Towing a vehicle can be a challenging task, even under ideal conditions. However, winter conditions require additional precautions and techniques to tow effectively, even when the towing vehicle is a truck with four-wheel drive. Many aspects of towing are common for all road conditions such as hitching the truck to a trailer correctly. This outlines tips for towing a vehicle in ice and snow, including installing snow chains, attaching the towing chain and understanding towing techniques.
Install Snow Chains
Chains on tires provide additional traction on snow and ice, which is especially important when towing. They also reduce the possibility of jackknifing on an icy highway. Although it doesn’t seem like the easiest task to put chains on your tires the first time, once you get the process down pat, the next time you need your chains it will be significantly easier to get them on.
First, you want to ensure you have the right size chains for your tires. Using slightly smaller or larger chains that what your vehicle requires is not a good idea. This could result in serious hard to your tires and your truck. If you aren’t sure which size is the best fit, don’t be afraid to ask the retailer where you purchased the chains from. Next, we suggest testing out your chains in decent conditions first; this way, you’ll have an understanding of how to install them without already being in a stressful situation.
To install, park the truck on a level area, ensuring that you have at least 10 feet of clearance in front and behind the vehicle. Lay a chain next to both front tires so that the studs are facing down. Place one end of each chain against the front of the tire where it touches the ground. Drive the truck slowly forward until the tires are centered on the chains.
Pull the ends of each chain over the top of each tire, allowing a slight amount of slack. Fasten the closing mechanism to attach the ends of the chain together. Some snow chains also require you to secure tension cords to links in the chain with hooks or nuts. Perform a similar procedure to install chains on the rear tires.
Drive the truck short distance without exceeding the recommended speed limit for the snow chains, which is typically 20 to 30 mph. Listen for any banging or knocking sounds that could indicate the chains were insufficiently tightened. Tighten the chains as needed. If you’re using chains on a dry road for an initial test-run, be sure not to go too fast or too far.
When disconnecting your chains, unhook the middle fastening part that hooks the chains together. You will need to then lay the chains flat on the ground after they’re unhooked and slowly drive off of them. Note, you won’t be able to simply pull the chains off of the tire, as the weight of your car will be on top of them until you drive off of them. Be sure to lay the chains flat on the ground prior to driving your car a couple feet away from them.
Here is a simple video to help you with placing snow chains on your vehicle. Keep in mind that this is a general video and your application may be different.
Attach the Tow Chain
First, thoroughly assess the situation you’re in. Consider these three things before going any further:
- Is your vehicle heavy enough to tow the vehicle in need of help?
- Are your tires in appropriate shape to do the tow?
- Do you have enough experience to be able to successfully tow the person out of the situation they’re in?
After confirming the above steps are possible, place reflective warning triangles or signage you have on both sides of the road, as well as wherever you are about to tow the vehicle. This will allow other drivers to see that there is a dangerous situation ahead and they should slow down or choose an alternative route.
Next, back the truck in need up to the end of the towed vehicle that contains the driving wheels if possible, as this axle is likely to be stronger. However, this end of the vehicle may not be accessible due to snow or some other obstacle. Ensure the bumpers are no more than three feet apart and place the truck in park.
Wrap one end of a tow chain over the top of the truck’s rear axle, ensuring that it isn’t wrapped around any hoses or wires. Place one end of the chain over the other end, and attach the hook on the end of the chain to a link on the top of the axle. Ensure the loops in the chain as tight as possible. Perform a similar procedure to attach the other end of the tow chain to the towed vehicle.
Tow the Vehicle
Ensure that the wheels of both vehicles are as straight and parallel with each other as possible. Instruct the driver of the stuck vehicle to place it in neutral and remain in the vehicle. This technique will help the vehicles work together to avoid slippage.
Put your truck into the lowest forward gear, to avoid simply spinning the tires and minimize the chances of slipping on the road once you pull the vehicle out. Double check that the steering wheel of the towed vehicle is not locked before you get started. Net, press the gas pedal slowly to gradually increase the tension on the towing chain, keeping the wheels straight as you pull the stuck vehicle. Continue driving straight and very slowly while you gain traction. Increase your speed carefully once you’re moving smoothly, but remember that the towed vehicle can be very difficult to control when driving on snow and ice.
Here is an example of a Dodge Ram pulling a semi out of a ditch. Both vehicles are working together to pull the truck back onto the road. Towards the end of the video, you can hear both trucks engines increase in revolutions as they struggle to get the semi back onto the road.
The primary danger is a driver who hits the brakes without warning, preventing you from stopping in time to avoid a collision. It’s therefore essential to maintain as much distance as practical between you and the vehicle ahead of you.
Stop the truck in a safe location once the towed vehicle is on firm ground. The driver of the stuck vehicle should observe the truck’s brake lights, and apply the brakes in a corresponding manner to help them stop together. Place both of the vehicles in the park position and remove the tow chain.
If you’re unsuccessful in towing the vehicle out, enlist the help of a professional experienced tow truck driver. You may want to avoid using a company that shows up unannounced to help tow someone out, if you aren’t familiar with their work history. According to Angie’s List, “in states that require a towing license, reputable towing companies will display their Department of Transportation certification number on their tow truck. That certification indicates the company is insured and certified for the job. Should something go even more wrong, you’re covered.”
In closing, remember that it’s always better to consult an expert to assist you if you’re not an experienced tower. This may prevent serious damage to your vehicle, as well as the vehicle you’re attempting to tow. Also, be sure your vehicle is equipped with the right tires prior to towing anything. Last, review all safety instructions before attaching your chains, and review the steps outlined above for securing the vehicle in-need and carefully pulling them out.
Are you towing a trailer? First, figure out whether the gooseneck or bumper tow trailer is the best fit for your needs. DuraMag Truck Bodies has outlined the advantages and disadvantages of both in their blog, “Need-to-Know Towing Facts: Gooseneck vs. Bumper Towing and Trailers.”
Sources: vw-resource.com, duramagtruckbodies.com