Can You Tow A Car Without Putting It In Neutral? The Truth!

Towing a car comes with its share of decisions, and putting it in neutral is no exception. 

Learning when to switch to neutral mode to safeguard the transmission and when to go the other route is key.

So, can you tow a car without putting it in neutral? It depends – towing an automatic car without putting it in neutral can damage the transmission, while towing a manual car in neutral is generally safe but some are designed to be flat-towed. 

Let me walk you through everything you need to know so you can make sure your towed car stays safe and you don’t run into trouble!

What Happens If You Tow A Car In Neutral?

Towing a car in neutral is a safe and smart choice. 

When the car is in neutral, it disengages the transmission, allowing the wheels to roll freely without putting stress on the drivetrain.

Benefits Of Towing A Car In Neutral

  • Transmission Protection: Towing in gear can damage the transmission due to lack of lubrication. In neutral, the transmission remains safe.
  • No Torque Transfer: In neutral, there’s no torque transfer to the drivetrain, preventing strain on the transmission.
  • Less Tire Strain: Towing in neutral reduces tire wear as it minimizes resistance.
  • Improved Steering: Steering is easier as the wheels move smoothly in neutral.
  • Efficient Hook-Up: Towing in neutral simplifies the hook-up process, saving time and effort.

Cons Of Towing A Car In Neutral

  • Flat Spots on Tires: Towing a car in neutral for extended distances can result in flat spots on the tires due to uneven spinning caused by friction. This extra drag and lack of direct engine propulsion can lead to tire damage.
  • Parking Brake: Forgetting to release the parking brake when towing in neutral can cause significant damage to the car’s braking system and lead to unsafe towing conditions.
  • Difficulty In Control: With the wheels rotating oddly, the car can drift or sway, making it harder for the towing driver to maintain control.

Can You Tow A Car Without Putting It In Neutral?

As I mentioned in the earlier part of this article, the answer to this question depends on the type of transmission the car has. 

For cars with automatic transmission, it’s usually recommended (and sometimes required) to put them in neutral before towing. 

This helps avoid damage to the transmission system.

For cars with manual transmission, towing in neutral is generally the norm, but some manual transmissions are designed to be flat-towed under specific conditions. 

It’s essential to check the car’s owner’s manual to see if it’s safe to do so.

So, putting a car in neutral before towing is more like a guideline, but it’s a must-do for automatic transmissions to avoid potential damage.

How To Tow A Car That’s Not In Neutral Without Damaging It

If you have to tow a car with an automatic transmission and can’t use a flatbed tow truck or a trailer, there are ways to do it without causing damage. Here’s a simple guide:

  • Use a Flatbed or Car Carrier: Towing without neutral? Play it safe with a flatbed or car carrier. These lift all four wheels off the ground, so no transmission issues, and the car stays secure.
  • Disconnect the Driveshaft: For rear-wheel-drive cars, you can disconnect the driveshaft to tow them safely. This ensures the transmission is not engaged and prevents potential damage. But this method might be a bit more complicated and requires technical know-how.
  • Install a Transmission Lube Pump: In some cases, you can install a transmission lube pump to keep the fluid circulating, even when the car is being towed in gear. This can work for certain automatic transmission vehicles.


Can you put a car in neutral without turning it on?

Yes, you can put a car in neutral without turning it on. Most modern cars allow you to shift into neutral even when the engine is off. This is helpful for towing since it disengages the transmission and lets the wheels roll freely.

Can you tow a car in park?

No, it’s not a good idea to tow a car in park, especially if it has an automatic transmission. Towing in park can seriously damage the transmission. Always put the car in neutral or use a flatbed tow truck or trailer to lift all the wheels off the ground when towing an automatic car.

Should car be in neutral on tow dolly?

Yes, if you’re using a tow dolly, the car should be in neutral. The tow dolly supports the front wheels of the car while the rear wheels are on the ground. So, to avoid transmission damage, it must be in neutral.

When towing a front wheel drive car do you leave it in park?

No, you should never leave a front-wheel-drive car in park when towing. Always put it in neutral to avoid causing damage to the transmission. Towing it in park can lead to serious issues.

Final Thoughts

As a tow truck driver, knowing how to tow a car without putting it in neutral is vital to keep the vehicles safe and undamaged. 

While towing in neutral is usually safe, there are exceptions, especially for automatic transmissions and certain towing methods. 

Opting for a flatbed tow truck or trailer is the safest choice for automatic cars while towing in neutral is generally okay for manual transmissions. 

Just remember to check the owner’s manual for specific guidelines.

Ricardo Vaughn
Ricardo Vaughn

Vaughn is a seasoned off-roading expert and professional winch specialist. When he's not out on the trails, he shares his knowledge and experiences through his writing as a blog author in the off-roading and outdoor lifestyle space.

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