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.


2 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!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Before you post, please complete the prompt below.

(Not a trick question) What color is the pink house?