America is powering up more electric cars than ever, and it’s sparking a lot of questions, including this one: Is towing an electric car the same process used for standard ones? Both processes are essentially the same, but the few differences must be acknowledged to avoid some costly and potentially dangerous outcomes.
It helps to know what to expect when towing is necessary and which teams deserve your time in every situation. You can read our guides to pre-towing preparation and spotting a trustworthy towing team to get smart on both topics. Almost 15 million are currently buzzing around our roads after a record-breaking sales year in 2021, and the information from those guides will make you well-prepared to absorb this A–Z and help you make all the right choices for electric car towing.
Why Your Electric or Hybrid Vehicle May Need to Be Towed
Towing any kind of car is a delicate procedure with many considerations, some of which are design specific. It’s essential, therefore, to let your towing team know that they’ll be handling an electric vehicle since there are several reasons why electric or hybrid models can find themselves in trouble.
These can range from universal vehicle issues like a flat tire or component breakdown or you may have been in an accident and need immediate transportation to a mechanic. Towing might not even be required if you’ve simply run out of charge.
The best towing companies can dispatch a charging truck as a form of roadside assistance so you can get back on track. Let’s look at everything vehicle owners, and towing teams must know to ensure things go smoothly when towing an electric car.
Electric Car Batteries Require Special Attention
An important consideration when towing a standard car is remembering that they’re combustible. The same caution applies to towing an electric car, which can catch fire if its lithium-ion batteries are damaged, exposed to excessive temperatures, or carelessly handled during towing. A slow and steady tow is more than only common sense in these situations; it could prevent a serious accident.
The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) regulates lithium batteries as hazardous materials due to their capacity to cause combustible, corrosive, and electrical accidents. These can spread to take out other batteries and objects nearby. Imagine what could go wrong on a tow truck with two or more electric vehicles that aren’t responsibly handled and secured.
The USDOT stresses the significant role played by anyone involved in moving batteries and how they can minimize risks and accidents. Make sure the towing team you hire knows how delicate – and potentially destructive – towing an electric car can be.
Charge the Battery Before Towing
You may wonder if having a fully charged battery is a good idea after what we just said! Trust us – it is when you choose a company experienced in electric car towing. Just like it’s wise to keep some gas in the tank of a standard car so you can drive it after it reaches its destination, electrics require a full (or at least a significant) charge to do the same.
A sufficiently charged battery prior to towing is also wise because, despite the soaring popularity of these vehicles, you never know where the next recharging station will be. There are certainly plenty around the country, as this Department of Energy map illustrates, but you can never be too careful. Not all towing companies have charger trucks, and only the most customer-friendly crews will go out of their way to let you charge during towing!
Disconnect Your Charging Cable and Put the Vehicle in “Park”
Have you ever tried to drive away from a gas station with the pump still in your car? People do it every day, and leaving the charging cable in is a simple evolution of this common oversight. Charging cables can get tangled by flapping around during towing, so disconnect them beforehand. Here’s a quick guide on what to do if your electric charging cable gets stuck in your vehicle.
Customers must also remember to put their vehicle in park so it can be towed more safely. The towing company should have the vehicle firmly secured anyway, but it’s good to take extra precautions to prevent your vehicle from rolling off down the highway.
The Best Type of Truck for Electric Car Towing
A flatbed truck reduces roll-off risk even further by ensuring your electric vehicle has an even surface while in transit. It’s also the best way to protect its drive motor. This is a sensitive part that is always engaged in electric cars and can be damaged if these models are towed with their wheels on the ground.
This is because four-wheel drive electrics may have regenerative braking on their back wheels – a function that recharges the battery as the wheels turn and applies an electromagnetic braking force. This would make towing extremely difficult and immediately discounts trucks of the hook and chain and wheel lift varieties. Hook and chain trucks could also puncture the electric battery, which is another safety reason to avoid them.
Other problems you can avoid by using flatbed towing or car carriers include damaged electric oil pumps, damage to internal gearing, and lubricant issues that can be caused if the vehicle is towed at an angle. Choosing a car carrier may be better for your needs if a long-distance tow is needed – a measurement that varies by source but can include anything upward of 50 miles.
Consider a Carrier When Towing an Electric Car
Car carriers are best suited for long-distance towing and come in two types. Each has its relative pros and cons:
This is the less costly of the two methods and the one you’ll most commonly see on the road. The drawback of open carriers is that your vehicle is exposed to potential damage from the elements, on-road debris, low-hanging obstructions, or vandalism and theft.
This is more expensive than open carriers, but with the added benefit of four walls and a roof to supply much better protection against natural and manufactured threats.
It must be said that the risk of damage with open carriers is low. Sometimes any risk at all may be too much if your electric/hybrid is particularly treasured. This would make enclosed towing your best choice.
Getting Your Electric Vehicle onto the Tow Truck
Tow trucks are designed to move some serious vehicle weight, but not every company you call will show up with enough muscle for the job. Electric vehicles are heavier than their gasoline counterparts because they hold more onboard weight from the battery, inverter, motor, and charger.
The best-case scenario is gently driving the vehicle up and onto the flatbed or car carrier, which can be angled downward to let your car get on board. Worse situations where heavy electric vehicles are tipped or overturned will require a towing company with specific skills to winch it out and onto the tow truck.
These special services may include air-cushioning or hazardous material containment (depending on any degree of battery damage). Once the vehicle is safely aboard the tow truck, it should be set to transport mode, or what in standard vehicles would be called “neutral.” You may find this termed as “service mode” or “tow mode” in your vehicle, and it will help to completely deactivate it during transit.
The Risks of Avoiding Electric Car Towing
Electric car towing has potential pitfalls that can all be avoided when you choose the right towing company. Choosing to ignore a problem, handle it yourself, or entrust it to the cheapest contractor could endanger you, your passengers, and other drivers. Here are some tips to keep in mind:
- Be wary of towing companies that don’t have verifiable qualifications, such as a USDOT number, a good safety record, and insurance. Use the Department of Transportation’s SAFER System to vet any company you may be considering.
- The cheapest towing teams aren’t always the least reliable, but paying extra for a specialized, experienced crew can make all the difference.
- An electric or hybrid vehicle accident could harm the battery via collision or moisture exposure. This could ignite the battery and cause serious harm. Try to get the car to the side of the road and ensure all passengers keep a safe distance from the vehicle and the road until help arrives.
Don’t let concerns over short-term expenses land you in deeper trouble. The costs associated with towing an electric car are better understood when you know the principal factors involved. DIY repairs could lead to electrocution or burns, so leave any investigation to the professionals! That’s where we come in to offer roadside assistance or fast, reliable towing to the right mechanic for your vehicle.
Contact Geyers Towing and Recovery with Questions
Geyers Towing and Recovery has years of experience in electric car towing, so you can count on our trained and certified team to take care of you 24/7, year-round. Visit our contact page or call (301) 259-3177 to get in touch with us. We’ll get you back on track no matter what you drive!