Friday, April 2, 2021

Vehicle Rescue

I got a message from a friend just as I was leaving work today: his car broke down on the side of the freeway, and all my friends know I'm available and capable. He's one of my car guy buddies, so he has skills himself, but he needed a tow. While I've talked about towing trailers, I've never covered towing cars or pulling them out of tight situations.

Towing a car, or pulling out a stuck vehicle, is different than towing a trailer. With a trailer, you have a fixed and engineered system hooking everything together; when pulling a car you may have hooks in the bumper or under the vehicle, but everything else is a bit up in the air. Depending on what is available to you, you may be pulling with chains, straps, ropes, or other equipment. Also, because the towed unit is not rigidly fixed to the tow vehicle, it will require a driver attending to it. This person steers the vehicle, and also handles braking to avoid a collision between the two.

When given the option of what to pull with, I avoid chains whenever possible. They're heavy, and because they have zero stretch, they provide a very harsh towing condition and can even damage vehicles if not used properly. Straps are my favorite pulling apparatus, as they have more engineered strength than ropes, a very forgiving stretch, and can be hooked up in a wide variety of ways, depending on the attachment points available.

The biggest concern when towing in this way is avoiding damage to either vehicle. The ways damage can occur here are legion, and care must be taken to prevent them. Inspect your straps, ropes, or chains for wear and damage before hooking up. These items are under extreme tension when pulling, and if they fail, they can cause serious damage and possibly death. Make sure they are solidly hooked up to a point intended for pulling if at all possible. Move the tow vehicle very slowly to set tension on the towing line, avoiding a sudden load that can do damage. Towing in this way should only be done for a short distance, as it is hard on the drivers, and the vehicles, and can cause annoying traffic issues. 

If the vehicle being pulled has a manual transmission, put it into neutral and tow at a moderate speed, always trying to avoid that sudden shock load when starting from a stop. 

If the vehicle has an automatic transmission, it can be towed in neutral, but only at an extremely slow speed (20mph tops) and for the shortest distance you can get away with. Automatic transmissions require a pump to be operating for lubrication, and that pump is driven by the engine. Towing them without that pump operating will burn up a transmission in short order, requiring very expensive repairs. Automatics should be moved on a trailer or tow truck, and only towed in emergency situations.

If you want to see a true master of the art of towing and vehicle rescue, check out Matt's Off Road Recovery on YouTube. He's from southern Utah, and uses simple techniques, patience, and skill to rescue vehicles that seem impossibly stuck.


No comments:

Post a Comment

The Fine Print

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution- Noncommercial- No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

Creative Commons License

Erin Palette is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to