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So there you are, chuffed at having purchased your dream project car, now the tricky problem of how to get it back rears its ugly head. Do you drive it back, tow it or get someone else to do it all for you?


If the car is road legal then the easiest way of getting it home is to drive it. Obviously you will have sorted out insurance and tax before hand and it will have a current MOT, but when the car is still a bit of an unknown there are some pitfalls awaiting the unwary. First of all its worth taking a small tool kit, preferably with a few spare bits of hose and wire, just think about the top ten things that go wrong with that type of car and be prepared. Second thing to consider is taking a can of fuel, most cars are sold with little or no fuel and running out before you get to the first petrol station is embarrassing, usually expensive and potentially dangerous.
Now, if you intend to get to the car on public transport then you have to fit all this kit in a ruck sack, and the bus driver has the right not to let you on if you smell of petrol due to a leaky can! A far better way is to get a mate to give you a lift, that way you also have a potential rescue vehicle in the case of a breakdown. Even if you have breakdown cover it can take several hours to get on the road again so its worth having immediate help on hand.
Whilst on the subject of breakdowns, if you are going to rely on one of the big breakdown services to get you out of trouble then make sure that you take out the policy in good time, most wont help you for at least 24hours after the cover is started.
Finally, before driving off you must make sure the car is roadworthy, remember the daily checks in the Highway Code? It is the drivers legal responsibility to ensure the car is fit for the journey, including things like tyres, loose exhaust parts, leaking fluids as well as general condition.

But if the car is not roadworthy then the only option is to transport it, one way or another.
First lets clear up a few points, just putting a tow rope on is only legal if the car has tax, MOT and the person behind the wheel is insured, it also has to be road worthy. If its wheels are on the road then its no different to driving it, except you are not using the engine. So in most cases this is a non-starter, suitable for breakdown recovery only.
Next up is the towing dolly, you may have seen these behind recovery trucks. It is a two wheeled trailer that the front axle of the towed car sits on, it is very small an light and easy to manoeuvre. But as before, as the towed car still has one pair of wheels on the ground it must be roadworthy, so its only good for recovering breakdowns, not picking up rusting projects.
So the only option in this case is to move it with all four wheels off the road, either on a suitable trailer or on a low loader.
There are now hundreds of companies offering low loader services, usually for something like 1£ a mile, but check to see if that includes the return journey too. Most reputable companies do not charge for the return journey because they will organise another transport for that trip. Sometimes they struggle to find a suitable load for the return journey and this can be helpful, just ask for 'back loads' and see if your project and fill their gap, this is cheaper although you do have to fit into their schedule to make it work. Before booking, make sure the car is movable with relative ease and accessible, these companies are on tight schedules and if they turn up and the car is buried in the middle of a field then they will have to leave it there, and you will still get charged.

The final option is to pick it up yourself on a trailer, either renting one or if you do a lot of projects then buying one can make sense. But as ever there are pitfalls.
Starting at the front, the tow car needs to be capable of handling the weight behind, obvious but so many people try to get away with using the family Astra, and fail. If you look in the car handbook it will tell you the maximum weight of a braked and an un-braked trailer. This is based on the cars pulling power, its brakes and its ability to go where you point it. Manufacturers spend many happy hours testing this on steep hills in hot places like Arizona, checking that the clutch or auto box doesn’t cook when pulling away repeatedly, checking the brakes don’t fade on those long down hill twisty bits and checking that any trailer weave doesn’t force the car off the road. Which is nice.
For most cars the maximum trailer weight will be the same as the cars kerb weight, or a little less, typically less than 1500kg which would allow you to tow a 1000kg classic on a 500kg trailer for example. Land Rovers and some other 4x4s have a low ratio transfer box which can drop the gearing for pulling away up really steep hills and get excellent engine braking going down the other side. A Discovery or Classic Range rover has a braked trailer limit of 3500kg.
One thing that is useful to understand is the difference between gross vehicle weight (GVW) and gross train weight (GTW). Gross vehicle weight is the maximum your car can be, including driver and passengers and a full tank of fuel. The limiting factor is usually the cars suspension and how it works when its is heavily compressed.
Gross train weight is the maximum that the car and trailer added together can be. The limiting factor here is usually the brakes an engine/transmission.
If you add up the maximum permitted trailer weight to the gross vehicle weight you will get a bigger number than the gross train weight, but you cant do that because then there is a fair chance the brakes and transmission will disappear in a cloud of smoke. So to tow a trailer at maximum weight, make sure the tow car is not loaded to the max too. Having said that, you must put some weight in it to keep the back wheels planted.

The trailer needs to be capable of carrying the load safely, all trailers made after 1982 need to have a plate stating the maximum weight, but be careful, this is not the maximum load as it includes the weight of the trailer. Police can order you to a weigh bridge and if the all up weight of the trailer and its load is more than the plated weight then you are a criminal.
If you build your own trailer then it still needs to be plated, its up to you to prove that the weight you choose is reasonable. In most cases you can go by the axle manufacturers spec as a basis. But avoid the temptation to use a caravan chassis, they cant take much weight.
Most trailers use over run brakes which have a sliding hitch, as the tow car slows down, the trailer tries to push forward and forces the brakes on. The harder the tow car slows, the harder the trailer brakes. One word of caution; on long descents you may rely on engine braking in order to stop your brakes fading, but the trailer brakes will still be working and could over heat. On long down hills pull over occasionally to let things cool.
If you have a very light car you may be able to use a light weight un-braked trailer if the total comes below the limit for the tow car, but this is very rare. However, you are then relying totally on the stopping power of the tow car and things can get out of shape more easily.
You can also hit problems if you have a big braked trailer with a light load because some brakes do not do much until there is enough load to force the hitch to move, usually this happens on badly maintained trailers where the hitch slider has become dry.
In fact most trailers have a life of neglect, left in the corner all winter then dragged out with out a second thought. Maintenance is vital, the brakes get the worst of it so check the mechanism works properly and lubricate it correctly, and store it with the hand brake off. The electrics should be checked, moisture often get into connections and light clusters leading to unusual lighting displays. Don’t forget to lubricate the hitch too.
Trailer tyres suffer from neglect horribly, if a trailer is to be left in one place for a long time then take the load off the tyres, otherwise a flat spot will set in. All rubber parts get attacked by ozone and ultra-violet rays, leading to hardening and cracking so check the tyre carefully and renew if necessary. And check the tyres' load rating is high enough for the intended job.

Loading up is critical, the way a car and trailer works is that the tow cars rear axle does all the steering for the trailer and as such must be properly loaded.
First you must position the car on the trailer so that there is enough load on the tow hitch to ensure that the back of the tow car is pushed down rather than being picked off the ground, but don’t over do it or the front wheels will struggle for grip. The car handbook should tell you the maximum permissible hitch load, typically somewhere between 50 and 75kg. If your project comes with spares and loose parts then its usually best to take them out of the project car and stow them in the tow car.
Secondly you must make sure the load in the tow car is loaded evenly to make sure the tyres have even grip front and rear, front wheel drive cars can be inherently light at the back and so putting a bit of load on the back seat is usually a good thing as it helps the rear tyres grip.
The project car needs to be securely tied down, normally you should hold it by the wheels, using proper straps. If you tie the car down by points on its body then you risk the straps coming loose as the car bounces on its suspension. Just think how the thing will move if you go over speed bumps or have to do an emergency stop. If you use ratchet straps, make sure the ratchet mechanism is not bent. Keep the straps clean, dirt in the webbing acts like sand paper and weakens the strap, so if it gets muddy then remember to wash it out at home.

Before moving off check that the lights work, check the brake, side, indicators, hazard and fog if fitted. Also check the indicator works when the brake light is on, sometimes a poor earth connection can lead to these lights working at half power when they are both on.
Check the tyre pressures, small tyres with a heavy load will need a high pressure, if you are not sure what it should be, ask the trailer manufacturer.
As soon as it is safe to do so and before you build up speed, check the brakes work and that the rig draws up in an orderly manner, if anything feels odd then stop and sort it out.
As the speed builds pay attention to how the rig handles, if the steering feels too light then you probably have too much weight on the hitch, if the back of the car weaves then you may have not enough hitch load, or not enough weight in the back of the tow car. This is all making the grand assumption that the tow car is fit for use, any wear in the suspension will be much more noticeable when towing so make sure it's in good order, and adjust the tyre pressures as recommended in the handbook.


If you have never towed before then take your trailer un-laden to a safe space and spend at least an hour practising reversing straight and round into parking bays, try asking your boss if you can use the works car park after hours, or better still do a training course. Like all skills, it gets better with practice.

Finally, if you do decide to buy a trailer, you will be amazed how many new friends you can make once the word gets out.

If its road legal then hitch a lift and take a few spares.
Towing on a rope or dolly is only legal if the car has MOT and tax etc.
The load is too far forward, lifting the tow car steering wheels up.
Loaded more evenly, time to strap it down.
Safety cable pulls the trailer brakes on if it comes loose.
After a few miles stop and check everything is secure.
Practice reversing with mirrors somewhere safe first.
Always use the right tow car, check handbook for tow weights.
              

©Ralph Hosier