How to Use a Universal Tow Bar

by Steven Douglas

A universal tow bar is an excellent way to transport one vehicle behind another. With a universal tow bar, virtually all cars can be towed by any vehicle fitted with a proper trailer hitch. The attachment of a universal tow bar is a simple process that can be done in as little as 15 minutes by most people. Since little automotive knowledge is required to safely use these devices, they are extremely popular for drivers who seldom tow vehicles.


Position both vehicles on an even level surface with the parking brakes on. Attach the universal tow bar to the trailer hitch of the towing vehicle. The tow bar will have a cupped socket on one end that fits onto the "ball" of the towing vehicle's trailer hitch. Tighten the ball and socket connection by snapping the socket lever to the "closed" position.


Move the vehicle to be towed to within 4 feet from the end of the tow bar, then apply the emergency brake to keep it in place. Secure the tow bar strap hooks to the two front shipping anchors of the car that is to be towed. The shipping anchors are steel plates welded to the frame of the car that have holes in them to accept chains. They are usually located on the extreme front corners of the underside of the vehicle and are attached to the frame.


Thread the other end of the straps into the strap ratchet mechanisms located on the tow bar. Release the emergency brake on the car to be towed, then use the ratchets to gradually move the car forward until it rests against the bumper pads. Keep ratcheting the straps and the car will slowly roll forward onto the tow bar. Re-apply the parking brake once this has been accomplished


Tie down all of the loose ends of the tow strap where there is excess strap protruding from the ratchets. These will make a loud flapping sound when traveling if they are not secured, and might damage the hood of the car being towed.


Use the safety cables provided to attach the vehicles together frame-to-frame. The safety cables are designed to hook between the rear shipping anchors of the towing vehicle to the front shipping anchors of the towed vehicle. This is a safety measure that will prevent a runaway car should one of the straps break.


Release the emergency brake on the vehicle to be towed and place the transmission in neutral. Unlock the steering column of the vehicle under tow by leaving the key in the ignition in the proper position.


Double-check the ratchets and straps to be sure they are still tight. If not, use the ratchets to re-tighten them, then re-tie the loose ends down.


Drive the towing vehicle in the manner it is normally operated, however reduce speed so that you are never exceeding the posted speed limits under any circumstances. Begin by accelerating slowly, and keep in mind that when you pull out into traffic, you will not be able to get to get to normal operating speed as quickly, so allow more space when pulling ahead of approaching vehicles.


Turn the towing vehicle in a much wider arc than is usual. The towed vehicle will tend to "cut short' any curves and corners you make so never turn while close to a curb or traffic sign. Be cautious of pedestrians at the side of the road when turning so that the towed vehicle does not strike them.


Stop the towing vehicle by applying the brakes at least three cars lengths prior to when you would begin braking under normal circumstances. This is because the additional weight of the towed vehicle will diminish your braking ability substantially. Always plan ahead by remembering your stopping limitations, and never follow the vehicle in front of you too closely.


Park the towing vehicle well off the main roadway, and apply the parking brake. Remove the towed vehicle from the universal tow bar in the reverse order of attachment. Once the towed vehicle has been removed, roll up the straps and secure them with a bungee cord to the universal tow bar. Release the trailer hitch locking lever, and pull the tow bar straight up, off of the trailer hitch. Store the tow bar in a dry location to prevent rust from forming on the metal surfaces.


  • check Be sure you have the correct size "ball" on your trailer hitch to mount the universal tow bar onto. Three sizes commonly available, and the correct size will be marked on the side of the universal tow bar.


  • close Rear end collisions by a towing vehicle are common; effective braking distances are greatly increased due to the additional vehicle weights involved.

Items you will need

About the Author

Residing near the Central Florida beaches, Steven Douglas has written extensively on resolving small-business issues since 1990 in publications such as ForexFactory, Forex-Tsd, FxStreet and FxFisherman. After earning a master's degree in administration from the University of Maryland, his primary focus has been on international currency trade and how it can be effectively utilized by small businesses across the United States.

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