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How Far Can You Tow an Automatic Car in Neutral?

How Far Can You Tow an Automatic Car in Neutral?

When faced with a breakdown or mechanical issue, towing your vehicle becomes necessary, but the specifics of doing so can have implications for your car, especially if it has an automatic transmission! If you find yourself wondering how far you can tow an automatic car in neutral, then you’ve come to the right place!

The safe distance to tow an automatic car in neutral varies depending on the make and model of the car, but as a general rule, it’s not recommended to tow an automatic car in neutral for more than a few miles. Continuous towing in neutral can cause transmission damage as the transmission isn’t adequately lubricated unless the engine is running.

In this article, we explore the question of how far you can safely tow an automatic car in neutral without causing undue harm to the vehicle’s transmission system.

Towing Automatic Cars Safely

Consult the Owner’s Manual

Before attempting to tow any vehicle, it is always good to refer to the manufacturer’s guidelines in the owner’s manual.

The manual will provide specific instructions and precautions related to towing that particular automatic car model.

Select the Proper Towing Method

There are two primary methods for towing an automatic car: flat towing (also known as dinghy towing) and using a tow dolly or trailer.

Flat towing involves towing the vehicle with all four wheels on the ground while a tow dolly or trailer lifts the front or all four wheels off the ground.

Use a Professional Towing Service

If you’re not familiar with towing procedures or lack the necessary equipment to tow them safely, the best idea is to contact a professional towing service.

They have the expertise and specialized equipment to handle the towing process safely, reducing the risk of damage to your automatic car.

Ensure the Car is in Neutral

When flat-towing an automatic car with all four wheels on the ground, it must be in neutral gear.

This disengages the transmission from the engine and prevents any potential damage to the drive system. 

Avoid Exceeding Towing Speeds

To prevent strain on the transmission system, it is important always to pay attention to the recommended towing speeds.

Excessive speeds can generate heat in the transmission leading to potential damage. 

Consider Disconnecting Driveshafts

In certain automatic car models, it may be necessary to disconnect the driveshaft before towing.

This prevents the transmission from receiving power and reduces the risk of overheating or damage.

Ensure Proper Braking and Lighting

When towing an automatic car, it is very important to have functioning brakes and lights on both the towing vehicle and the towed vehicle.

This ensures proper signaling, visibility, and safe braking, especially during sudden stops or quick turns or when being towed in the dark.

Safe Towing Distance and Precautions

Safe Towing Distance and Precautions

Consider the Type of Transmission

The type of automatic transmission in your car can have an impact on the safe towing distance.

Traditional automatic transmissions which use fluid coupling or torque converters are generally more tolerant of towing for longer distances compared to some newer transmission technologies like dual-clutch or continuously variable transmissions.

Regularly Inspect the Towing Equipment

Before embarking on a towing journey, thoroughly inspect the towing equipment, including the tow bar, tow dolly, trailer, and all of the connections you’ll be using.

Ensure that everything is in good working condition, properly attached, and securely fastened. Any loose or faulty equipment can increase the risk of accidents or damage to the vehicle during towing.

Plan for Rest Periods

If you need to tow your vehicle over a long distance, consider planning regular rest periods.

This allows both the towing vehicle and the towed car’s transmission to cool down and reduces the risk of overheating or excessive stress on the transmission system.

Be Cautious on Downhill Descents

When towing, downhill descents can put additional strain on the transmission and the brakes, especially if the towed vehicle’s weight pushes the towing vehicle forward.

To maintain control and reduce stress on the transmission and brakes, use lower gears and engine braking techniques when descending steep slopes.

Ensure Proper Vehicle Alignment

When using a tow dolly or trailer, always ensure that the towed vehicle is properly aligned and centered.

Misalignment can cause uneven weight distribution leading to handling issues and potential damage to the transmission and other components. 

Monitor for Signs of Transmission Stress

Pay close attention to any warning signs that may be an early warning sign of transmission stress during towing. These signs include unusual noises, vibrations, or difficulty shifting gears.

If you notice any of these symptoms, it is a good idea to stop and assess the situation or let the transmission system cool down. 

Potential Transmission Damage


One of the primary risks during towing is transmission overheating. When the transmission is under strain for an extended period during towing, it can generate excessive heat!

If the transmission fluid becomes too hot, it may lose its lubricating properties and lead to increased wear or even total transmission failure.

Fluid Pump Damage

The transmission fluid pump relies on the rotation of the engine to circulate fluid throughout the system. When towing an automatic car without the engine running, the fluid pump isn’t working.

Without proper lubrication and cooling, the transmission components can suffer damage due to inadequate fluid circulation.

Lack of Cooling

Most automatic transmissions rely on a dedicated cooling system, typically using a transmission cooler or built-in radiator cooling.

When towing, especially for long distances or in hilly terrain, the transmission may not receive sufficient airflow or coolant circulation leading to overheating and potential damage.

Limited Lubrication

Towing an automatic car in neutral disengages the transmission from the engine, resulting in limited lubrication for certain components.

Lack of lubrication can cause excessive friction and wear on gears, clutches, and bearings, potentially leading to transmission damage.

Incorrect Towing Techniques

Improper towing techniques, such as towing an automatic car with the drive wheels on the ground while not in neutral, can cause significant damage.

This is particularly true for vehicles with rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive systems.

Towing without proper precautions, like using a tow dolly or trailer when required, can put a strain on the transmission, drivetrain, and suspension components.

Alternative Towing Methods

These alternative towing methods can offer solutions in specific situations or for vehicles that may not be suitable for flat towing.

Tow Dolly

A tow dolly is a device that allows you to tow a vehicle by lifting either the front or rear wheels off the ground while the other set of wheels rolls freely.

This method is commonly used for front-wheel-drive vehicles that are not designed for flat towing. The tow dolly provides support and prevents the transmission from being engaged, reducing the risk of damage.

Trailer Towing

Using a trailer to transport the entire vehicle is another alternative method. This involves loading the car onto a trailer and securing it with straps or chains.

By towing the vehicle on a trailer, all four wheels are off the ground, ensuring that the transmission is disengaged and eliminating any risk of damage to the tires or other moving parts while being towed.

Professional Towing Service

When facing complex towing situations or if you’re unsure about the appropriate method for your automatic car, it’s always recommended to rely on a professional towing service.

These experts have the experience, knowledge, and equipment to handle a wide range of towing scenarios to ensure safety and minimize the risk of damage to your vehicle.

If you found this article helpful, make sure to take a look at the other towing-related posts below!

Zach Reed

Hi, I'm the founder of! Having owned a wide variety of vehicles in my life, I was astounded at how hard it can be to find answers to common automotive questions. Rather than sit idly, I decided to create this website to help others!