Towing other cars

Towing with a rope

Towing a car with a tow-rope, often as a means of recovering a broken down vehicle, was reasonably common in years past.  It’s still legal, subject to complying with the relevant road rules and regulations, but it’s not something we generally recommend.  Exceptions might be moving vehicles a very short distance at low speed, either for safety reasons or where restricted access (such as some car-parks) means other preferred towing options can’t be immediately or easily employed.

Depending on vehicle design, particularly the driveline, and the nature of the breakdown, serious vehicle damage could result from this type of towing. Many vehicles these days will require tilt-tray towing.

Also there are significant safety risks. This could include a lack of power assistance to steering and brakes on the towed vehicle. Remember relevant road rules specify the towed vehicle’s brakes and steering must be in working order and the vehicle can only be towed if safe to do so.

Queensland Road Rules (216, 294, and 295) also specify certain requirements for the drivers of the vehicles, lighting requirements, distances between vehicles, and use of warning flags/lights on tow lines.  Vehicle towing mass limits for the vehicle performing the tow also apply.

Towing with an ‘A’ frame

Towing a vehicle with an ‘A’ frame is generally restricted to specialist applications. One of the most common is a small SUV behind a motor home. This form of towing involves the towed vehicle having all its wheels on the road and being connected to the tow vehicle’s tow bar by a triangular shaped metal drawbar.

While this form of towing may seem attractive, there is a comprehensive set of technical requirements "A" frame towing guide (PDF, 244 KB) that must be complied with. These rules relate specifically to Queensland vehicles. There may be variations in other states so you should check the relevant legislation in the state or territory in which you are operating.  

When considering this form of towing it is important to understand that not all vehicles can be towed in this manner. Some vehicles, due to their design, risk extensive driveline damage so it’s important to always consult the manufacturer about its suitability for the application.  

The following is an extract from Queensland’s Transport Operations (Road Use Management—Road Rules) Regulation 2009

216 Towing a vehicle at night or in hazardous weather conditions

  1. A driver must not tow a vehicle at night, or in hazardous weather conditions causing reduced visibility, unless—
    (a) if the towed vehicle is being towed from the front of the vehicle—
         (i) the tail lights of the vehicle are operating effectively and are clearly visible; or
         (ii) the vehicle has portable rear lights that are operating; or
    (b) if the towed vehicle is being towed from the rear of the vehicle—the vehicle has portable rear lights that are operating.
    Maximum penalty—20 penalty units.
  2. However, this section does not apply to the driver of a tow truck if—
    (a) the driver is towing a disabled vehicle carrying a placard load of dangerous goods to a place that is safely off the road; and
    (b) a vehicle carrying a warning to other traffic is following immediately behind the disabled vehicle. (3) 
  3. In this section—
    dangerous goods has the meaning given by the Transport Operations (Road Use Management—Dangerous Goods) Regulation 2008.
    placard load has the meaning given by the Transport Operations (Road Use Management—Dangerous Goods) Regulation 2008.
    portable rear lights means—
    (a) for a vehicle being towed from the front of the vehicle—a pair of lights attached to the rear of the vehicle that, when operating, show a red light that is clearly visible for at least 200m from the rear of the vehicle; or
    (b) for a vehicle being towed from the rear of the vehicle—a pair of lights attached to the front of the vehicle that, when operating, show a red light that is clearly visible for at least 200m from the front of the vehicle.
    road does not include a road-related area, but includes any shoulder of the road.

294 Keeping control of a vehicle being towed

  1. The driver of a motor vehicle must not tow another motor vehicle unless—
    (a) either—
         (i) the driver can control the movement of the towed vehicle; or
         (ii) the brakes and steering of the towed vehicle are in working order and a person who is licensed to drive the towed vehicle is sitting in the driver’s seat of        the towed vehicle, and is in control of its brakes and steering; and
    (b) it is safe to tow the towed vehicle.
    Maximum penalty—20 penalty units.
  2. The driver of a motor vehicle must not tow a trailer unless—
    (a) the driver can control the movement of the trailer; and
    (b) it is safe to tow the trailer.
    Maximum penalty—20 penalty units.
  3. The driver of a motor vehicle must not tow a bicycle, wheeled recreational device, wheeled toy or wheelchair.
    Maximum penalty—20 penalty units.
  4. The driver of a motor vehicle must not tow more than 1 motor vehicle or trailer.
    Maximum penalty—20 penalty units.
  5. However, the driver may tow—
    (a) more than 1 vehicle, if the motor vehicle and towed vehicles combine to form a B-double or road train; or
    (b) a car towing trailer with a vehicle secured to the trailerif—
         (i) the trailer has effective independent brakes or overrun brakes; and
         (ii) instructions for securing a vehicle to the trailer are attached to the trailer.
    Note—
    Also, a special circumstances permit may be issued under the Transport Operations (Road Use Management—Accreditation and Other Provisions) Regulation 2005, section 106 authorising a person’s use of roads in a way prohibited under subsection (4).
  6. In this section—
    car towing trailer means a trailer with 1 axle that allows a vehicle to be towed by securing the wheels of 1 axle of the vehicle to the trailer.
    motor vehicle does not include a trailer attached to the motor vehicle.

295 Motor vehicle towing another vehicle with a towline

  1. The driver of a motor vehicle towing another vehicle using a chain, rope, fabric, strap or wire (the towline) must comply with this section.
    Maximum penalty—20 penalty units.
  2. If neither of the vehicles is a motorbike, the driver must keep a distance of not over 4m between the vehicles.
  3. If at least 1 of the vehicles is a motorbike, the driver must keep a distance of not over 2.5m between the vehicles.
  4. If the towline is longer than 2m, the driver must attach a white or brightly coloured flag, piece of cloth or other similar material (the warning material) to the towline in accordance with subsection (5).
  5. The warning material must—
    (a) be substantially square or rectangular with 2 adjacent sides at least 300mm long; and
    (b) be attached midway along the towline; and
    (c) be visible for at least 100m from either side of the warning material.
  6. If the driver is towing at night, the driver must ensure the warning material is lit by a light attached to 1 of the vehicles.