Can You Tow a Car Without Keys? The Answer May Surprise You

So you’re concerned about your car getting towed, or maybe you’ve lost your keys and need to move your vehicle, which makes you wonder: can you tow a car without the keys?

Yes, a car can be towed without keys by using a tow dolly or trailer as long as the front wheels of the vehicle are not touching the ground.

There’s a bit more to it, so we will discuss the process of towing a car without keys, provide some tips, and answer some of the most common questions we hear when it comes to towing a car without keys.

Can You Tow A Car Without Keys?

car being towed without keys

The answer is yes, but there are a few things you need to know before you tow a car without keys.

First, you’ll need to find a way to lift the front wheels or all four wheels of the vehicle off the ground.

Using a tow dolly will lift the front wheels off the ground, and using a tow truck with a flatbed trailer will get all four wheels off the ground.

Most vehicles will allow the rear wheels to spin, even if it’s in “park”.

If a vehicle has it’s parking brake engaged, it can be a little trickier because the rear wheels also won’t move, and towing it with any wheels touching the ground can cause damage to it.

In this case, towing companies with a flatbed trailer will “drag” the car up the ramp onto the trailer, then secure it and drive away.

If you’re using a tow dolly and the towed car’s parking brake is engaged, you’ll need to get into the car to release the parking brake.

It doesn’t matter if a car’s wheels don’t move when using a flatbed tow truck because none of the towed vehicle’s tires are touching the ground!

How To Tow A Car Without Keys

car on tow dolly

For the sake of this section of our guide, we’ll assume that we’re working with everyday equipment and not a professional tow truck.

Here’s how to tow a car without keys yourself.

Step 1: Gather Your Supplies

You’ll need two self-loading tow dollies and a tow strap.

Step 2: Check If The Towed Car Is Front Or Rear Wheel Drive

This is important to avoid damage to the towed vehicle!

Check if the car you’re towing is front wheel drive or rear wheel drive by looking in the owner’s manual or researching the vehicle online.

If you see FWD, that’s front wheel drive, and RWD means rear-wheel drive.

If the engine is in the back of the vehicle, that’s a strong sign that the car is RWD.

You can also get under the car and see which set of wheels has an axle shaft between them – that one is the set of drive wheels.

Step 3: Load Your Car Onto The Dollies

Place the self-loading dollies under the rear wheels if the car is front wheel drive, and place them under the front wheels if the car is rear wheel drive.

Here’s a great video on how to use self-loading tow dollies in case you need some help:

Step 4: Attach The Tow Strap

Attach the tow strap to the towed vehicle with tow strap hooks, placing the hooks in each of the holes near the frame by each wheel.

Be sure that you don’t attach the tow strap to the axle or bumper, as you can cause damage to the car you’re towing.

Here’s a good video with some pointers on how to use a tow strap:

Step 5: Drive Carefully

When you first start driving the tow vehicle, accelerate slowly to build up tension on the tow strap.

Hitting the gas too fast can place extra strain on both vehicles and the tow strap.

Once you’re driving, take care to accelerate and brake gradually.

Also, you’ll need to give yourself extra space when turning.

Turning a corner too tight can cause the towed vehicle to ride up on the curb or cause wheel damage.

Start your turns near the outside of your lane and take them wide to clear corners easily.

Towing A Car Without Keys Without A Tow Dolly

If you don’t have a tow dolly and you need to tow your car without keys, you’ll need to tow your car with a tow rope.

First, you’ll need to disable the drive wheels by placing the car in neutral or disconnecting the linkage.

How To Put A Car In Neutral Without A Key

The easiest way to tow a vehicle without keys and with all four tires on the ground is by putting it in neutral.

Lots of readers ask: can you put a car in neutral without keys?

Yes, you put a car in neutral without keys by using the shift lock release located on your shift lever:

Shift Lock Release Button
You can use your vehicle’s shift lock release button to put a car in neutral without a key.

Most shift dials or levers will have a small plastic cover that you can pry off with a flathead screwdriver.

Take off the cover and you’ll see a small button or tab:

shift lock release open

Pressing the shift bypass button while pressing down on your brake pedal will allow you to put a car in neutral without a key.

If you have a push-button start car, you can also put it in neutral without a key by doing the same process we just covered.

Alternate Method: How To Disconnect The Linkage

To disconnect the linkage, you’ll need to first make sure your car’s wheels are blocked in front and behind so the car doesn’t start rolling with you under it!

After that, grab a flashlight, crawl under the car, and look for the transmission.

Once you’ve located it, look for a cable that runs along the side of the vehicle’s transmission components.

Disconnect that cable.

That same cable has both a switch and lever attached to it.

Push backwards (toward the rear of the vehicle) on that lever until you hear two clicks.

The vehicle is now in neutral without car keys.

This video puts the process together quite well:

Next Step: Attach A Tow Strap Or Tow Rope

Attach the tow strap or tow rope to the towed vehicle using the holes in the frame by each wheel.

Make sure you don’t attach the tow strap to the axle or bumper, as you can cause damage to the car you’re towing.

You’ll need one person to drive the vehicle doing the towing, and the other to drive the towed vehicle.

The person in the towed vehicle will be responsible for steering and braking.

Just as towing with a dolly, slow acceleration and braking and gentle steering will make this process a lot easier and safer.

Towing with a tow rope using this method is best for short distances only.

Make sure you don’t tow a vehicle that’s bigger than your own or that exceeds your vehicle’s maximum towing capacity!

Can AAA Tow A Car Without Keys?

Yes, AAA can tow a car without keys without any issues.

They have the equipment and experience to tow a vehicle without keys whether it requires accessing the inside of the vehicle, disconnecting the linkage, and using either a flatbed tow truck or tow dolly.

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