Flat-Tow Any 4 Wheel Drive Safely: How To Guide

There are many different methods to tow a 4-Wheel-Drive vehicle these days. Towing options include the flatbed truck, tow trailers, tow dollies and flat towing with a triangle bar. A flatbed or trailer is not always a practical or financially viable towing option so let us explore our other two available options. The following article will discuss towing your 4 wheel drive with an RV or Motor-home using either a Dolly or Triangle Bar.

Before flat towing a 4WD vehicle it is important to review your owners manual for towing instructions and precautions. Place the transfer case in a neutral position. Select 1st gear on your manual transmission or “PARK” on your automatic to avoid causing damage to the clutch and gears while being towed. Once the transfer case is shifted into neutral it becomes a disconnect between the power-train to the axle.

Flat towing your 4WD without risk of damage to the drive-train, transfer case, or transmission can be done. But what if you have an AWD where all 4 wheels are permanently in 4H? AWD trucks present special challenges since all 4 wheels are drive wheels. Unfortunately, an AWD vehicle can only be towed behind an RV with a tow trailer or carried on a flatbed. None of the wheels should be left on the ground as AWD is a permanent setup which means flat towing is not an option.

Flat Towing a 4 Wheel Drive Safely

It is of vital importance to always consult your owners manual first for instructions and precautions for safe flat towing. Inform yourself of the do’s and don’ts of your specific model 4WD with regards to unlocking and disengaging all the appropriate features to ensure no damage occurs while flat towing.

A trailer bar is one easy method of flat towing a 4 Wheel Drive safely. This is a rigid set of bars in the shape of a triangle that connects the vehicle being flat towed directly to the tow hitch. This method allows for risk-free flat towing of a 4 Wheel Drive with all 4 wheels rolling on the ground. You still, however, need to take special precautions to protect the drive-train and transmission by placing them in the correct mode before towing.

A manual transmission 4WD with a manual transfer case and manual hubs can be set up perfectly for flat towing safely with all 4 wheels down without risking any damage to the drive-train.


Follow the below steps to set up your triangle bar.

Flat Towing Triangle Bar Setup Guide:

  • Try and adjust the tow triangle as level as possible to your tow hitch 
  • Make some adjustments if necessary like flipping the hitch upside down to get the bar as level as possible with the hitch
  • Ensure your transfer case and transmission is set up correctly
  • Start by placing your transfer case in neutral
  • If you have a manual transmission, place your gearbox into 1st gear
  • If you have an automatic transmission put it in “P” for PARK
  • This mode will protect your transmission and you will not have all the gears spinning around inside the transmission without the engine running.
  • Leaving the transmission in neutral instead of the park in an auto can damage the clutches and gears while flat towing your 4WD.
  • Manuel 1st gear will prevent the gears from rotating and turning as the vehicle is being towed. 
  • The transfer case of your 4WD can safely take all of the rotation
  • Once the transfer case is shifted into neutral it becomes a disconnect from the power-train to the axle.
  • Next, place the key into the ignition and make sure the steering is in an unlocked position.
  • DO NOT turn on your electrical system at your ignition or your battery will be drained.
  • If you enjoy flat towing your 4 Wheel Drive in the US behind a motor-home or RV you need to hook up the taillights and turn signals.
  • You might want to consider installing a permanent connector directly from the tail lights to accommodate your towing lights.
  • Strongly consider purchasing a temporary light kit that comes prepacked with the wiring and two lights with a magnetic base to place on the rear steel bumper of your 4 Wheel Drive.
  • Wire up your lights to your trailer plug and test for function. 

Towing a 4 Wheel Drive with a Dolly

Dollies only lift 2 wheels off the ground. Using these devices requires specific know-how and special effort. They usually consist of 2 robust adjustable bars and two pairs of wheels and a breaker bar. It works by placing the vehicles rear or front wheels between 2 adjustable connector bars while the two pairs of dollies link securely with 2 axles to raise the vehicle above the ground.

Dolly Setup Guide

  • Make sure you have all the pieces – 2 adjustable connector bars, both pairs of wheels and the breaker bar
  • The first step of connecting the dollies is to go the rear of the vehicle and adjust the connector bars slightly wider than the width of the wheelbase.
  • Place the connector bars in the middle of the vehicle and see if it fits correctly under the vehicle.
  • Once you have both connector bars out and measured to the width of the wheelbase place one bar in front of the rear wheel under the car and one bar in the back of the rear wheel.
  • Ensure you have the flattest piece of the connector bar at the wheel for the support.
  • Place the connector bars with the flat pieces firmly against the rear and front of the wheels.
  • Once you have the connector bars in place you align both your Dollie wheels on either side of the vehicle wheels and adjust the dolly support bar onto the ground next to the wheel.
  • Next, fix your connector bars securely into the dolly brackets.
  • Once both dollies are connected in parallel return to the rear of the vehicle and inspect the alignment to make sure the dollies are centered in position with even spaces on either side of the wheels.
  • Next, we use the breaker bar to jack up the vehicle off the ground.
  • Lock the dollies in place on either side.
  • Make sure your connector bars are still in place on the dolly.
  • Next, use the breaker bar to adjust the connector bars up and the 1st wheel off the ground slowly.
  • The dolly jack will make a clicking sound to confirm it is tightly in place and jacking up correctly.
  • Use the dolly locks to secure the dolly height in place.
  • Once you do both sides, the vehicles two wheels (front or rear) will be completely off the ground.
  • Secure the tires firmly to the dollies on either side.
  • You can use chains or ratchet straps to secure the wheels onto the dolly firmly.
  • Place the ratchet strap or chain around the tire and secure onto the dolly brackets.
  • You are good to go!

4 Wheel Driving Towing

Front Wheel DriveIf you do not have a dolly when towing a Front wheel drive vehicle, then they are usually towed from their rear wheels with the drive shaft safely removed. Front wheels off the ground
Rear Wheel DriveRear wheel driven trucks are usually towed on the front wheels with the steering locked. Rear wheels lifted off the ground.
AWD (All Wheel Drive)AWD vehicles cannot be towed with any of their wheels on the ground. Use a trailer or flatbed to keep all 4 wheels off the ground.
FWD (Four-Wheel Drive)Can safely be flat towed on all 4 four wheels with the transfer case in Neutral and the transmission in 1st Gear.

Conclusion

A flatbed is by far the easiest option here. The vehicle can be driven onto the flat bad and secured safely with ratchet straps with no additional transmission or transfer case settings needed. However, it might not always be the most practical, as most people enjoy flat towing their 4 Wheel Drive behind an RV while going on vacation to explore the unknown with their 4WD once they reach their destination.

The Dolly requires special skills and know-how to assemble. The Dollie option cannot be used with an AWD vehicle, as none of the wheels can be on the ground while being towed by an RV. Towing an AWD will cause thousands of dollars in damage to the drive-train and transmission.

The trailer option can work for any drive-train configuration and can easily be towed behind an RV or another truck.

The Triangle bar is only an option for non-permanent 4WD trucks that can set the transfer case to neutral.

Whatever your selection, just make sure you get out there with your 4 wheel drive and explore our beautiful planet.

Happy 4 Wheel Driving and remember, Safety first!!!

Jade C.

4-Wheel drives and off-road driving techniques has been my passion for over 20 years. Here we strive to provide the most accurate, up-to-date, information about the functionality, common faults and latest technology built into most 4 Wheel Drives.

Recent Content