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There are dozens of towing accessories you’ll find in the market, but one of the more popular parts you might want to look into is the tow bar.

How Does a Tow Bar Work?

A tow bar is a flat towing equipment that can be mounted to the vehicle you’re towing. It comes with a base plate where the towed vehicle is placed.

A tow bar for a car is also referred to as a “four down.” This refers to the number of wheels that come into contact with the ground.

Aftermarket tow bars usually come with a base plate, wiring kit for lights, safety cables, and a supplemental braking system.

different car tow bars for towing
A tow bar is a flat towing equipment that can be mounted to the vehicle you’re towing.

In most cases, tow bars aren’t intended for automatic transmission vehicles. Automatic vehicles shouldn’t be towed when the drive wheels are turning.

When towing automatic vehicles, it’s highly recommended to keep the drive wheels on the ground to prevent damaging the transmission.

What Are the Different Types of Car Tow Bars?

There are generally two types of tow bars一fixed and detachable.

Fixed Tow Bar

A fixed tow bar can’t be removed from your vehicle. This type usually comes with a swan neck design.

A fixed swan neck tow bar is less likely to trigger reversing sensors because of its shape and size.

Although the swan neck design offers an unobtrusive appearance, it costs a lot more than other styles like the flange tow bar. It’s also incompatible with a bumper shield and has a fixed tow ball height.

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Detachable Tow Bar

A detachable tow bar can be removed from your vehicle using a quick-release handle.

This type comes in a swan neck and flange style.

A detachable swan neck tow bar has the same advantages and disadvantages as the fixed setup. The only difference is that it’s removable.

A detachable flange tow bar is attached to the flange plate using two to four bolts. This flange plate is then attached to the vehicle’s underside.

A detachable flange tow bar can tow and carry cycles simultaneously. The tow ball can also be removed when not in use.

How to Use a Tow Bar

Tow bar installation is a pretty straightforward task. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to mount one to your vehicle.

1. Park your vehicle on a leveled surface. Make sure that the parking brake is applied and there’s enough distance to attach the tow bar.

2. Measure the height of the base plate and hitch. The difference between the two should be no more than three inches. If the measurement is more than this figure, you might need to install a hitch adapter.

3. Mount the tow bar shank into the receiver of the vehicle that will tow the other, and secure the bar with pins and clips.

4. Pull up the vehicle you’re about to tow behind the vehicle that has the tow bar shank. You can ask help from a friend to know whether or not both vehicles are close enough to attach the bar.

5. Attach the tow bar arms to the base plate receiver on the underside of the vehicle you’ll be towing. Secure the tow bar arms with lynchpins.

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6. Once the tow bar arms are secured, set the proper gear on the towed vehicle, and unlock the steering wheel. Vehicles have different specifications for flat towing, so make sure to consult your owner’s manual before proceeding.

7. Go back to the vehicle that’ll do the towing, and put it into Drive. Move the vehicle slowly until the latches on the tow arms engage. Then, put the gear into Park.

8. Attach the safety cables to the base plate. The cables should be interchanged once underneath the tow bar.

9. Connect the wiring harness, plugs, and emergency brakes.

Are There Laws About Towing?

Towing regulations can vary, but it’s a widely known rule that every connection between motor vehicles towing should be strong enough to handle the weight of the vehicle being towed.

In some states, however, it’s a rule for towing vehicles to stay in the right lane.

Towing regulations can vary, but it’s a widely known rule that every connection between motor vehicles towing should be strong enough to handle the weight of the vehicle being towed.

There are other precautions you should keep in mind, too.

First, it’s important to let your vehicle’s insurance company know that you have a tow bar. They might not cover the expenses in case you get into an accident while towing another vehicle.

The rear lights should always be on when towing a vehicle. Tow bar installation kits usually come with wiring kits for lights, which are linked to your vehicle’s rear lights.

Lastly, you should never exceed your vehicle’s towing capacity. Doing so can cause the towed vehicle to sway from side to side, increasing the risk of accidents.

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How Much Will a Tow Bar Cost?

A tow bar can cost anywhere between $250 and $500, depending on factors like the brand and your vehicle’s specifications (year, make, and model).

Are Tow Bars Transferrable?

Tow bars are transferable for vehicles that have the same specifications. Otherwise, experts don’t recommend reinstalling them on a different vehicle.

The Bottomline

Tow bars are simple devices that come in two types一fixed and detachable. Both types serve the same purpose, and installing them the right way is extremely important.

Always make sure to follow the steps carefully when installing a tow bar to prevent accidents from happening. If you’re not an experienced DIYer, it might be best to have a trained professional install the tow bar for you instead.

There are also a couple of precautions that come with driving a vehicle with a tow bar. Some of these include disclosing the information to your vehicle’s insurance company, turning on the rear lights when towing, and staying within your vehicle’s maximum towing capacity.

Measurements are also important when installing and transferring tow bars. In some cases, you might need a hitch adapter to fill in the measurement gap between two vehicles.

Lastly, transferring tow bars can be done only if the new vehicle has the same specifications as the old one.

About The Authors
Anthony Harlin, ASE Certified Master Automobile Technician
Reviewed By Anthony Harlin, ASE Certified Master Automobile Technician

Technical Reviewer at

Tony Harlin is a Master Gas and Diesel Diagnostic Technician with over 18 years of experience. He works full-time at a large independent automotive shop as a driveability and repair technician working on all types of vehicles with a focus on diesels. ASE certifications include A1-A9, L1 and L2, as well as X1.

CarParts Research Team
Written By Research Team

Automotive and Tech Writers

The Research Team is composed of experienced automotive and tech writers working with (ASE)-certified automobile technicians and automotive journalists to bring up-to-date, helpful information to car owners in the US. Guided by's thorough editorial process, our team strives to produce guides and resources DIYers and casual car owners can trust.

Any information provided on this Website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace consultation with a professional mechanic. The accuracy and timeliness of the information may change from the time of publication.

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