For the motorist, a breakdown on an unfamiliar road – at night and in poor weather – is one of the worst of all nightmares. A time when many of us desperately try to remember where we might have put the contact number for our breakdown recovery insurance. Or in some cases, a time of blind panic when we realise we don’t even have a breakdown insurance policy!
But, for the motor trade, this can be a more profitable experience with the prospect of recovery fees and a rewarding repair job. Or at least storage fees whilst the unfortunate car owner decides how to put things right without going bankrupt in the process.
Yet for some brave, practical, and resourceful people this could also be the start of a grand adventure: a towing mission helping to pull some poor soul back to civilization. Or even a ‘towee’ role where you sit in the driving seat with your ‘dead’ car attached to a towrope, gripping the steering wheel with white knuckles, and desperately hoping you don’t do anything to make matters even worse.
Once upon a time, long before breakdown recovery insurance, all new and used vehicles were made to be towed easily. But now that the motor trade sells us cars with automatic transmissions and even electric vehicles, now the towing situation has got a whole lot more complicated.
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We go through some towing basics to understand what’s best to do if your normally reliable motor suddenly decides to give up the ghost and you wish to consider the towing option:
Both the towing and the towed driver should keep in mind:
– the vehicle being towed must display an ‘On Tow’ sign at the rear.
– vehicles connected together by towing rope or chain cannot legally be more than 4.5 metres apart.
– where the towing distance separating the two vehicles is more than 1.5 metres, the law says the towing rope or chain must have a coloured cloth tied on to make the towing arrangement clearly visible to other road users.
– The person in charge of the non-functional vehicle must always be a fully qualified driver.
– In the dark, the non-functional vehicle must still carry the same lights as if it were still drivable.
Some essentials for the towing driver
– Always drive slow and steady to give the following driver enough time to react.
– Pull away gently by controlling the clutch. Erratic driving can ‘snatch’ at the towrope which may suddenly break.
– Avoid braking suddenly. If this is unexpected, you may get a collision causing even more damage. Instead, tap your brakes in good time to signal your intentions.
– For the same reasons, indicate changes of direction in plenty of time. This will give a warning to your following driver who will need time to prepare and anticipate what’s about to happen.
– When towing, keep checking your mirrors. Do the same with your vehicle gauges – towing can cause some cars to overheat. Stop if you have a problem.
Some essentials for the driver being towed
– Before you start, turn your ignition switch ‘on’. If you forget, your steering lock may not disengage, which could be disastrous.
– Try your best to synchronise your own steering and braking with that of the towing vehicle. It helps everyone if you can apply light braking pressure to keep the towrope taut. This avoids jolting and broken towropes.
– Pay attention to what you are doing, and stay very, very alert. Watch the tow car driver’s brake lights and signals. When you ‘drive’ a car which is being towed, you have even less time to react than you do when driving on the open road.
When attending breakdown callouts, breakdown teams hope to fix the majority of problems with new and used cars right there at the roadside.
Nevertheless, if your vehicle can’t be fixed, that could still mean a tow to a local garage. So, understanding what is expected of you when being towed is still an important part of being a good driver.