How to Tow a Car without Keys?

Towing a vehicle without access to the ignition keys presents unique challenges. However, with the right equipment and proper technique, it is possible to safely move a parked car short distances even if you can’t start it or disable the parking brake.

Specialized equipment like self-loading dollies and flatbed trailers allow you to lift the drive wheels and bypass transmission damage fears. Alternatively, disconnecting shifter linkages may put some vehicles into neutral. Understanding options, legalities, and risks is crucial.

How to Tow a Car without Keys?

How to Tow a Car without Keys

Can You Tow a Parked Car?

In general, a legally parked private car cannot be towed without the owner’s consent except by law enforcement directing removal.

However, property owners or managers do have the authority to order trespassing vehicles towed from:

  • Private parking lots
  • Assigned tenant spaces
  • Driveways obstructing access
  • Private roads

The presence of owners or pets may complicate legalities. Overall, lacking permission and urgency, it’s best not to tow other’s property without clear rights.

Do I Need Special Equipment to Tow a Car With No Keys?

Yes, maneuvering a locked vehicle requires special accessories to avoid drivetrain damage. Key options include:

Self-Loading Dollies:

  • Heavy-duty movable frames to raise/hold wheels
  • Models for cars through large trucks
  • Allows driving vehicle’s other end

Tow Dollies:

  • The platform carries 2 wheels stationary
  • Ball or pintle hitch connects to tow vehicle
  • Steers remaining front wheels

Flatbed Trailers:

  • Winch or drive the car onto a full deck
  • Securely tie down with straps/chains
  • Heavy duty but more operation skills needed

Other Essentials:

  • Tow bar or straps
  • Tie downs and hooks
  • Wheel chocks to prevent unwanted movement
  • Safety gear – gloves, glasses, etc.

So while a basic tow strap could work, purpose-built accessories make the process markedly safer and easier.

Self-Loading Dollies

These heavy steel carts allow the lifting of the drive wheels of parked cars so the remaining tires roll freely. Models with both small rubber casters and larger pneumatic tires exist.


  • Quickly raise wheeled without jacks
  • Locks them in place during towing
  • No need to access the gear shift or brake
  • Higher weight capacity than tow straps


  • Not all fit larger truck tires
  • Still requires a tow vehicle and accessory gear
  • Casters limit rough terrain use

Using Self-Loading Dollies

  1. Chock wheels staying grounded to prevent early movement
  2. Line up dolly arms under drive tires centered
  3. Roll/pump handle to lift drive end gradually
  4. Lock raised tires onto support arms securely
  5. Attach the tow bar or strap to the vehicle frame
  6. Carefully tow short distances only

So self-loading dollies present one of the quickest ways to mobilize a parked vehicle without entering or shifting it. The key is proper wheel selection and cautious operation.

Using a Flatbed Trailer

With more robust equipment, flatbed trailers provide the fullest control for relocating vehicles. However, the process involves multiple steps.

Benefits of Using Flatbeds

  • Safely carries vehicles of all sizes
  • No transmission damage worries
  • Full load securing with chains and straps
  • More stable than dollies at road speeds


  • Position the trailer near a vehicle
  • Release any parking brake mechanisms
  • Check the route for clearance obstacles

Loading Process

  1. Line up trailer with car precisely centered
  2. Carefully winch or push the vehicle forward on deck
  3. Engage the parking brake once fully positioned
  4. Secure frame tie-down points with chains
  5. Ratchet nylon strap over each wheel tightly
  6. Attach safety chains before towing

So with good operating space, flatbed trucks provide maximum vehicle integrity. But the right winching accessories and loading area are mandatory for success and safety.

Towing a Car with No Keys Using Dollies:

Confirm whether front or rear wheel drive vehicle

  1. Prep tow vehicle and trailer/strap gear
  2. Position appropriate dollies’ underpowered wheels
  3. The pump/crank lifting mechanism engaged
  4. Ensure tires are locked atop dolly frames
  5. Securely attach tow connections to the frame
  6. Release wheel chocks if used
  7. Tow slowly watching alignments

Key Points

  • Lifting drive wheels is mandatory to avoid gear damage
  • Towing in reverse is sometimes easiest for rear wheel drive vehicles
  • Use spotlight signals if towing road distances
  • Frequently confirm vehicles are secured during transport

So with properly rated dollies, lifting the correct set of tires allows slow, careful movement of unattended cars. Just take precautions for visibility and retention concerns.

Front Wheel Drive vs. Rear Wheel Drive Vehicles

  • FWD – Engine powers front tires only so lift these using dollies during non-keyed towing. Common on modern cars.
  • RWD – Rear tires alone connect to the drivetrain. Must keep these stationary with dollies when towing without neutral gear engaged. Trucks are often configured this way.
  • 4WD/AWD – All four tires linked to the transmission. Requires all be lifted fully off the ground if unable to shift out of the park.

Identify drive layout BEFORE attempting towing to prevent mechanical catastrophe. References owners manual if needed.

Don’t Forget the Parking Brake

Standard transmission parking brakes typically bind rear wheels only. So RWD vehicles can be slowly towed short distances with dollies raising the back side.

But if the brake is engaged in FWD cars, you must lift all four tires instead. Attempt to release by reaching brake cables through window access point where possible.

How to Load the Car Onto Dollies

  1. Position the dolly underpowered axle’s wheel-centered.
  2. Use the handle to elevate the tire 3-12 inches gradually.
  3. Engage locking arms to secure upright.
  4. Repeat on the second drive wheel with the second dolly.
  5. Attach tow vehicle bar/strap to framed tie points.
  6. Release brake/wheel chocks before carefully towing.

Go slow! Watch for instability and misaligned equipment. Improper loading leads to accidents and car damage.

Towing a Car With No Keys by Putting Into Neutral

Some vehicles are equipped with manual shifter overrides underneath allowing roll-free when pinned between objects. Use extreme caution when attempting this method.


  1. Confirm needed tools – jack, flashlight, gloves, etc.
  2. Safely support car frame well off the ground on stands.
  3. Locate the transmission linkage behind the engine.
  4. Push the lever backward gently until the shifts.
  5. Lower vehicle full wheels freed.
  6. Hook tow connections to frame tie points.
  7. Wheel obstruction blocks were removed last.
  8. Tow short distance/speeds only.


  • Vehicle falling if improperly supported
  • Lever engaging the wrong gear
  • Unclear when truly shifted into neutral
  • Losing control of freewheeling vehicle

So while a technical possibility, the complexity and danger see this method as unrealistic for most. Pursue safer keyless towing options covered instead.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • 1. What determines the easiest vehicles to tow without keys?

Lighter front-wheel-drive sedans with open interior access prove simplest. Heavier all-wheel drive models locked down present the greatest challenge requiring heavy duty flatbeds.

  • 2. Can I tow a car on public roads lacking keys?

Technically feasible with good equipment but legally questionable depending on title authority. Restrict movement to properties you own or control instead.

  • 3. Is transmission damage a concern when towing parked vehicles?

Absolutely yes. Allowing powered wheels still contacting ground to spin freely shreds internal gears quickly. Safely elevate driven tires off the pavement.

  • 4. How much weight can tow dollies support realistically?

Individual axle limits between 2,500-5,000 lbs are typical. So full-size trucks stretch capabilities requiring heavy-duty flatbeds able to handle 10,000+ lbs vehicles instead.

  • 5. Is towing a non-operable car without marks challenging?

Yes, lacking visual brake light indicators of speed changes means extra caution regulating tow vehicle speeds. Use hazard flashers and maintain large cushion distances.

  • 6. Can I tow an SUV using only tow straps or chains?

Not recommended. Tow bars better support frame structural points consistently. Ratchet straps should only secure wheels already lifted onto dollies or trailers.

  • 7. What qualifies as short-distance tows without keys?

Restrict transporting unattended vehicles to less than 5 miles whenever possible. Reduces the likelihood of strap/dolly failure resulting in vehicle damage or dangerous traffic disruption.

  • 8. Is vehicle owner consent still required when relocating off private property?

Yes in most jurisdictions. Exceptions include blocking emergency access or immediate danger only. Getting documented permission is ideal to avoid legal complications.

  • 9. Can tow dollies lift one end of vehicles with parking brakes engaged?

Depends on holding power but discreetly testing this risks damage. Brake mechanisms should be disengaged before lifting one side whenever feasible.

  • 10. How much extra precaution is required to tow a vehicle lacking a driver?

Substantially more vigilance is mandatory. No brake lights to signal speed changes increase the need for limited distances near crawl speeds watching angles frequently.

Suggested Guides:


While counter-intuitive, towing cars safely is possible without ignition keys to shift into neutral manually. Understanding proper procedures using self-loading dollies, tow trailers, or flatbeds drastically cuts damage risks.

The key factors for success involve:

  • Correctly identifying powered wheels.
  • Properly lifting/securing these off the ground.
  • Highly visible hazard light signaling.
  • Towing very short distances only.

Exercising great care with specialty equipment allows unattended vehicles to be relocated as needed. But rushing steps or pushing operational limits quickly leads to accidents or drivetrain destruction failures.

Evaluate each situation cautiously before attempting to tow cars lacking driver access. In many cases, waiting for locksmith entry and liability waivers proves the wisest legal course reducing personal and property dangers.

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