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Dusterbd13 MegaDork
2/8/18 1:12 p.m.

Since we haven't had a good argument lately, I'll bring up towing.

Idea is that i have a 1/2 ton full size, and an autocross miata. I don't want to deal with trailers. 

I saw a few fullsize trucks and rv's flat towing other vehicles today. Made me consider that option.  


I know a good trailer hitch, and some sort of draw bar that bolts to the towed vehicle are required.  Id also assume a wiring connection between the two for lights. 


How does this actually work? How bad is it on both vehicles? What are the details about it? Assume that the only thing i know is that people do it, and a very brief google search only found me stuff on rv towing.

KyAllroad (Jeremy)
KyAllroad (Jeremy) PowerDork
2/8/18 1:18 p.m.

RV world is that way -------->

But really, I'd not want to do that to a car I cared about.  It also doesn't give you any safety net if you break a suspension part on the car (or anything else that keeps it from rolling.  If you have sticky tires you'll want to change them as well...... I'd just trailer it. (My .02 cents)

eastsideTim UltraDork
2/8/18 1:18 p.m.

I’ve not done it often, but did just do it with a first gen Highlander and an MG Midget this past weekend.  Highlander’s tow rating is 2000 lbs, and the Midget weighs in around 1600-1700 lbs.  We did try to keep speeds down to around 60, but it was quite stable.  We didn’t have them, but I’ve seen magnetic lights that can plug into a 4 wire harness that can be set on the trunk of the vehicle being towed.

If you’ve got the tow rating, and the brakes on your tow vehicle are good enough, I’d say go for it.  One thing of note, make sure the steering is unlocked, and the manual transmission is out of gear on the vehicle you are pulling.

outasite HalfDork
2/8/18 1:24 p.m.

My Tracker was flat towed all over the US including Alaska behind a motorhome by PO. Yes, there is a quick disconnect wiring harness that attaches the towed vehicle's tail, brake and turn indicator lights to the towing vehicles light system. My Tracker has the towing bracket welded to the frame. However, it could be bolted as well. I flat towed my MGB race car and Saab 96 Pine Barrens car with bolt on brackets.

Wally GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
2/8/18 1:36 p.m.

My only concern would be if you damaged/broke something at the event but if you aren't breaking lots of parts an occasional uhaul rental when it does happen isn't the end of the world.

Streetwiseguy UltimaDork
2/8/18 1:45 p.m.

Flat towing is fine, other than the laws in some jurisdictions that require the brakes to be functional.  Seems stupid, but even towing a Rav4 behind a 30,000 pound motorhome, they use a brake actuator.


Streetwiseguy UltimaDork
2/8/18 1:47 p.m.
eastsideTim said:


 and the manual transmission is out of gear on the vehicle you are pulling.


Back in the 80's, we had a dude show up from Ontario with a Corolla on a towbar behind his motorhome.  The engine was worn the berkeley out, because the car had been in second gear for the entire trip...

maschinenbau GRM+ Memberand Dork
2/8/18 1:47 p.m.

You're probably not going to break anything suspensions or rolling related at an autocross, so you're probably safe there. Track day or rallycross, that's another story. I am curious about the effect of autocross-levels of camber on the towing experience though.

Plus you need to either take the bumper off for every tow, or get one of those permanent bumper-pull front hitches that would add weight for autocross. At that point I'd rather drive the autocross car and have that tow a small tire trailer.

oldopelguy UltraDork
2/8/18 2:02 p.m.

Principally five concerns:

-Wear on the towed vehicle. It's pretty much the same as if you are driving it on suspension and tires, and everything needs to be up to snuff.

-Stability: Some cars, like the mentioned Tracker and ACVWs tow beautifully. Some, like 70's-80's Dodge trucks will not track properly without a hand on the steering wheel.

-Transmission lubrication: Generally automatic transmissions but also some manual transmissions can't properly lubricate without the input shaft turning. Sometimes you can go certain number of miles and then stop and run the engine on the towed vehicle for a bit, then back to towing. Some can only be towed with the engine idling or not at all. Some only if you pull the driveshaft. The RV guys have tables you can look up your vehicle in.

-Brakes: Typically the tow bar hookup doesn't allow for brakes on the towed vehicle. There are some setups, from as simple as a cable from a sliding coupler that actuates th brake pedal to an electromechanical box that latches to the driver floor and pushes the pedal according to trailer brake controller output. The cheap options are $4-600 and the high dollar stuff will be up to $5k to stop the towed vehicle, and you need to know if you will need it for where you are towing because every state has different rules.

-Legality: Some states don't allow tow bars at all, some require the towed vehicle to be fully registered and insured, some specifically allow race cars to be towed, and some only let you drive on certain roads. The rules are all over the map.

That all said, I've been coast to coast multiple times with a car on a tow bar and consider it a perfectly acceptable option, once you know what you are getting into.

tuna55 MegaDork
2/8/18 2:07 p.m.

I've done it, but only with a rope and a guy in the rear car steering and using the brakes.


I thought you meant that. 


As far as the "real" way, my FIL does it, he has a list from the RV folks telling which cars will still lubricate their transmissions in neutral. He has a CRV now. it seems to work fine.

edizzle89 Dork
2/8/18 2:10 p.m.
Streetwiseguy said:
eastsideTim said:


 and the manual transmission is out of gear on the vehicle you are pulling.


Back in the 80's, we had a dude show up from Ontario with a Corolla on a towbar behind his motorhome.  The engine was worn the berkeley out, because the car had been in second gear for the entire trip...

i've heard of that, also seen videos of cars being towed that have had a wheel bearing lock up or a tire go flat, behind a motorhome you'd never feel it

Dusterbd13 MegaDork
2/8/18 2:40 p.m.

Good information so far! 

Please, keep it coming.


More specific information: miata, not street leagal due to emissions.  Gm t5 trans, and will be set pretty aggressively on alignment. 

Truck is a 95 Silverado stepside reg cab 2wd. 

Events are between 45 and 150 miles away. 

Im looking at this as a way to minimize my racing storage and expense requirements.  No trailer means no maintenance, no taxes/tag/tires etc. 

Its not a guarantee that i will do this, but i want to know all about it so i can make an informed decision. 


Neutral: would it be beneficial to have some sort of way to lokck it there so it couldn't accidentally get bumped into gear while moving? 

No steering wheel lock: haven't removed the mechanism yet, but its on the list for weight reduction. 

Pulling bumper/permanent attachment: and more info on this stuff? I honestly assumed it would have some sort of plate that attaches to the factory tow hooks with a quick release to the bar.

81cpcamaro Dork
2/8/18 2:49 p.m.

I would disconnect the driveshaft. The fluid level in the trans is lower than the mainshaft which is turning. The gears aren't turning with it in neutral, so no lube is being splashed up onto the mainshaft. I know people do it quite often, but I would only for a short distance.

codrus GRM+ Memberand UltraDork
2/8/18 3:09 p.m.

If the car isn't street legal, you'll definitely want to check the laws in any state you're likely to tow into.  California, for example, requires registration on any vehicle where the wheels are touching the street.

Vigo UltimaDork
2/8/18 3:14 p.m.

I flat-towed my Caravan and my Rampage from Texas to Florida and back for the last two Challenges.  One i towed with a Lexus GS sedan and the other i towed with a Dodge B250 van. 

The main thing i would say is that i did most of my towing on tires i didn't care about and my 'race tires' were effectively my spares. If you tow it on some wheels/tires you don't care about (the skinnier the better, too) and keep the good stuff in the back of the truck, you're pretty much golden. 

You could also do what i did for the 09 Challenge and use a tow dolley. It still relies on having spare tires available (but so does a trailer) and besides that about the only real benefit is being able to tow a FWD in park and not having to modify your race vehicle for the tow bar. Other than that i don't see much benefit to it over a well-mounted tow bar and several downsides, but at least it is small enough to store almost anywhere compared to a trailer. I store mine in some really tall grass so i don't even have to look at it! Hah.

Robbie GRM+ Memberand PowerDork
2/8/18 3:30 p.m.

Flat towed the Saab to the challenge and back in 2016. It worked great. Flat towed one x19 that I bought, blew a tire (but that certianly was no one's fault but my own for running such a sketchy tire).

I'm a big fan of flat towing, much easier than dealing with a trailer. Note that backing up is mostly impossible.


John Welsh
John Welsh Mod Squad
2/8/18 3:39 p.m.

I have nothing to add about the actual connecting of the vehcicles but rather than trying to wire into the second vehicle, I would just go with a set of magnet mount trailer lights.  

Sample: Amazon $19.99

Sample image:


APEowner GRM+ Memberand HalfDork
2/8/18 3:46 p.m.

I've done it.  I much prefer a trailer but there is certainly an extra cost associated with that and trailer storage can also be an issue.

Here are a few random thoughts.

  • Not all cars track well behind the tow vehicle.  I've had some turn for corners but not straighten out.
  • An autocross alignment on a Miata is probably going to be tough on tires so you'll need a set of rollers and they'll be consumables
  • An autocross alignment is also likely to be a bit darty in a straight line which might affect how it tows.
  • Brakes are a big concern.  Even something as light as a Miata will push a 1/2 ton pickup around in a panic stop.  Sure, you'll be carefull but there's no guarantee that others on the road will be.
  • You pretty much can't back up a towbar setup.  I've tried and bent the bar in one case and the bar mounts in another (apparently I'm a slow learner)
Hal UltraDork
2/8/18 3:50 p.m.

I flat towed this


all over MD, central PA, and northern VA with a SAAB 96 with the V4 engine in the late 1960's.  Had a towbar setup I built (you can see part of it that replaced the bumper) and a light bar for the rear that bolted on using the rear bumper mounts and plugged into a trailer hitch plug.

Had to plan any stops well in advance since the race car weighed almost as much as the tow vehicle.  I put ~ a thousand miles on this rig, but would not recommend trying it with todays traffic.


rustybugkiller Reader
2/8/18 4:30 p.m.

You can lock the steering wheel by wrapping the stock seat belt to the steering wheel. If you removed the factory belt just use a ratchet strap between the seat and the wheel.

EvanB GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
2/8/18 4:51 p.m.

You don't want to lock the steering wheel while flat towing.

JBasham HalfDork
2/8/18 4:54 p.m.

I flat-tow all the time.  I have trailered a few times and I don't like it much.  My tow vehicle (Jeep ZJ) can barely manage the extra weight of the trailer under the car, and I don't like loading trailers.  Plus, I don't have anywhere to keep a trailer or a tow dolly now.

I got a heavy-duty A-bar tow unit designed for dragging Jeeps behind other Jeeps, and a set of magnetic tow lights.  In Virginia, you're not required to be registered or inspected, and brake controllers aren't required until the vehicle in tow is over 3K#.

Flat-towing and dolly-towing are one-way streets.  You can't back 'em up to any useful extent.  It won't back like a trailer.  So, plan ahead before you decide to pull into that 7-Eleven parking lot.

I have been counseled that it is risky to tow with a hitch ball that's too high or too low; the A-bar needs to be parallel to the ground.  So, I got a receiver hitch insert with the right amount of drop, and the bar is level.

I have flat-towed a 2400# car and a 3200# car behind a Jeep ZJ.  There was good braking, comparable to what I get with a trailer w/ surge brakes towing the same car.

Some manual transmissions can't take towing with the drive wheels on the ground unless the driveshaft is disconnected, or the motor is turning the input shaft with the transmission in neutral so the lube gets sprayed around.  Other manuals can take it.  I go with disconnected driveshaft sometimes, and I go with the motor running at about 1.8k RPM sometimes.  The steering wheel must be unlocked and free to spin.

Biggest hassle is figuring out how to attach the A-bar to the vehicle in tow.  I think this is why tow dollys exist. There are aftermarket solutions for tow-bar attachment; they are vehicle-specific and often pretty expensive.  The tow-hook mounts that come stock on most cars aren't up to the job.  They're just designed to winch the car onto a wrecker or do some low-speed stuff with a strap.   

I welded up my own attachment bar out of square tube.  Attaching it or detaching it takes 15 minutes of squirming around on the ground, which is a pain in the booty.  If there was an aftermarket solution available, I would've bought it to avoid the hassle, but I can't find one for my track cars.



Dirtydog GRM+ Memberand HalfDork
2/8/18 5:10 p.m.

Eastern NC CL.

Tow Dolly - $500 (Washington) hide this posting

© craigslist - Map data © OpenStreetMap

5242 market street ext

(google map)

500 obo ready to work

Don49 HalfDork
2/8/18 5:40 p.m.

I would use a tow dolly rather than flat tow. I dollied a Festiva thousands of miles behind my toterhome with no issues.

SVreX MegaDork
2/8/18 5:53 p.m.

You also need to allow space to haul an extra set of street tires/ wheels. You can't flat tow on race tires- you will cord them before you get to the event. 

...which also means you will have to change all of the tires at least twice at the event. 

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