Towing An Electric Car - A Complete Guide

When you own an electric vehicle, you will learn there is a lot that is different in comparison to gas powered vehicles. One of them being how towing an electric car works.

Can You Tow an Electric Vehicle?

Yes you can. The safest way will be on a flatbed or car carrier. Otherwise, you could cause damage to the drive motor.

Most owner's manuals will insist your electric vehicle be towed with the wheels off the ground.

Electric vehicles can experience damage to the electric motor (or motors) if towed with the wheels rolling on the ground. This is because of the way the majority of electric vehicle motors work.

One way to assure your vehicle is moved properly will be by hiring an auto transport company. The other is using a local tow company and have them guarantee a flatbed is being used.

Why Avoid Towing Electric Vehicles on Their Wheels

Unlike other vehicles, when it comes to towing an electric car you can run into issues if you are not aware of how EV towing works. Electric car towing is possible however, there are many reasons an electric car needs to be towed with wheels off the ground.

Electric Motors Are Always Engaged

Unlike a gas or diesel engine, electric car motors are not running or idling waiting for the driver to get underway. They will not need a transmission that regulates the power going to the wheels.

The amount of current flowing through the batteries to the electric car motor can be regulated to power the wheels at any speed. For that reason, there is no need to have the motor engage or disengage with a drive gear to produce the wheel movement.

Another reason the motor is always engaged is they can act as a charging generator when coasting or slowing down. This is known as regenerative braking. Most battery electric vehicles have this feature to extend range.

The resistance the motor gives while slowing down is a converted via the kinetic energy of the wheels which is converted into electricity and fed back to battery. This is essential to increasing driving range.

Electric Vehicles and Neutral (Tow Mode / Service Mode)

Neutral "gear" isn't a precise word to begin with, but it has been used in gas automobiles since the transmission was made. So, neutral only really applies to vehicles with transmissions, but given the meaning of the word, it is still relevant.

When a vehicle electric motor is deactivated, it has almost no resistance. An electric car can be pushed or towed without requiring the use of a neutral position or gear aside from the parking brake and other safety mechanisms. The term with many electric car systems is "tow mode" or "service mode". Yeah, sounds fancy.

So in this case, the neutral mode is just a setting that tells the vehicle to not use regenerative braking and deactivate all systems that control the electric vehicle's motor.

What Happens When You Tow Electric Vehicles On Their Wheels

Since there is no way to disengage the drive motor, it is spun. In some cases for long periods of time. One of the main concerns is that the liquid cooling system is not on, so the motor can overheat from the friction alone.

Additionally some electric cars may have an electric oil pumps and motor damage can incur if the oil pump is off during towing of any kind. This is not all vehicles. The model S gearbox for example will have the oil pump is connected to the main gear. It will circulate oil mechanically.

inside electric motor

Youtube channel What's Inside? Took apart a Tesla Model S motor. As you can see, there is gearing inside and oil, as well as cooling. As mentioned, not only is the motor being spun without cooling but the gearing inside is engineered to propel the vehicle. The gearing you see inside could be damaged by pulling or yanking the motor.

For vehicles with mechanical lubrication that runs off the drive gear, the fluids inside may not be flowing correctly and leave the motor without proper lubrication if the vehicle is towed backwards. So you now have lubrication and cooling out of the picture.

Think of a remote toy car. If you have it sitting on the ground turned off but you can push it around and hear the motor whirring. As you can imagine since it's being forced to move, you will eventually break one of the gears or bearings inside.

Understanding the Different Kinds of Tow Trucks

To not confuse what type of truck should tow electric vehicles, it a good idea to know what can also show up to pull your EV.

hook and chain tow truck

Hook and Chain Trucks

By no means should you ever use this kind of truck. The chains may be wrapped around the car's frame for towing with a hook and chain. The hook will then be fastened to the vehicle's underside or axle. This can tear up the frame, body, and even puncture the battery. The are only typically used in wrecking yards.

wheel lift truck

Wheel Lift Trucks

It is a tow truck with a hydraulic boom with a fork that has a cross bar at the end. The front or rear wheels of a car are placed between two of these bars. These are very commonly used by roadside services and repossession companies. The vehicle is raised but kept with two wheels rolling as it is pulled. In that case you will pull the electric vehicle but spin the wheels. This is not recommended by most manufacturers as it can damage the drive gear and motor.

car on flatbed truck

Flatbed Tow Trucks

A flatbed tow truck has a slanted bed that may be lowered and/or tilted to ground level. That would allow the car to be placed on it. If the vehicle can't be moved under its own power, using a winch is an option to pull the vehicle up. This is considered safe.

The vehicle will be secured to the deck. Cars with all-wheel drive or 4-wheel drive benefit greatly from flatbed towing, not just electric cars.

Flatbed towing has several advantages, but the most significant is safety for the drive motors. The chances of suffering any drive motor damage will plummet drastically once the car is secured on the deck and towed off the ground. Having all four wheels off the ground is best for electric cars.

car hauler taking vehicles

Car Hauler/ Car Carrier

Just like the flatbed tow truck, the wheels are off the ground using a car carrier. The car carrier is much bigger and loads many cars. These are ideal for long distance towing or long distance transport. There are two types of car transport trucks. One is the open carrier. The other is the enclosed carrier.

Why You Would Need to Tow an Electric Car

As far as moving or buying a car goes, shipping a car (electric or not) is the best way to relocate a vehicle without causing wear and tear from driving.

But there are other reasons why you may need to tow an electric car. As advanced as they may be, you could have a series of issues that cause them to become disabled. Like any vehicle, you can simply get a flat tire. Many vehicles these days don't even have a spare tire. There's simply running out of juice from failing to find a charging station.

Whatever the reason, an electric car that needs to be towed will benefit from flatbed tow trucks or a car carrier / car hauler.

Loading an Electric Car On to a Tow Vehicle

Since a flatbed truck or car carrier are the way an electric vehicle should be towed, this is the method that is being covered.

When shipping running and driving electric car, it's simple enough. The vehicle is driven on to the flatbed or carrier for transport. Put in "transport mode" and then will await to be unloaded at the destination.

However, for non-running electric cars, they will beed to be winched on. Most new vehicles have a tow hook. It will be in various locations depending on the vehicle. It will usually be stored in the front storage area.

It is a black or silver steel rod with a loop on one end and a thread on the other. There will be a small snap on plate you can remove and screw the tow hook on.

At this point the hauler or flatbed tow truck slowly pull the vehicle up with the winch. The same procedure is done in reverse at delivery.

Need to Safely Transport an Electric Vehicle?

Not everyone knows the proper way to relocate an electric car. For that reason, reading this guide and choosing a qualified auto transport company is key to an electric car tow. Call us today and speak to one of our expert advisors.

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.