Car Talk

Can You Tow an Automatic Car – A Comprehensive Guide

Avatar Adie Tinkle -

Vehicles with automatic car transmissions have made people’s lives so much easier. These days, the majority of drivers drive automatic vehicles. The convenience of automatic transmission has made them so popular among people that many manufacturers now do not make models in manual transmission.

Automatic transmission vehicles can be towed, but it is crucial to be very careful to avoid damaging the system. Towing automatic vehicles can be more intricate than towing a manual car and requires more attention to avoid damage. 

Keep reading to understand the different methods of towing, safety precautions, potential risks, and other considerations of towing an automatic vehicle.

Understanding Automatic Transmission and Towing 

When it comes to towing, automatic cars require much more attention and consideration because of the unique dynamics of their transmission. If we come to the question of whether can you tow an automatic car or not, the answer is yes. However, it requires safety, expertise, and caution to do the job correctly. 

Unlike manual transmission, an automatic transmission uses complex systems of fluids, torque, and gears to transfer the power from the engine to the wheel. When you turn off the engine, the fluid in the torque converter stops circulating, and the transmission loses lubrication. It can result in overheating, which can also cause damage to the transmission. 

You can prevent this by following guidelines and taking precautions when towing an automatic car. For example, it is important to tow the vehicle with the drive wheels off the ground to avoid causing any damage to the transmission. 

Moreover, installing a functioning braking system when towing an automatic car is essential. Overall, you can tow an automatic car safely if you understand your transmission system and follow the precautions and guidelines carefully. 

Methods of Towing an Automatic Car 

There are three primary methods of towing an automatic car including: 

  1. Towing an Automatic Car With a Tow Bar

To tow an automatic car with the tow bar, attach the bar to the front of the car and hitch it to the tow vehicle. This method is easier than towing with a dolly, and the vehicle stays on the ground, which is better for transmission. 

However, some limitations are involved when using a tow bar. Firstly. Put the car in natural gear, as the transmission can be damaged if dragged. Secondly, the car’s weight cannot exceed the tow bar’s capability of approximately 3,500 pounds.

Also, you will need to ensure that the tow bar is installed properly and that all the safety precautions are followed. This involves ensuring proper lighting, attaching safety chains, and brake signaling from the tow vehicle. 

  1. Towing an Automatic Vehicle with a Dolly 

The second method of towing an automatic vehicle is with a dolly. It involves lifting the car’s front wheels off the ground and securing them in place on the dolly. This method is mostly adopted when towing a front-wheel drive vehicle. Though towing with a dolly is more complex than towing with a tow bar, it can be more versatile. This way, you can tow the vehicle without outing it to neutral even if it exceeds the top bar’s weight limit. 

However, there are also some drawbacks involved. For example, a dolly can put extra weight on the towed vehicle, negatively impacting the gas mileage. Also, the dolly requires more space on the road and is tough to maneuver. 

Lastly, it is important to follow safety precautions and guidelines, such as adequate lighting and signaling in place. 

  1. Towing an Automatic Car in Neutral 

Towing an automatic car can be risky. However, if you need to tow an automatic car, doing it in neutral is the safest way. This method disengages the transmission from the wheels, allowing them to roll freely. 

Keep in mind that not all automatic cars can be towed. So, it is preferable to check your car’s manual first. 

In general, you should not tow an automatic car even in neutral when the drive wheels are on the ground. The automatic vehicle uses a motor-driven pump for lubrication. Pushing or pulling the transmission when the engine is off can lead to gears running without lubrication, which can cause damage to the engine. 

Why Can We Not Tow an Automatic Transmission in a Typical Way?

In most manual transmission cars, the gearboxes are lubricated fully with oil in the internal system. The oil coating persists whether the gears rotate or not. It means that the system is always lubricated when the vehicle is pulled or pushed. 

If an automatic car is towed with the drive wheels grounded and spinning, the axles within the car and other transmission components will revolve. However, due to the system’s design, no oil will be in the gearbox when this occurs. The vehicle will continue to operate, and the internal system will dry out and fail to prevent any wear and damage from the movement of wheels without lubrication. 

If You Have to Tow an Automatic Car, What Safety Steps Can You Follow?

When towing an automatic car, following guidelines and taking precautionary measures should always be your top priority. Follow these steps to avoid accidents or any damage to your car. 

Check Weight Limits 

Make sure that your towing vehicle and the equipment you are using to tow the car are rated for the weight. If the weight of the vehicle exceeds the limit, it can cause serious problems for the vehicle, such as damage to the brakes, overheated transmissions, and even accidents on the road. 

Use a Braking System

When towing an automatic car, it is essential to use a braking system to control the vehicle and prevent accidents. Installing a supplement braking system in the tow vehicle can be beneficial.

Use Proper Equipment 

The use of proper equipment is crucial when towing an automatic car with a tow bar or a dolly. Make sure to follow all the instructions carefully.

Keep an Emergency Kit 

If there is an emergency on the road, it is essential to have a safety kit in your vehicle. It should have a first aid kit and a fire extinguisher. 

Inspect Your Vehicle 

It is crucial to inspect your automatic vehicle before towing. Inspect it thoroughly for any signs of damage or wear and tear. Check the wheels, brakes, tires, steering, and suspension to ensure everything is working in perfect order. 


In the end, towing an automatic car is possible, but not doing it properly and carefully can cause serious damage to your vehicle’s engine. Also, different transmissions operate differently, which means you cannot just hook up with any tow bar and drive off. 

Also, it is crucial to understand the weight limits and towing capacity of your vehicle. Overloading can cause damage to the transmission and other systems of your vehicle. Choosing the right towing method and ensuring you have all the equipment necessary to do the job method is also mandatory.


What happens when you tow an automatic car?

When you tow a car with an automatic transmission, the wheels must not be on the ground. That is why automatic cars are towed either on a flatbed trailer or with a dolly that lifts the wheels off the ground. 

What damage can occur when towing an automatic car?

Towing an automatic car with the drive wheels on the ground can cause axles, wheels, and transmission parts to rotate without any transmission fluid or lubricant. These fluids are released when the engine is running, but not when the car is being towed with an off-engine. 

It can cause significant damage to the transmission system, gears, seals, and to the engine itself. 

Can I tow an automatic car in neutral?

Even if you put the automatic car in neutral, pushing or pulling the automatic transmission when the engine is off can cause the gears to run without lubrication. Therefore, putting the car in neutral does not enable you to tow an automatic car. 

Can I tow a front-wheel drive car?

If your vehicle is a front-wheel drive, you do not want the axle to turn without oil when towing.

You can tow a front-wheel car by lifting the front wheels off the ground. Leaving the wheels back on the ground is difficult, so using a dolly will work. You can also tow a front-wheel drive using a flatbed trailer.

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