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Can You Tow An Automatic Car?

Jul 12, 2023

As we journey through the lanes and byways of the automobile world, there’s one question that consistently echoes around corners – “Can you tow an automatic car?” Here in the United Kingdom, where automatic vehicles are increasingly becoming the norm, the query holds significant weight. Whether you’re a car enthusiast trying to quench your thirst for automotive knowledge, or a car owner who’s found themselves in an unforeseen roadside predicament, understanding the answer to this question is key. So, without further ado, let’s delve into the heart of the matter.

Understanding Automatic Transmission

The allure of automatic cars rests in the simplicity and comfort of their operation. The heart of such vehicles, the automatic transmission, is a marvel of modern engineering. This intricate system effortlessly manages the task of shifting gears, freeing the driver from the labor of manual manipulation.

The automatic transmission is a complex orchestra of components, including the hydraulic system, torque converter, planetary gear set, seals, and gaskets, each with its unique role in ensuring seamless gear transitions. But the very brilliance of this system also presents a conundrum when it comes to towing.

Risks of Towing Automatic Cars

Let’s get down to brass tacks. Towing an automatic car comes with risks, primarily due to the intrinsic design of the automatic transmission system. Under normal driving conditions, the engine pumps transmission fluid, which applies the necessary pressure for gear changes and lubricates the transmission’s components to prevent overheating.

However, when towing an automatic car, particularly with all four wheels on the ground, the wheels spin without the engine running. This means the transmission fluid isn’t being pumped, leading to potential overheating and damage due to lack of lubrication. If your car falls prey to such damage, it could result in a hefty bill for transmission repair or replacement.

The Safe Ways to Tow an Automatic Car

So, “Can you tow an automatic car?” The initial reaction might be a reluctant ‘no’, but that’s not the end of the story. Towing automatic cars isn’t entirely off-limits, it merely requires the right techniques to protect the transmission system.

Flatbed Towing

Your safest bet for towing an automatic car is using a flatbed tow truck. In this method, the vehicle is fully lifted off the ground, ensuring none of the wheels are in motion during the tow. This effectively eliminates the risk of transmission damage, as there’s no chance of the wheels spinning without engine-powered lubrication.

Dolly Towing

Another feasible option is dolly towing. Here, only the front wheels are elevated off the ground. While this method doesn’t offer the same level of safety as flatbed towing, it’s often a more economical choice. Plus, it significantly mitigates the risk of transmission damage compared to towing with all four wheels on the ground.

Tow Bar

When the first two options aren’t at your disposal, using a tow bar with all four wheels elevated is another viable alternative. It’s of paramount importance to keep the transmission in neutral during this type of tow to prevent any accidental engagement of the transmission system.

Frequently Asked Questions About Towing an Automatic Car

We know that the topic of towing automatic cars can spark a number of questions. To help address these, we’ve compiled a list of popular FAQs to provide you with comprehensive insights:

  1. Can you tow an automatic car without damaging it? Yes, you can tow an automatic car without damaging it. However, it’s essential to use proper towing methods such as flatbed towing, dolly towing, or using a tow bar with all wheels off the ground to avoid potential damage to the transmission.
  2. Can all automatic cars be towed on a dolly? Not all automatic cars can be towed on a dolly. Some manufacturers recommend against dolly towing for their vehicles. Always consult the owner’s manual or contact the manufacturer before towing your car.
  3. How can I tow my automatic car if I can’t use a flatbed truck or dolly? If a flatbed truck or dolly isn’t available, you can use a tow bar. However, it’s crucial to ensure that all four wheels are off the ground and the transmission is in neutral.
  4. Can you tow an automatic car in neutral? Towing an automatic car with the transmission in neutral is not recommended. Even in neutral, your car’s wheels can still turn the transmission’s parts, which can lead to overheating and severe damage due to lack of lubrication.
  5. What’s the safest way to tow an automatic car? The safest way to tow an automatic car is using a flatbed tow truck. This method lifts the entire vehicle off the ground, preventing the wheels from spinning and causing potential damage to the transmission.
  6. How far can you tow an automatic car? The towing distance for an automatic car largely depends on the method of towing. With a flatbed truck, the distance isn’t a concern as the wheels aren’t in motion. However, other methods have limitations, and it’s best to consult your vehicle’s manual or manufacturer for specific guidance.
  7. What happens if I tow my automatic car with all four wheels on the ground? If an automatic car is towed with all four wheels on the ground, it can cause severe damage to the transmission. This is because the wheels can turn the transmission parts without the necessary lubrication from the engine, leading to overheating and potential system failure.

Final Thoughts

In response to the question, “Can you tow an automatic car?” we find that while the task presents its challenges, it’s not an impossible feat. The method you select to tow your automatic vehicle can make all the difference between preserving your vehicle’s integrity and inflicting severe, costly damage. Always remember to seek advice from your vehicle’s manufacturer or a trusted mechanic to understand the safest way to tow your specific make and model of car. Armed with the right knowledge and precautions, you can ensure your automatic vehicle remains unscathed, even in circumstances that necessitate a tow.


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