How to Tow a Four-Wheel-Drive Vehicle

Towing a four-wheel-drive vehicle isn’t always as straight forward as towing a front- or rear-wheel drive. For the latter, the rear or front wheels can be left spinning on the ground while one side of the vehicle is lifted.

The idea is always to ensure the non-drive wheels are the ones on the ground. For four-wheel drive vehicles, all wheels are drive wheels. This means that none of them should touch the ground unless certain conditions are met.

The best way to tow a four-wheel-drive vehicle is to use a flatbed trailer, tow dollies, or a tow bar. A flatbed tow truck is usually expensive in most cases but it can save you a lot of money in repairs.

How to tow a four-wheel-drive vehicle

Flatbed trailer or truck

A flatbed trailer or truck is the most straight-forward option. Here, the vehicle is lifted onto the flatbed of the truck and carried away. The wheels are secured tightly using belts to ensure the car does not roll off while on the highway.

None of the wheels get to touch the ground and this helps to avoid transmission damage that would occur if the truck was to have either of the wheels spinning on the ground. Flatbed trucks aren’t always available and it can take a while to get ahold of one when stuck on the highway. This is why it’s important to also have other options.

Tow dollies

How to Tow an AWD Car

Tow dollies consist of two pairs of heavy-duty wheels, a breaker bar, and two strong adjustable bars. The vehicle’s front or rear wheels are placed on adjustable connector bars while the two pairs of wheels firmly secure the vehicle and raise it off the ground.

Start by confirming that you have all the parts – two pairs of wheels, a breaker bar, and two adjustable connector bars. Adjust the connector bars to give them a wider width than that of the vehicle’s wheelbase.

Move to the rear and test to see if they fit in the middle of the vehicle. Once you have ascertained the measurements, put the first bar under the vehicle in front of the rear wheel and the other at the back of the same wheel.

The flattest part of the connector bar should be positioned at the wheel to offer support. Place both connector bars and the flat pieces securely against the front and rear part of the wheels. Align the dollies on both sides of the wheels and adjust the support bar onto the ground.

Fix the connector bars firmly into the dolly brackets and ensure both dollies are parallel. Confirm that the alignment is straight and that the dollies are at the center. They should be evenly spaced on both sides of the wheels.

Jack up the car using the breaker bar and lock the dollies with the connector bars in position. Adjust the connector bars using the breaker bar to lift one side slowly. You’ll hear a clicking sound that will tell you the dolly jack is secured. Do the same for the other side.

Both sides of the vehicle should be raised by now. The last step is to ensure the tires are secured to the dollies on both sides before towing the vehicle away.

Tow Bar

A tow bar is a triangular metal bar that allows a four-wheel-drive vehicle to be towed while all four wheels are on the ground. One corner of the bar attaches to a hitch on the tow truck while the wider end attaches to the bumper of the towed vehicle.

Since all the drive wheels stay on the ground, special arrangements have to be made to prevent damaging the transmission. The first step is to check your owner’s manual on the precautions you should take when towing.

Typically, you’ll be required to put the transfer case in neutral and shift the gear to the 1st position if you drive a manual. This helps to disconnect the power-train from the axle, preventing drivetrain damage.

The next step is to adjust the tow bar to ensure that it’s connected parallel to the tow hitch. If you drive a car with an automatic transmission, shift the gear to PARK or ‘P’. This prevents the gears from spinning while the engine is off.

Do not leave the transmission in neutral in an automatic. This can ruin the gears and clutches when flat towing. However, having it in neutral in a manual keeps the gears from rotating. Once the transfer case is in the neutral positon, it disconnects the power train and axle.

Put your key into the ignition and confirm that the steering wheel is unlocked. Do not turn the key to the ‘ON’ positon. This will cause the battery to drain. You’ll now be good to go. Consider installing towing lights for safety.


Four-wheel drive vehicles can be towed safely with all 4 wheels on the ground as long as the transfer case is in Neutral and the manual transmission is shifted to the first gear. If you own a manual vehicle without a manual transfer case, it’s advisable to get a drive shaft coupling device installed.

This device allows you to automatically disconnect the drive shaft without having to do it manually. You’re able to switch between the driving and towing modes from the cabin instead of removing the drive shaft from your truck or SUV. However, if you do not know how to go about any of this, a flatbed is usually the easiest and safest option.

With ratchet straps securing the wheels, the truck will ensure your vehicle is delivered to an auto shop without any risk of transmission damage. A tow dolly often requires knowledge on how to hook it up correctly so only do it if you have the skills.

Remember that all-wheel-drive (AWD) vehicles cannot be towed with any of the wheels touching the ground. This is especially if all four wheels are permanently setup with no way of disconnecting them. Most AWD cars can only be towed with a tow trailer or flatbed truck.

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