How to Tow with a Tow Bar (Step by Step)

Tow bars, as you likely already know, are used for pulling another vehicle, trailer, or RV. They are very useful tools for anyone who plans to tow their vehicle over a long distance or repeatedly. While installing one takes some work, over time it will save money for those who are frequent towers.

Quick Answer

If you’re a frequent tower, a tow bar is the tool for you. Since you are flat towing, i.e. the towed vehicle will still have its wheels on the ground, there are certain measures that need to be taken to ensure safety and avoid any complication. To tow with a tow bar, you will want to:

  • Read both the towing and the towed vehicles’ manuals to ensure you purchase the right equipment and bar, that the towing vehicle can handle the tow (capacity, brakes), and that the towed vehicle is able to be flat towed (not all cars can be).
  • Gather your supplies; the tow bar that will work best for your vehicles, the mounting bracket, safety cables, secondary braking system (if necessary), and all tools needed for assembly.
  • Prepare the vehicle for drilling/mounting; measure everything, you may need to cut any areas of the bumper that interfere with the mounting.
  • Drill holes in the vehicle for the tow bar.
  • Secure the brackets, making sure the holes on the bumper and bracket are the same size.
  • Wire up the tow bar to make sure the braking lights and turn signals will work on both vehicles, simultaneously.
  • Attach the safety cables/chains to avoid any unfortunate accidents or damages in the case of the towed vehicle becoming unhitched.
  • Get to towing!

How to Tow with a Two Bar

Using a tow bar is an easy way to secure your car, but it isn’t without risk. There are certain steps that need to be taken to ensure everything is safe and in order.

Gather Your Supplies

After you determine whether your vehicle is capable of being towed flat, it’s time to assess whether you have the right tools for the installation. Some tools are universally required for this project, while others will be specific to the tow bar you are installing. Make sure to read through the instructions (if they are included) to ensure you have the correct tools, as well as the correct size of tool (if applicable). If no instruction manual is included, you may need to do additional research, or some trial and error.

Eye Protection/Gloves: Installing a tow bar involves the use of high-powered cutting and drilling tools, making it necessary to protect your hands and eyes.

Ratchet and Socket Set: Most tow bars will require a few different sized sockets. Refer to the tow bar’s instruction manual to determine the correct sizes. You will most likely need an imperial set of sockets, preferably with a 1/2” drive ratchet (for ease of use).

Wrench Set: Wrenches are almost always a necessity for the installation of a tow bar. Your wrench set will have to match the size of your socket set, though you will still need to refer to the product manual to be sure.

Measuring Tape: Installation of a tow bar requires that it be properly centered along your frame. Thus, you will need to measure from one edge of the vehicle to the other and use a marker or masking tape to mark the centerline at exactly the halfway point.

Angle Grinder with cutting wheel: Since most tow bars don’t simply bolt on to your vehicle, some modification is required. Pieces of the frame and bumper that interfere with the tow bar will need to be removed and, in some cases, specific cutting points will be outlined within the product’s instruction manual. An angle grinder with a cutting wheel is the best choice due to overall effectiveness and ease of use.

Power Drill with Metal Cutting Bits: You will need a power drill and drill bits made for working with metal to make the mounting holes for your tow bar. It is important that you use a drill and drill bits that are up to the task since normal bits are likely to break and can cause injury or vehicle damage.

Hammer and Punch: After making the drill points on your vehicle, it’s a good idea to use a punch to make an indent where you will be drilling. This will provide a starting point for the bit and ensuring it stays aligned.

Hook Up Your Tow Bar

Installation is an extremely important part of effectively towing with a tow bar. You will want to make sure that everything is done correctly and to the best of your ability.

Step 1: Read your vehicles’ manuals – It is vital to the safety of you and your vehicles that you know their limits. The towing vehicle will have a towing capacity that cannot be exceeded and will need to have its brake system checked to ensure it can handle braking with the extra weight. Additionally, some vehicles may not be able to be flat towed without damaging them, so that is something to look out for.

Step 2: Gather your supplies – After reading your vehicle’s manual and purchase an appropriate tow bar, you will want to read the instruction manual for the tow bar itself. This will tell you the size tools, sockets, etc. that are necessary.

Step 3: Locate the mounting points – The mounting points will be on the frame near the front bumper. The frame is normally underneath the bumper’s plastic cover, and is a heavy, square metal tube.

Step 4: Measure/Prepare for drilling – Find your vehicle’s centerline with measuring tape and mark the spot with a marker or masking tape. Next, mark the mounting locations on either side of that line, according to the measurements in the instruction manual.

Step 5: Cut interfering components – There may be interfering components (such as sections of bumper). These will need to be removed to ensure clearance and mobility. Mark all spots that need to be removed prior to cutting and make sure to avoid integral parts, hoses, or wiring. Also, put on eye protection and gloves.

Step 6: Drill the mounting holes – After double-checking the measurements by holding up the bracket to the marked spots, it’s time to drill. You’ll want to make an indent using a punch and hammer so that the drill bit will stay on target.

Step 7: Install the brackets and tighten everything in place – Assemble the brackets and the accompanying hardware according to the instruction manual. Make sure that everything is tightened as much as possible.

Step 8: Align and attach the tow bar – Mounting brackets have a hole for pins to slide into. Simply line it all up and drop them into the hole to attach the bar to the bracket.

Step 9: Connect the tow bar to the hitch – This will depend on your specific bar and the type of connector you have, so you will want to read the manual. Some tow bars will connect to a hitch ball, while others may be attached differently.

Step 10: Attach your safety cables/chains – Attack the safety cables to their designated spots on the tow bar and then to the loops on either side of the receiver on your hitch. This will help to prevent damage or accidents relating to your tow bar failing or any other mishap.

Test Your Set-Up

After your tow bar has been installed, keeping in mind the installation instructions included with the tow bar, it’s time to make sure everything functions correctly. This is crucial in ensuring that you and your vehicles, as well as others on the road, will be safe while you’re towing.

Ensure that the wiring is functional: Check to be sure that the towed vehicle’s turn signal indicators and brake lights illuminate properly when controls are operated on the towing vehicle. If you are using removable taillights, make sure that those work as well. Also, make sure no wiring drags on the ground and that it won’t get entangled in any moving parts.

Check for excessive play or wiggle: Be sure that the mounting brackets don’t move or shake and that the tow bar doesn’t twist or have a range of motion beyond what the pivot points offer.

Perform a Test Drive: You should, at the very least, perform a couple of short test drives to ensure that the vehicles remain balanced. While driving, listen for any unnatural noises. If you hear rattling or knocking sounds, you could have loose components that need tightening. Grinding, moaning, or squealing may indicate problems with your suspension or braking system, indicating an issue with load weight/capacity. Lastly, vibration or swaying/rocking of either vehicle could indicate uneven mounting of the tow bar, or even a damaged tow bar, which is cause for concern.

Now, you hopefully know how to set up your tow bar. Remember, safety always comes first, so if you are not confident in your ability to drill into your vehicle or handle some of the more technical elements of the installation process, reach out to a professional mechanic. They would be happy to help.

How Much Does A Tow Bar Cost? Why Invest in a Tow Bar?

Tow bars typically range anywhere from less than $100 to over $1000, depending on their towing capacity, complexity, ease of installation, and other features. Some tow bars offer quick disconnects for easily removing and installing or are even adjustable (these are your pricier choices). Tow bars can be a great investment for those who feel they might get frequent use out of one.

A one-time cost: You only pay the price once, unlike renting tow dollies or carts. Plus, the price is reasonable. Even the more expensive ones are worth your time, especially if they have easier installation and can be removed.

Ease of use: Once they are installed, that’s it. You can quickly hook up and tow your car without the need for or trouble of a trailer or flatbed.

Convenient: For those who travel frequently with an RV/camper or mobile home, a tow bar is an extremely convenient tool. You can easily take your car with you on trips, allowing you to travel to a wider variety of locations once you reach your destination.

Energy-efficient: Tow bars are the lightest-weight option of towing equipment. This places less burden on your vehicle and its braking system, as well as your gas mileage.

Frequently Asked Questions About Towing with a Tow Bar

While we have discussed the general process of how to use a tow bar, there are still several specifics that might need answering. Here are some frequently asked questions about towing with a tow bar.

Does A Tow Bar Have A Braking System? No. You will be relying on the braking system of the towing vehicle, or a secondary braking system if the vehicle could not handle the load. Secondary braking systems apply the towed vehicle’s brakes in proportion to the braking action of the towing vehicle.

Does A Tow Bar Have A Lighting System? No, a tow bar does not have its own lighting system. You will need to hook up the towed vehicle’s lights to the towing vehicle so that they synchronize. When the towing vehicle is braking or turning, the lights of the towed vehicle will also reflect the same action. Alternatively, you can use removable taillights that would be attached to the towed vehicle. These would need to be wired to the towing vehicle.

Are There Disadvantages to Using A Tow Bar? Everything has advantages and disadvantages. Since you are flat towing, the tires will wear more frequently than some other options. Installation can be difficult at first, but this can be waved by involving a mechanic. Also, not all vehicles can be towed with a tow bar, so you will want to make sure yours can.

Do You Lock the Steering Wheel with A Tow Bar? No, you will not lock the steering wheel. Your wheels are on the ground, so they will need to turn with the towing vehicle. Locking the steering wheel would inhibit them from doing so.

Can You Tow A Front-Wheel Drive Car with A Tow Bar? It depends on the vehicle. For some it won’t make a difference, for others it will. However, AWD, 4WD, Front-Wheel Drive, and Rear-Wheel Drive will all have certain makes/models that cannot be towed with a tow bar.

Can I Tow My Car with My Truck? It is possible to tow your car with a truck. It will depend on the towing capacity of the truck and the weight of your vehicle combined with the weight of the tow bar. If the total weight does not exceed the towing capacity, there should be no problem towing your car with your truck.

Wrap Up

Towing your vehicle will require an involved set-up. But, if done correctly, using a tow bar can save a lot of energy and money for the frequent tower/traveler. The most important part is to check your vehicles’ manuals and the tow bar instruction manual. Some vehicles cannot be towed with a tow bar and you always need to consider towing capacity. This is for your safety and your vehicles’ safety. If you ever have any questions, don’t be afraid to reach out to a professional or the dealership. It’s always better to ask for help than risk harm or damage.

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