The Rules and Regulations of Towing a Vehicle

Towing another car with your own or hitching your car up to the back of an RV might seem like a simple task. You just hook up the hitch, plug in the brake lights and you’re on your way, right? Not quite. Surprisingly, there are quite a few rules and regulations you need to consider before hooking up your car and heading out onto the open road.

Types of Towing
The first thing you need to consider is how you’re going to tow your vehicle. There are two common types of towing — trailer towing and flat, or dinghy, towing.

Trailer towing, as its name suggests, requires attaching a trailer to the back of your RV or truck and driving the second vehicle onto the trailer. There are two and four-wheel trailers available. The former hoists up the front two tires of the towed vehicle and lets the rear tires roll freely on the road, while the latter carries the entire car.

Flat towing requires a tow bar that is attached to the front of the vehicle. The tow bar is attached to the trailer hitch, and all four wheels of the car roll freely on the ground. While this reduces the tow weight, not all cars can be towed this way.

Safety Precautions
Once you know the type of towing you need, there are a number of safety measures to consider. Most states require:

  • Tail lights – Your RV’s tail lights need to be visible. If they aren’t, you need to hook up your towed vehicles tail lights so they respond to changes in speed.
  • License plates – License plates on the RV and towed car both need to be visible.
  • Safety chains – These are an extra layer of safety designed to keep your car from rolling away if the hitch fails.

Some states also require additional safety measures like:

  • ‘Breakaway brakes’ – This is a failsafe. If your towed vehicle breaks away from the hitch, the brakes are automatically applied.
  • Auxiliary brakes – This is a secondary braking system used for RV’s that are towing cars or other trailers. It provides an extra level of protection for braking if you’re hauling extra weight.

If you’ve got anything attached to the top of your vehicle or RV, it will need to be tied down securely as well.

Legal Requirements and Insurance
Some states require that you have a special endorsement on your driver’s license to operate a large RV or a vehicle towing a trailer. In other states, you may not need an endorsement but must be over a certain age (either 18 or 21) to drive a car that’s towing a trailer or other vehicle. There may also be additional insurance required for legally towing cars.

If you’re planning a trip, make sure you check the towing laws and regulations for your state and any state you’ll be traveling through.

Towing your main car behind an RV is a great way to save money while you’re traveling — you can’t take your RV everywhere, after all, and renting cars everywhere you stop can get expensive. Just make sure you take proper safety precautions and follow all local laws. Your road trip is sure to be one you’ll never forget.

From Scott Huntington, a guest NMA blogger who is an automotive writer from central Pennsylvania. Check out his work at Off The Throttle or follow him on Twitter@SMHuntington

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3 Responses to “The Rules and Regulations of Towing a Vehicle”

  1. Hannah Schroeder says:

    It’s interesting that you need safety chains to make sure the vehicle doesn’t roll away. I wonder if you use these if you’re towing a large vehicle like a semi truck. I’d imagine that it would be really important to keep something so big from rolling away. I bet services that specialize in semi truck towing are really careful about using safety chains and precautions.

  2. Frank says:

    Towing your own vehicle can be very dangerous. Tow trucks have specific equipment to prevent accidents (lights, tow cables, special brakes) that most normal vehicles don’t have. When I see someone towing their own vehicle, I usually wonder if they will make it home safe.

  3. John Hurson says:

    One of the main regulation of towing a vehicle is you should have licensed and certification to tow a vehicle. Appropriate experience in your field indicates that you have the right skills to tow any vehicle safely and without causing any damage. Towing is a very skilled profession and needs the proper knowledge, use of tools, hands-on experience of advanced tech and what to in case of emergency with your towing truck or trailer.