1. #1
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    Laws regarding tow bars

    A little background first. My wife and I live in upstate NY. My wife, Renee, is an RN at a hospital in Berwick, PA. We maintain a mobile home near there for her convenience.

    As I was coming to visit a month ago, she called and told me her car had died about 2 blocks from the hospital. She drives a 2007 Toyota Corolla. What we did next made perfect sense to us. It may have been illegal but I must admit, I didn't realize it.

    Using a tow rope, we attached the front of her car to my trailer hitch and towed her car back to our trailer, about 14 miles away. She drove my car, a Hyundai Elantra, and I coasted behind in the Corolla. Everything went very nice.

    A few days later, as I came to visit again, she had a speeding ticket to deal with at the Courthouse in Mountaintop (she pleaded it down to a 3111a, but that's another story) and I had a chance to ask a question... As she was paying her fine, I was standing next to a PA State Trooper and asked about our situation. I told him that our Corolla had an appointment with the Toyota dealership in Hazelton, and is it legal to use a tow rope to transport the car the 10 miles to get there?

    He seemed to wince in pain as I asked. I then added that I had considered actually pulling the car onto Interstate 81 as that is the easiest route into Hazelton. He told me that he was happy that he hadn't caught me because he would have had to write me about $800 worth of citations. Okay, thank you officer, I guess I'll call a tow truck. He thought that was a great idea. Later, that day, the tow truck arrived and charged us $95 for the tow. I told Renee to look on the bright side... She may have had to pay a $125 fine, but I just saved her $800!

    My questions are: Are tow bars legal between cars if tow ropes are not? My car is 2560 lbs and I imagine Renee's car is about the same. Is there a problem if the towing vehicle is about the same size as the towed vehicle if the 2nd vehicle has someone in it who can operate the brakes and steering? Does a tow bar have to be DOT approved or can I build one that I could fold up and keep in my trunk? Mechanically, the 14 mile trip from the Hospital went without incident and it didn't seem difficult for either car.

    I have looked on JCWhitney and Ebay for tow bars. They go from about $50 to $600. If I Google tow bars, I eavesdrop on forums about RV owners and their questions about towing their Jeep Cherokees behind their motor homes. I have found information that Pennsylvania requires them to have the safety chains that criss-cross below them in case something becomes detached and that the towed vehicle needs its own brakes if it's over 3000 lbs. Still, are tow bars the exclusive tools of RV'ers, or can cars use them also?

    I live in a rural part of upstate NY. It's not common, but it certainly isn't unheard of, to see someone towing another car with a tow rope. My daughter has a Ford Probe which had a stalling problem about 3 years ago (stupid Mitsubishi ignition). On two occasions, we used a tow rope to get her car home (about 10 miles), and then to tow it down to the Ford dealership for repair. I've never been pulled over for this. I've been driving for 29 years and I've had a CDLA for the past nine years. I have even taken two safe driving courses and the subject of tow ropes/ tow bars, and their legality, has never come up.

    Thank you,

    Scott

  2. #2
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    But there is a maximun length (20 feet I think, without looking it up) and you need a licensed driver in both vehicles.
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  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by Outshined View Post
    You can also legally tow a vehicle with a troopers purple tie. Up to and including a bus.
    Yup, as long as it's no longer than 20 feet long.
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  4. #4
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    Don't need to buy a tow bar, as long as you know what you are doing when fabricating one. I built my own for towing my Jeep behind my Chevy 3500 pickup. Mine is beefier than most factory ones, but not near as fancy.....oh, and cheaper . You do realize that a tow bar is essentially a trailer tongue that you attach to the front of a towed vehicle. Towing vehicle needs a hitch that can accept a 2" ball. Also need safety chains, brake, and turn signal lights controlled by towing vehicle.

    Having said that, your car is not meant to do this kind of thing. Braking would be significantly inadequate, transmission is not built for the heavier loads you would be putting on it.

    In an emergency you could get away with it once or twice, but to intentionally use your car to tow another one, don't do it. You could very easily do more than $95 damage to your vehicle.
    He who laughs last.......thinks slowest

  5. #5
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    The solution to your problem might be a towing dolly. Check into renting one from U-Haul, Ryder. Should be legal in all 50 states.

  6. #6
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    Another consideration to think of when towing a car by another is that if the towed car has an automatic transmission, you'll need to disconnect the transmission from the driven wheels. For a rear wheel drive - disconnect the propshaft/ tail shaft from the differential. For a front wheel drive, lift tow it.

    The reason for this is that the majority of modern automatic transmissions have only one internal pump and that pump is fitted to the input shaft of the transmission. If there is no input from the engine, the oil pump is not working and when the output shaft is being turned by the road wheels via the differential, no oil is circulating from the pump and that can lead to an early transmission failure and more $$$$$$ to the repair bill.

    For total peace of mind and minimal risk of damaging the car, you can save yourself some grief by paying a tow truck operator to tow your car. The other option is to hire a car trailer.

    JMHO as a mechanic with 20+ yrs in the trade.
    If at first you don't succeed, remove all evidence of your attempt.

  7. #7
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    You can't use tow ropes in Ohio.

  8. #8
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    New York laws re: Vehicle towing vehicle...

    5. Subject to rules and regulations of the commissioner of
    transportation, a combination of an automotive powered cab and truck
    chassis being used to tow three such additional vehicles in triple
    saddle-mount fashion on a qualifying or access highway, each mounted
    upon a device designed and constructed so as to be readily dismountable
    and which performs the function of a conventional fifth wheel, so that
    while all the wheels of the towing powered chassis touch the roadway,
    only the wheels on the rear axle of each of the towed vehicles are in
    contact with the roadway.

    (c) No vehicle shall be towed by a rope or other non-rigid connection
    which is longer than sixteen feet.


    (d) A motor vehicle being towed by a rope or other non-rigid
    connection must have a licensed driver in such motor vehicle who shall
    steer it when it is being towed.


    29-a. No vehicle or mobile equipment shall be towed with the use of a
    dolly unless the dolly, vehicle or mobile equipment is secured to the
    towing vehicle by safety chains or cables which will prevent the dolly,
    vehicle or mobile equipment from separating from the towing vehicle and
    the towed vehicle or mobile equipment is securely fastened to the dolly.
    Dolly shall mean a multi-wheel device utilized to raise a part of a
    towed vehicle or mobile equipment while it is being towed by another
    vehicle.
    Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence!

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  9. #9
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    Sgt CHP caught me.

    Without looking it up, I thought it was 20' max.
    Must be nice to be retired, and have all that time.
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  10. #10
    Retired Sergeant - CHP
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    Quote Originally Posted by SlowDownThere View Post
    Sgt CHP caught me.

    Without looking it up, I thought it was 20' max.
    Must be nice to be retired, and have all that time.
    Sorry SDT, I did not post the quote to "catch" you or detract from your post, I posted it for the edification of the primary poster - who could have easily researched his own question, since he does possess a computer.

    Sorry!
    Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence!

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  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by SgtCHP View Post
    Sorry SDT, I did not post the quote to "catch" you or detract from your post, I posted it for the edification of the primary poster - who could have easily researched his own question, since he does possess a computer.

    Sorry!
    No worries, pal.

    It's all good.l
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  12. #12
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    I would like to thank everyone who posted useful answers for me. I often do research on Google, but there are still gaps in my information when I do that. For example, I never ran across the exact New York law stating that "A motor vehicle being towed by a rope or other non-rigid connection must have a licensed driver in such motor vehicle who shall steer it when it is being towed." I have used a tow rope four times in the last three years on New York roads and I guess I was within the law on each of those occasions. I was the "driver" in the towed car each time. I personally feel comfortable in that situation, but I can see where someone else would be unsafe doing it. I guess I may have been outside the law doing it in Pennsylvania. Sorry, I hope nobody, here, holds it against me.

    I know automatic transmission equipped cars can have problems being towed. My wife and I both drive manual shift cars. I realize that my Elantra was probably past its recommended towing capacity. I rationalized it by figuring we were on side roads and not exceeding 40 mph. Just checked my owner's manual and an actual towing capacity isn't listed. I had to push my wife's Corolla some 50 feet, by hand, to get it to a place where I could hook a tow rope to it. That wasn't very difficult. It seemed reasonable that the Elantra wouldn't be too strained to pull it 14 miles. It seemed more than able to do it. If I had known I would be in that situation, I would have brought my truck with me that day instead of my car.

    I have thought about buying a tow dolly. There is a U-haul near where I live, but I have noticed their dollys are almost always rented out. I feel certain that would be the case if I ever needed one. They run between $800 to $1200 to purchase, and I need one so infrequently that I can't justify it. A tow bar, however, is inexpensive and it might just be able to fit into a car's trunk. It could just be kept out of sight until it was needed and I could use it without having to go home, first, to retrieve it.

    Thank you and Merry Christmas everyone!

    Scott

    Ssaund9084@aol.com

    (I would like to leave my email address in case there are any members who have anything to contribute but aren't allowed to answer because they aren't Law Enforcement Officers.)
    Last edited by ScottAndRenee; 12-22-2008 at 07:46 AM.

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