How to Use a Car Dolly - The Complete Guide

Preparing for a major move and wondering how to best transport your vehicle? Look no further. A car dolly could be the perfect solution. In this detailed guide, we explore the fundamentals of car dollies, providing practical tips and insights to ensure your vehicle is towed safely and efficiently. In general, we've also covered how to tow a car with another car if you are interested in a broader guide.

What Is a Car Dolly?

A car dolly, also known as a car tow dolly or tow dolly, is a two-wheeled trailer designed to transport your vehicle by elevating its front wheels securely off the ground, while the rear wheels remain on the road. This setup differs from a car carrier, which is a trailer that lifts the entire vehicle off the ground.

Ideal for towing front-wheel-drive vehicles, car dollies are also suitable for some rear-drive, four-wheel-drive, and all-wheel-drive vehicles. They are not recommended for heavier vehicles like large trucks or modified cars, where a car trailer would be more appropriate due to its higher weight capacity.

Choosing the Perfect Car Dolly for Your Vehicle

Making the decision on which is the right tow dolly has a lot to do with the vehicle, as some such as all wheel drive cars, can't be pulled that way.

What Vehicles Can Use a Tow Dolly?

Car dollies are primarily designed for front-wheel-drive vehicles as they only lift the wheels connected to the transmission, eliminating the need to disconnect any driveshafts. Although some rear wheel cars can be towed in "neutral" it is important to check with your owner's manual.

tow dolly car backwards

Can I Tow a Vehicle Backwards on a Tow Dolly?

This answer to this is no for safety but CAN to be done at your own risk. This is why:"

The vehicle you are towing should be loaded facing forward. Loading the vehicle backwards just on its own can cause whipping. This is because tow dollies are meant to carry the heavier portion of the vehicle. In nearly all cases, the front of the vehicle is heavier. The rear of the haul being too heavy can make it whip around a corner or turn.

Also, the front wheels could turn and even slightly could throw your vehicle off track, even if you try to lock the steering system. Cars with steering linkage worn can see this happen.  Steering locks in columns are plastic and can snap as they are made to keep the wheel locked while stationary. Steering straps can break as well. Some cars now "steer by wire", which prevents you from locking the steering system. Companies like UHaul won't cover equipment failure if you pull a car facing backwards.

too heavy for tow dolly no way

How Heavy Can The Vehicle Be?

The max weight of the vehicle being towed should be no more than 3500 pounds for the tow dolly itself. Some are rated for up to 5,000 pounds. It's important to consider the tow capacity of the tow vehicle as well. Sorry, your 5500 Duramax Mad Max Truck won't make it.

On that note, the towing vehicle should be heavier than the car being towed to maintain stability and safety during transport.

Types of Car Dollies Available

There are two main types of car dollies:

  1. Mounted Front Wheel Dolly: This type features wheels that replace your car’s front wheels and pivot on kingpins, allowing for safer navigation, especially on winding roads.
  2. Center Pivot Dolly: Also known as a swivel pan dolly, this model has fixed trailer wheels and a central pivot that aids in turning corners. However, the fixed position may cause the towed vehicle to sway, making the mounted front wheel dolly a preferred choice for many.

How to Load a Car Dolly Safely

Preparing your vehicle for towing with a car dolly requires carefulness and precision. Check that both your vehicle’s and the dolly’s tires are properly inflated to avoid flats while on the road. Confirm that the dolly is correctly attached to the towing vehicle, ensuring that pins and safety chains are securely fastened.

3 Steps for Securing Your Vehicle for Towing

  1. Begin with both vehicles aligned on a flat surface. Deploy the dolly ramps and slowly drive your car up until it locks in place.
  2. Use tire straps following the manufacturer’s guidelines to firmly secure your vehicle on the dolly.
  3. A short test drive around the block or in a parking lot is recommended to verify that everything is securely attached and the vehicle is stable.

Recognizing the Limitations of Car Dollies

Car dollies are a great solution, but they come with limitations:

No Reversing

Do not back up! It’s important to avoid reversing when your vehicle is attached to a car dolly as it could cause problems, such as jackknifing, damage to the hitch system. If all you need to do is move backwards for a few feet to adjust for an angle, you in most cases be just fine. However backing the vehicle in for unloading is not a good idea.

Low Clearance Cars Can Drag

Since the tow dolly only holds the front wheels and elevates them, the rear wheels remain on the ground and the car at an angle. Therefore, low clearance cars can end up dragging reat bumpers, exhaust tips, or other components if not properly checked for clearance

Not Recommended for Long Distance

Although a tow dolly can work for long-distance, it's not the recommended method because of possible wear and tear on the vehicle which was not meant to be pulled on its wheels for long distances. The better option for long-distance towing is using full trailer that takes the wheels off the ground. You can move a car with an auto transport company as well to avoid long distances altogether.

Using Professional Auto Transport Services like NX

For additional safety or security, especially for long-distance moves or transporting high-value vehicles like classic cars, using a professional auto transport is like NX is a great alternative.

With over a decade of experience, NX Auto Transport is dedicated to providing top-tier auto transport services nationwide. We offer competitive pricing and stress-free solutions for transporting your vehicle.

Contact our car shipping experts for a personalized quote and learn how we can help make your vehicle transport as smooth as possible. Booking in advance allows you to enjoy the best rates and potentially exclusive offers tailored to your needs.

Carl has a decade of experience in the car shipping industry. He has worked in nearly every aspect of the transport business since 2014, taking charge of various roles in the company such as dispatching, sales, and customer service.

During those years, Carl amassed an invaluable amount of experience which has contributed to his writing of every article and and guide on NX since taking over content in 2015.