How to Tie Down a Car on a Trailer


Tying a car down to a trailer may seem like a daunting task, especially if you’ve never done it before. There’s no need to fear, however, as the process is fairly simple and requires nothing more than a few ratchets and vehicle straps. If you have a modern or small car, it's best to use tire straps; if your car was made before 1990 or is large, you're better off using axle straps.

Part 1
Loading the Vehicle

Loading the Vehicle on How to Tie Down a Car on a Trailer

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Pull your trailer onto a flat, level patch of ground. For safety, do not use slanted areas like driveways. Then, put the vehicle you used to tow the trailer in park and activate its emergency brake.[1] For extra security, place wheel chocks in front of and behind each tire.

Loading the Vehicle on How to Tie Down a Car on a Trailer

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If you’re using a trailer made specifically for towing cars, it should come with 2 heavy duty ramps. To use these ramps, simply pull them out of the vehicle’s rear body and make sure they’re parallel and secure.[2] If your trailer doesn’t have built-in ramps, you can purchase a metal ramp from an auto supply store and connect it yourself by following the manufacturer’s included instructions. Do not try to create a makeshift ramp. Doing so is extremely dangerous and can result in major damage to you or your vehicles.

Loading the Vehicle on How to Tie Down a Car on a Trailer

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Once you’ve parked the trailer, pull your car up behind it. Make sure to line your wheels up with the trailer’s metal ramps.[3] Do not back your car up to the trailer as towing your car with the tail end first can cause problems like whipping or swaying.

Loading the Vehicle on How to Tie Down a Car on a Trailer

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Put your car in drive and slowly accelerate up the ramp and onto the trailer. As you drive, the front of the car will raise up slightly, then return back down and distribute its weight over the surface of the trailer.[4] Keep the steering wheel straight so you don’t drive on crooked. If you’re unsure whether or not you’re driving straight, ask a friend to help direct you.

Loading the Vehicle on How to Tie Down a Car on a Trailer

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Keep accelerating until you’re centered on the trailer. Then, put the car in park, turn it off, and activate its parking brake. Finally, hop out of the vehicle and double check the car’s alignment.[5] If you’d like, ask a friend to stand off to the side of the vehicle so they can check the alignment while you’re driving it. If you have a manual car, put it in first gear, turn off the motor, and set the handbrake.

Part 2
Securing the Car with Tire Straps

Securing the Car with Tire Straps on How to Tie Down a Car on a Trailer

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Tire straps use your trailer’s weight to keep your car steady. When properly attached, these straps cannot damage your car’s body or mechanical parts, making them perfect for slender cars made after 1990 and small vehicles like smart cars. Tire straps may not fit on vehicles with extremely large tires.

Securing the Car with Tire Straps on How to Tie Down a Car on a Trailer

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Grab a lasso strap and pull the open end of the strap through the looped end. Then, place the strap around your tire and pull it tight.[6] Make sure the strap covers your tire’s hubcap.

Securing the Car with Tire Straps on How to Tie Down a Car on a Trailer

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Pull the exposed end of your lasso strap through the center hole of a ratchet strap buckle, making sure to leave just a little bit of slack. Then, crank the ratchet’s handle 3 or 4 times to connect the straps.[7] If your ratchet strap has 2 metal clips, hook 1 of them onto the looped end of the lasso strap.

Securing the Car with Tire Straps on How to Tie Down a Car on a Trailer

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Once you’ve connected the straps, look for your trailer’s left front D-ring. Then, hook the open end of your ratchet strap onto the D-ring.[8] D-rings are small, inset rings bolted onto each corner of your trailer.

Securing the Car with Tire Straps on How to Tie Down a Car on a Trailer

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Double-check that both your ratchet strap and lasso strap are secure and connected. Then, move the ratchet’s handle up and down to tighten the straps. When finished, your lasso strap should squeeze into the tire’s sides.[9] While tightening your straps, make sure they don’t come into contact with your car’s body. If they do, loosen the straps, reposition them, and repeat the tightening process.

Securing the Car with Tire Straps on How to Tie Down a Car on a Trailer

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Once you’ve finished the first wheel, repeat the fastening process with your 3 remaining tires. When you’re finished, look over each wheel to ensure you didn’t make any errors. You can fasten the remaining wheels in any order you’d like.

Part 3
Using Axle Straps

Using Axle Straps on How to Tie Down a Car on a Trailer

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Unlike tire straps, axle straps use your vehicle’s weight and suspension to help keep it in place. This is typically the best option for bulky classic cars produced before 1990 and large vehicles like trucks and four wheelers. Axle straps can cause unwanted damage to small or modern vehicles.

Using Axle Straps on How to Tie Down a Car on a Trailer

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Pull an axle strap around the left side of your car’s rear axle bar. Then, secure it by closing the strap’s metal clip. If your strap has a padded section, make sure that section is the part that touches the axle.[10] Your car’s rear housing holds its rear axle, which is the long horizontal bar that connects the back wheels.

Using Axle Straps on How to Tie Down a Car on a Trailer

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Grab a ratchet strap that has a metal clip on the end. Connect the clip to the D-ring on the back left side of the trailer, then give it a tug to make sure it holds. D-rings are the inset rings bolted onto the trailer. They’re generally located on each corner of the vehicle.

Using Axle Straps on How to Tie Down a Car on a Trailer

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Pull the free end of your axle strap through the ratchet buckle’s center hole, leaving just a small amount of slack. Then, raise and lower the ratchet’s handle 3 or 4 times to lock the strap in place.[11] If your ratchet strap has a second metal clip, hook it onto the axle strap’s metal ring (the part you tied to the rear axle housing).

Using Axle Straps on How to Tie Down a Car on a Trailer

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Check to make sure that your straps are secure and completely connected. Then, move the ratchet’s handle up and down until the straps are fairly taut. Make sure to keep the straps straight and don’t twist them as you tighten, since twisting can make unloading more difficult.[12] Overtightening the straps can lead to axle damage. If your straps feel like they’re starting to strain, loosen them slightly. If you’re left with any loose strap ends, tie them up using bungee cords or cable ties.

Using Axle Straps on How to Tie Down a Car on a Trailer

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Grab a second axle strap and a second ratchet strap. Then, repeat the fastening process by wrapping the axle strap around the right side of the rear axle, hooking the ratchet strap onto the adjacent D-ring, and connecting the straps together. Just like with the previous side, make sure the straps are tight enough to secure the car but not so tight that they strain the axle.

Using Axle Straps on How to Tie Down a Car on a Trailer

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Grab 2 more axle straps and 2 more ratchet straps. Then, wrap the axle straps around the left and right sides of the front axle, clip the ratchet straps into the adjacent D-rings, and connect the corresponding straps together. Finally, ratchet the straps until they’re tight with no slack.[13] If you’d prefer, you can wrap the front axle straps around your car’s A-arms or chassis rail. Be careful not to secure any straps around the car’s sway bars, steering arms, or steering racks. These are located on the bottom of the car and look like small axle rods.

Part 4
Checking the Car’s Safety

Checking the Car’s Safety on How to Tie Down a Car on a Trailer

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If your trailer has a rear safety chain, make sure you attach it to the front of your car. To do this, pull the chain around your car’s chassis rail or A-arm. Then, twist the chain and clip the chain hook onto 1 of the chain loops. You do not need to tighten the chain, just make sure it’s attached securely.[14] This chain helps hold your car in place if any of the straps break.

Checking the Car’s Safety on How to Tie Down a Car on a Trailer

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Check your straps to make sure they’re tight and are only holding down things they’re supposed to. In particular, make sure your straps are not crushing your car’s body, brake lines, or oil lines.[15] You’ll find brake and oil lines on the bottom of your car. They typically look like thin, flexible cords.

Checking the Car’s Safety on How to Tie Down a Car on a Trailer

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If you used connected ramps, push them back into their holding place. If you used an external ramp, move it out of the way and either stow it somewhere safe or put in the trunk of your towing vehicle. Make sure to stow the ramps before you drive away!

Checking the Car’s Safety on How to Tie Down a Car on a Trailer

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Before you head out, drive your trailer through a slow, quiet area like a neighborhood or empty parking lot. In addition to making sure the car is secure, use this time to practice things like braking, making wide turns, and backing up.[16] If you’ve never towed a trailer before, you should also test drive it before loading the car.

Checking the Car’s Safety on How to Tie Down a Car on a Trailer

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For safety, stop and check your straps after traveling your first 10 to 25 miles. If necessary, secure your straps by repositioning or ratcheting them.[17] Ratchet straps tend to stretch out a bit when you first start using them.

Checking the Car’s Safety on How to Tie Down a Car on a Trailer

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Perform regular inspections throughout your trip, checking for any slack in the straps and making sure they’re properly positioned. You should also inspect the towing vehicle for overheated or low-pressure tires.[18] Taking just 10 minutes to check at each stop will help keep you, your car, and your trailer safe.