going over some safety tips for towing a vehicle. I hadn’t hear about a lighting bar, but it’s good to know that it can be used for a towed vehicle that may not having a working lighting system. I’m interested to learn more about this and what the installation process is like.

  8. Just because you own or have a tow truck doesn’t make you any more of a expert than someone who has towed their own vehicle.Tow owners posting, YOU where not born with the knowledge and learned. Try giving advice instead of selling a over priced tow. First timers yes can be stressful if you don’t use common sense. The tow driver and the one being towed need to have a understanding before just getting in and going. As for Helpful hints on DYI: the back car needs to pay attention to areas where stopping in needed. Back car should gently apply brakes to tug on front car (NOT slam on breaks). The tow car should maintain a steady speed and not try to race to destination. Tow car should gently pull from a stop and have its flashers going. Great tips and info in the article.

  9. Anyone could be tempted to self tow and save some dollars. I am sure any person who wishes to tow his car by himself will learn from your experience. By self towing you are risking your and others lives. Towing service providers don’t charge much and contacting them would be worth than damaging your vehicle by self towing.

  10. It’s interesting to me that some people choose to tow their own cars after an accident. While I understand the convenience of having a family member or friend with a couple chains and a heavy truck, I agree that it should only be used in emergencies. In general, I would prefer to call an accident towing service because I think it would be safer for the vehicle.

  11. My car is very old, and I want to hire a got-to towing company that I can call if it breaks down. Your article had some great tips for choosing a towing company like this, and I liked how you said to make sure the driver I hire is licensed and uses hazard lights when needed. Thanks; I’ll keep this in mind when choosing the best towing company for my old car.

  12. I recommend an auto club insurance that includes towing as part of the cost. I’ve had cars towed four times over the years and there’s never been a problem. They make the calls and pay the bills. The towing company knows if the front wheels or rear wheels need to be lifted or if the car can even be towed, or if it needs to be trucked. I’m hundreds ahead on towing bills with zero problems.
    I am old enough to know how to tow old US two wheel drive solid steel cars, but not Audi Quattros, Subaru AWD, etc., etc.

  13. I liked that you pointed out that when you are towing a car you need to have turn signals and brake lights working. That does seem like a good thing to know if you are considering towing something yourself. Personally, I would want to hire a professional towing service to get my broken car somewhere.

  14. When my three sons (in their 50’s now) were of junior high and highschool age, they had old cars that needed a tow more than once, so I lettered the words “CAR IN TOW” in black letters 4″ high on a 16″ x 18″yellow piece of plywood, and hung that on the back of the towed vehicle. That warned following drivers and it kept the Deputies away out here in the wilds of Crosby and Seabeck. I’ve kept the sign just in case.

  15. It helped when you mentioned how a tow truck driver needs to be licensed. I can see how anyone looking into this would want to take the time to do some research can help you find the best help when you are stranded. Personally, I would want to take the time to read reviews in order to find the best way to town your vehicle when it breaks down.

  16. I love that this mentioned that the tow truck driver should be licensed. It might also be good to check to make sure that they have insurance. This will protect you from liability if they accidentally damage your car.

  17. I didn’t realize that you could tow a car behind another car or a friend’s truck. Personally, I think I would rather call an auto towing service because there is less risk of further damage to either vehicle. With that in mind, I will start looking into towing services near my house so I can have a quality company’s number saved in my phone.

  18. I appreciate what you said about operational lighting and how this towing should be used in emergencies. Hiring a tow truck to take your car to a shop is important, especially when stuck in bad weather conditions. If I were to experience engine failure, I would call a towing company that has been in business for quite some time.

  19. Thanks for explaining how safety chains and lighting for turn signals are required for towing in a legal manner. I am currently planning a road trip with my family to explore a few states and see some national parks, and I want to be prepared in the case that our car breaks down. I’ll be sure to find a towing service that has the right equipment and safety procedures that I can rely on.

  20. As per car repossessions firm in Kansas City MO, if you are waiting for your tow truck then you need to put your vehicle in a safe place so that there is no risk of collision as in winter there is more risk to collide with another vehicle due to snow which most of things is not visible you need to park your vehicle to safe site.

  21. For me it is better to call for an towing company or your car insurance company than to do it your own towing. Safety for your car is all the towing company or insurance company is thinking. Well, this article have some great points. Thanks for sharing this.

  22. Wow, I never knew that there has to be a separate set of safety chains attached between the two vehicles in addition to the primary tow bar! If I were to guess, towing a truck is much harder than towing a small car, so I think that makes sense. In my opinion, any truck driver should have towing agency information before going out on the road just to make sure they get the help they need as soon as possible.

  23. Those of us over the age of 60 and from more rural locales have probably been toward and towing vehicles for years. The first time my Dad towed the car to a mechanic, I was in my twenties and in the car being towed
    That was quite valuable experience for when I needed to tow others (on things like both parties using hand signals, slow acceleration and deceleration, etc. I am still trying to find out if Hawaii head over regulated this Particular activity due to Honolulu traffic. On the power islands, where I am from, most speed limits don’t go over 45 MPH anywhere, making this practice a little safer. When I towed my son and his car home from about 40 miles away he commented that it was scary at traffic lights but that he talky had no problems following me. Ok for a licensed driver.

  24. My husband’s car is a total lemon; we bought it only 2 years ago, and it has already decided to die in the middle of an intersection. Since the intersection was on a hill, we were able to limp it to the side of the road, but I need to find a way to tow it to a repair shop. Your advice to call a towing company because they will be more reliable than a friend or family member’s tow strap or chain is very helpful. We will start looking for an auto repair service that offers towing so that we only need to pay one company.

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