Can You Tow A Car With The Handbrake On? (2023)

You may need to tow your car for a number of reasons, and for everyone, the circumstances will be very different. Some may be wondering, "what happens if my handbrake is still on and I need to tow my car?"

This usually brings up loads of questions, and many start to wonder if it will work, if it will damage the car, and if it is even possible. So, can a car be towed with parking brake on? Luckily, it is possible, and you can safely tow your car with the handbrake on. You just need to know how!

What is the Parking Brake For?

The parking brake is also known as the emergency brake or the handbrake. Its purpose is to keep your vehicle motionless when it has been put in park.

The parking brake can also be used when you need to make an emergency stop, and this is required when your brakes malfunction or fail.

Can Towing With the Parking Brake on Damage a Car?

When towing or even driving with the handbrake on, you can easily damage the disc or the drum, even when towing your vehicle for a very short distance at a time.

Your brakes can also overheat very quickly. This might crack the linings, cause the adhesive lining to fail, or it might get separated from the brake shoes or pads.

So towing your car with the handbrake on is not necessarily the best idea, and if you can avoid it, do. But there are cases where it merely has to be done.

How to Tow a Car With the Parking Brake Applied

If you find yourself in a position where you need to tow your car, but the handbrake is still on, you can easily do this by towing your car on its front wheels, especially if it is a rear-wheel drive car.

However, you will need to have a few accessories in order to do this. Towing accessories can make everything a lot easier and the process will go much smoother. But we will get to all of the great tools you can use in a bit!

Using flat bed tow trucks

If the handbrake or parking brake is still on, then the safest and best possible way to tow is to put the car on a flat bed tow truck so that all four of the wheels are off the ground. The wheels on a car with locked brakes will not move, so it is not safe to drag them on the ground. This will either cause a lot of damage or simply won't work.

Using tow dollies

Another way you could tow a vehicle with locked brakes is to use a tow dolly. The tow dolly will help by lifting the front wheels off the ground during towing, although this should only be done if you have a front-wheel drive car.

If you have a rear-wheel drive, instead, lift the rear wheels off the ground and tow the car on the front wheels. Essentially, the car should be facing backwards.

Choose a method that prevents the most damage to the components of your vehicle and the car itself.

How to use a tow dolly

Start by aligning your tow vehicle with the hitch on your tow dolly. Once this is done, lift the release lever on the ramp of the tow dolly. Then pull the ramps outwards from the tow dolly.

Now that this part is set up, align the front wheels of the vehicle you are going to tow and ensure that they are in line with the ramps from the tow dolly.

Once everything is aligned, you can either push or drive the vehicle onto the tow dolly, depending on what state your vehicle is in. As noted above, when towing two-wheel drive cars, the main driving wheels should always be off the ground.

This means that rear-wheel drive cars should always be towed by lifting the back wheels off the ground, and front-wheel cars will always be towed with their front wheels off the ground. Cars towed incorrectly will likely suffer lots of damage, so it's vital to understand what you're doing and load up your car properly.

When loading up your vehicle and towing it, it is always best to be vigilant and take it slow - speeding will cause loads of problems for you.

What gear you should be in when towing:

It is also important to know what gear you should be in when you tow your car. So if your vehicle has its emergency brakes on, then using a two-wheel towing method or traditional flat bar may be very challenging or not even possible at all.

If this is the case, then it is best to put your car in neutral gear. This will put it in the best position so that you can properly tow it. The reason for this is that the vehicle's engine gets disengaged when you put your car in a neutral position.

This will also greatly reduce the risk of causing severe damage and works best when doing short-distance towing.

Consider the different wheel drives:

You will find that four-wheel drive cars are difficult to tow. If all four of the wheels are on the ground, you will need to keep your transmission in either two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive so that the car does not skip out while being towed at a high speed.

Be aware of damaging the transmission system.

If all four wheels of the car are on the ground, then you should only ever tow the vehicle when it is in neutral. And if the wheels don't happen to be on the ground, then you can get away with not putting your car in neutral.

The main reason (and most important) why it is best to tow cars in neutral is because it causes the least damage to your transmission system. If you tow a car with the emergency brake on and not in neutral, you will risk badly damaging the car.

This is especially a bad idea for cars with automatic transmissions. Your top priority needs to be avoiding any damage to your transmission system, as this is highly possible.

Parking brake VS handbrake?

You might have heard the terms parking brakes and handbrake used interchangeably - they are simply different terms for the same part of a car.

Types of Handbrakes:

There are various different types of handbrakes. You get the center lever, stick lever, pedal, and the push button or electric brakes. A stick lever is generally found in older cars and models, and you can usually find it under the instrumental panel.

A center lever is usually located in between the two front bucket seats and is most common in newer cars and models.

The center lever and stick lever are categorized into the same group, while the pedal brake belongs to a separate group of parking brakes, and it is usually found on the floor on the left-hand side of all of the other panels.

Then you have the push button and electric brake, this type of brake can be found on the console with all of your car's other controls. In total, there are three separate types of parking brakes.

The simple answer: Yes, a car can be towed with the parking brake on!

So, can a car be towed with the parking brake on? Yes, it certainly can! There are different ways and methods you can use to get the job done, and it is just essential that you follow the right steps and do everything properly.

Some experts may advise against it, but sometimes you do need to do what you have to do.


Can you move with the handbrake on?

Yes, it is certainly possible to move with a broken emergency brake. Unless it is a foot-operated brake or if you really push down on the brake until it doesn’t move. However, the engine can usually overcome this and get the wheels moving again.

How do you move a car that won’t go into neutral?

You can move the car by holding the tab down, and at the same time grab the dial or shift lever in the same way you normally would. And then try to shift it to neutral. Before moving the car, disengage the parking brake and replace the cover.

Can you put a car in neutral without keys?

Yes, it is possible to put your car in neutral without using your keys. This is dangerous though and not recommended. Instead, find your spare keys or get into contact with a skilled mechanic.

What happens if you pull the car on the handbrake?

If you pull the car on handbrake your rear wheels will automatically lock which will cause your car to skid and eventually drift.

Final Thoughts

In most cases when you need to tow your car it is always best to call a mechanic or a reputable company. They are specialists in the field and will know exactly what to do - using tow trucks is better than trying to tow a car with the emergency brake applied by yourself.

You do not want to risk causing any severe damage to your car or making a minor mistake that will cost you in the long run. Unless you know enough about cars, rather leave it to the professionals.

At the end of the day, it is possible to tow a car when the handbrake is on, but you need to be sure that you do it properly and carefully follow the right steps if you want to avoid damaging your vehicle.

The way you tow your car will also depend on the type of vehicle you have, and if it is done incorrectly, you will end up with a bigger mess than you had before. Remember to always have the two non-driving wheels off the ground if you have to tow a car with the emergency brakes applied.

Your vehicle isn’t fragile, but it is precious cargo and you want to keep it in the best condition possible!

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What happens if you move your car with the handbrake on? ›

If allowed to remain engaged for too long, driving with the parking brake on can cause premature wear of brake components and could even lead to damage to the wheel bearing or a catastrophic failure of parts near or associated with the braking system.

What happens if you pull handbrake too hard? ›

Engaging your handbrake too hard can cause a number of mechanical issues. You might have damaged your wheel pads, or even strained the brake cable. If you've tried everything and your handbrake's still stuck, then there's nothing else for it. You'll have to call a mechanic.

What is the easiest way to tow a car? ›

A car hauling trailer, either open or enclosed, is the best and safest option for towing a car with another car. With a car hauler, all four wheels of the towed vehicle sit on the trailer. Simply drive the car up onto the trailer and secure it with straps and/or chains.

How do you manually tow a car? ›

Follow these steps:
  1. Connect the dolly to the tow vehicle's hitch ball.
  2. Fasten the safety chains on the dolly to the tow car for additional safety in case of a disconnection.
  3. Drive the towed car onto the dolly ramps until the wheels contact the stops.
  4. Secure the vehicle onto the dolly with the provided straps.
Mar 28, 2022

Can you drag a car with handbrake on? ›

The wheel will keep turning but the brakes will heat up to the point of a minor nuclear meltdown, or the wheel will drag until the tyre shreds, at which point the rim will wear away until the car itself is sitting on the ground.

Can handbrake stop a moving car? ›

The handbrake is not as powerful as the foot brake and, if used on its own, would not bring a car to a stop very quickly. In fact, the handbrake only controls the rear wheels of a car. At the very least, the handbrake should be released when you are starting the car and applied once again when you are parking up.

How high should you pull handbrake? ›

So how do you know if your handbrake needs adjustment? The average number of handbrake clicks from down to up should be between 5 and 8. Anything above 8 could suggest that your handbrake needs to be made tighter and likewise, less than 5 clicks means it's too tight and can cause your rear brakes to drag.

How do you use handbrake in emergency? ›

As the name suggests, you should also use your emergency brake in an emergency. If you can't stop your car, slowly pull up on the emergency brake handle or press the pedal down to come to a complete stop.

What should you not do when towing? ›

Top 8 Mistakes People Make While Towing
  1. Overworking Your Engine. The number one mistake people make, by far, is overworking their tow vehicle. ...
  2. Wrong Weight Distribution Bars. ...
  3. Not Checking or Maintaining Brakes. ...
  4. Poorly Loaded Vehicles. ...
  5. Wrong Ball/Ball Mount. ...
  6. 6. “ ...
  7. Low-Pressure Tires. ...
  8. Not Lubing Your Components.

Can you tow a car without putting it in neutral? ›

If your vehicle is a front-wheel drive, and manual:

If the vehicle is on a dolly, put the vehicle in first gear and tow. If all four wheels are on the ground, put the vehicle in neutral and tow. Vehicles with manual transmissions can typically be towed without the car running, with no risk of transmission damage.

How do you tow for beginners? ›

Key Driving Tips for Safe Towing
  1. Know your trailer. ...
  2. Make wider turns at curves and corners. ...
  3. Allow for longer stopping distances. ...
  4. Drive in the right lane on highways. ...
  5. Adjust trailer brakes according to load. ...
  6. Don't ride your truck's brakes on long downhills. ...
  7. Use a spotter when backing up. ...
  8. Practice driving with a trailer.
Aug 29, 2019

Can you tow a car without opening it? ›

Fortunately, however, you do not need to have your keys to have your vehicle towed. After all, illegally parked cars are towed all the time without having access to their keys, so most tow truck drivers are equipped to deal with these types of situations.

What happens if you tow a car in neutral? ›

Conversely, automatic transmissions do not disengage when the vehicle is in “neutral” and towing could force the transmission to move in the wrong direction. Improper towing methods could cause serious damage to your vehicle that can end up being very costly to repair.

Can you tow a car on its wheels? ›

You cannot tow a car with all of its wheels on the ground. To do that, you would need a driver in the towed car to control the steering and brakes. But if the engine is dead, this will not be possible.

What will happen if you forgot to release the handbrake? ›

If you somehow manage to drive a long distance with the parking brake engaged, then you can cause major damage to your brakes. Most of the damage comes from heat generated by the constant friction of the pads or shoes rubbing against the rotors or drums.

Does handbrake stop all wheels? ›

If the car is stationary when the parking brake is applied then it only acts on the rear wheels. If it is applied when the car is moving then the normal foot brake is used, i.e. the brake acts on all four wheels.

Does handbrake have a limit? ›

Handbrake is a great tool to reduce the files size of your video content without lowering the quality. This will help with getting your files uploaded faster and it will make sure your videos fit with the 2GB limit.

When should I lift my handbrake? ›

After you park the car

If you have parked the car on flat ground, you can shift to neutral and pull the handbrake lever. If you park the car on an uphill road, shift to first gear and engage the handbrake by pulling the lever. If you park the car on a downhill, shift to reverse gear and pull the handbrake lever.

Is the handbrake the emergency brake? ›

Part of your vehicle's brake system, the emergency brake operates independently of the main brake system to keep your vehicle from rolling away. Also known as a parking brake, hand brake and e-brake, the emergency brake was originally designed to be used if the vehicle's main braking system would fail.

Is handbrake the same as emergency brake? ›

In road vehicles, the parking brake, also known as a handbrake or emergency brake (e-brake), is a mechanism used to keep the vehicle securely motionless when parked.

Do cars go in park or handbrake first? ›

Parking with automatic transmission

Wherever you are parking, keep your foot on the footbrake, then apply the handbrake then put the gearbox in P.

What are common towing errors? ›

10 Common Towing Mistakes
  • Know Your Temps.
  • Overcompensating Weight Distribution.
  • Brakes.
  • Overloaded Vehicle.
  • Wrong Size Ball.
  • Towing in “Race” Mode.
  • Wrong Size Ball Mount.
  • Take it Out of Overdrive.
Aug 22, 2014

What is the 80/20 rule for towing? ›

The 80/20 towing rule is a safety measure many RVers follow. Basically, the rule states that you shouldn't tow above 80% of your max towing capacity.

What should a driver do before towing? ›

Lower the jockey wheel and then switch off the ignition. Apply the handbrake, lower the jockey wheel and switch off the engine. Explanation: Before unhitching a trailer, apply the handbrake, switch off the ignition and engage a lower gear, so that the towing vehicle does not move while you are unhitching the trailer.

Is it OK to tow an automatic car? ›

Overheating automatic gearboxes has long been a worry for tow car drivers. Today, most automatic cars can tow without any great risk of overheating so long as the legal towing limit is respected.

How do you force a dead car into neutral? ›

How To Put A Dead Car In Neutral When You Have The Keys
  1. Step1. Pull The Parking Brake. The first step in putting a car in neutral when the battery is dead is to pull the parking brake, also known as the emergency brake. ...
  2. Step2. Turn On the Ignition Switch. ...
  3. Step3. Release The Shift Lock. ...
  4. Step4. Put your vehicle in neutral.

Is it safe to tow an automatic car? ›

Automatic two-wheel-drive cars can also be towed by a normal tow truck, as long as the driven wheels are lifted clear of the road surface, but be careful of damaging the bumper or suspension when the lifting device is placed under your vehicle.

Is towing a car difficult? ›

Towing a vehicle might seem easy enough, especially if you're already driving a moving truck. But there's actually a lot that goes into it, and it can add a whole slew of stressors and delays to your drive.

How do you tow properly? ›

How to Properly Tow a Trailer: 5 Must-Follow Tips
  1. Know Your Vehicle's Towing Capacity. Start by making sure that your vehicle is capable of towing the load that you need to transport. ...
  2. Load Your Trailer Up Properly. ...
  3. Use the Right Hitch and Technique. ...
  4. Conduct a Quick Inspection at Each Stop. ...
  5. Allow Yourself More Time to Brake.

How do you tow safely? ›

  1. Stay Within Your Limits. Review the towing capacity of your specific vehicle and ensure it's capable of handling the weight of your trailer. ...
  2. Pack your trailer properly. ...
  3. Check your tires. ...
  4. Check your lights. ...
  5. Check Your Brakes. ...
  6. Adjust Your Mirrors.

How do you tow a car that is locked in park? ›

The best thing you can do to prevent damage is to remove the rear drive shaft and tow the car with the back wheels on the ground. You can also shift into two-wheel drive, which will allow you to safely tow the car at highway speeds.

Can you tow a car with a locked steering wheel? ›

Expert Reply: You would not lock out the steering on the vehicle being flat towed. Doing so would cause the wheels to scrub (drag sideways) when turning. The steering needs to be unlocked and the wheels will turn accordingly and straightened back out when needed.

How do you tow an automatic car? ›

If you read through the owners' manual, it says there that it does not recommend towing the vehicle (with automatic transmission) by just putting it in neutral. If done so, the transmission could be damaged. It recommends that the vehicle be placed on a flatbed truck to transport it.

Can a car be moved in neutral? ›

If the vehicle is stuck or stalled, you may need to give it a push to move it. Before the car can be pushed, it should be placed in the neutral gear. Pushing a vehicle is a two-person job; one person can steer the vehicle while others can push. The neutral gear is handy during stalled emergencies.

Can you tow a manual car in neutral? ›

So, towing in neutral means there is no lubrication, which can damage the transmission. In most manual transmissions, the lubricant is circulated by the movement of the gears. So, towing in neutral means there is lubrication, which is safe.

Can you tow a car with all wheels on the ground? ›

These guidelines are designed to prevent damage to your transmission. You cannot tow a two-wheel drive vehicle with any wheels on the ground as vehicle or transmission damage may occur. You must tow your vehicle with all four wheels off the ground, such as when using a car-hauling trailer.

Can you tow a car with the drive wheels on the ground? ›

There is a lot of misinformation about towing cars with automatic transmissions. Some people believe that you can't tow a car with the drive wheels on the ground, but this is not true. You can tow a car with an automatic transmission in this way as long as you are careful and use the correct equipment.

Can you damage your handbrake? ›

If the handbrake was up just a click or two, you shouldn't do too much damage. But if it was fully engaged, the damage can be considerable.

How would you know if there was a fault with the handbrake? ›

The clearest sign of handbrake failure is a flashing or constant 'parking brake' warning light being lit, even when the handbrake isn't activated. Even attempting to engage the parking brake could provide a warning message indicating a fault with the brake system.

Can you damage parking brake? ›

When you drive with the parking brake even partially on for several miles, it's possible to warp a drum or disc. Or if the brakes get really overheated, you can even cause the lining's adhesive to fail, and have the linings crack or even separate from the pads or the brake shoes.

Does handbrake act on all wheels? ›

In most vehicles, the parking brake operates only on the rear wheels, which have reduced traction while braking. The mechanism may be a hand-operated lever, a straight pull handle located near the steering column or a foot-operated pedal located with the other pedals.

Is a handbrake essential? ›

The parking brake is essential to your safety and those around you. Your car's brakes are controlled by something called a parking pawl, which is basically a device that locks up your transmission when you put your car in park. Without it, your vehicle would roll away!

Is it OK to leave car in park without handbrake? ›

How safe is it to leave a car's transmission in Park position, without engaging the parking brakes? If there is no mechanical flaw in the car, it should not roll away in Park. But if the gearbox is defective, leaving the lever in “P” may not lock the vehicle in position.

Are parking brakes separate from regular brakes? ›

A parking brake controls the rear brakes and is a completely separate device from your vehicle's regular hydraulic brakes. It is in charge of keeping a parked vehicle stationary; it will prevent the car from rolling down a hill or moving.

What happens if you drag a car in park? ›

If in Park, the drive wheels will skid, causing damage to the tires and the linkages all the way back to the transmission. Ir can cause damage to the transmission as well.

What is the difference between a break and a parking brake? ›

So, what makes an emergency brake different? It's all in the name. Some automakers call it a parking brake, while some call it an emergency brake. While calling the auxiliary brake system a parking brake implies you use it every time you park your car, the name emergency brake implies it's only for emergencies.


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