So you own a motorcycle but for one reason or another, you need to transport it. Maybe you’re unable to ride it because you don’t have a license, it’s not running, or it’s too long of a distance to ride. If you don’t have a truck or SUV, you may be caught in a pickle, wondering if you can tow your motorcycle with the car that you do have.
Well don’t fret, because surprisingly enough, you are most likely able to transport your motorcycle with the car you do have without having to borrow or rent a truck or heavy duty SUV. You should be able to tow a light trailer behind almost anything unless your car has a reputation of having a weak frame and/or transmission.
I’ve found myself in this situation many times, so I’ve done a lot of research to figure out how this it is even possible to transport a motorcycle with a car. Here’s what I’ve found to work the best for transporting your motorcycle with a car:
- Figure Out Your Car’s Towing Capacity
- Install The Appropriate Hitch
- Find The Right Trailer
- Understand The Laws And Safety Precautions
Now that you know it’s possible to transport your motorcycle with a car, there are further items you’ll need to understand before you actually do it. Though it is possible to do such a thing, you’ll need to be extra careful, more careful than you would with a truck or SUV because the capacity of your car is different from any of those other vehicles.
Figure Out Your Car’s Towing Capacity
In your owner’s manual, you should be able to look up the towing capacity of your vehicle. On average, the standard sedan can tow about 1,000 – 1,500 pounds.
You may also be able to look at the vehicle’s towing capacity on a sticker inside the driver’s side door frame. Consider the amount of people that will be in the car during towing and how much cargo you will have. Count all of that as part of the weight the vehicle is towing
It’s a good rule of thumb to tow a maximum of 80% of what your vehicle states it’s capacity is. For example, if your vehicle owner’s manual states that it has a maximum towing capacity of 1,200 pounds, do not plan on towing more than 960 pounds altogether. This will prevent a lot of possible problems from occurring, such as an overheated transmission, worn out brakes, or overheated engine.
That may not seem like a lot of wiggle room, but luckily motorcycles don’t weight that much and neither do smaller recreational vehicle trailers which weight an average of 250 pounds.
To figure out how much you will be towing, you’ll need to first know how much the trailer weighs that you’ll be using. I recommend the smallest trailer possible for a sedan; the smaller the trailer the less stress it’ll be on the engine and transmission.
Once you know the weight of the trailer, figure out the weight of your motorcycle. You can usually do a little research online to figure this part out. But if you have a bunch of bells and whistles added to your bike, the weight you find online may not be accurate.
If you’re unable to find the weight of your motorcycle online, you can take it to a recycling plant for a landfill; they usually have large scales big enough to weigh your motorcycle. You can also try using a weigh station found off the side of the freeway. If you decide to use either of these methods, they’ll usually charge about $5-$10.
Install A Hitch
If you plan to tow anything on your car, you will next need to install a hitch if you don’t have one already. If you have a specific type of trailer in mind that you’ll be using to haul your motorcycle, make sure the hitch is compatible with it. Most hitches are compatible with standard types of towing, but this is just something to think about in case somewhere down the road they don’t fit.
Cost: If you need to install a hitch, know ahead of time that purchasing a hitch will cost around $100 – $300 depending on your vehicles model. Please note that you can’t just buy or use any hitch you see, they are vehicle specific and will not work right if you don’t get the correct one.
You can easily find the hitch that’s compatible with your car online. Amazon or Ebay are great places to look; Amazon especially has a user friendly interface that helps you find the right hitch for your car specifically.
If you are planning on taking your car into the shop to have the hitch installed, expect to pay several hundred dollars for the job. I recommend doing it yourself if you’re handy in any sorts to save you the money. I’ve installed a trailer hitch before and it wasn’t too bad. Though it’s a bit time consuming, it’s totally worth saving the money. If you’re not comfortable with doing that though, go ahead and have a shop do it.
Installation: Once you get your hitch, you may notice some chips in the paint or scratches on it from shipping (if you ordered it online) because they usually don’t come in a package. Use this time now to repaint it if you’d like.
Since you’re installing a hitch on a car, you’ll need to raise the back of your car up and place it on jack stands as it may be too low for you to get under it initially. Make sure your car is in park, that you have the e-brake on, and that there are chocks on both sides of both front tires to avoid the car from rolling while you’re under it.
With some cars, you may need to drill some holes into the frame, for others the holes may already be there. You’ll easily be able to tell where the hitch needs to be connected once you get underneath the car.
Most hitches will come with all the hardware you need as well as the instructions to properly install this specific item. If you have any issues in figuring it out, try looking on YouTube as there are a slew of videos and demonstrations to look at.
Find The Right Trailer
Now it’s time to find the trailer you’ll be using to tow your motorcycle. There are many options for this; you can borrow a trailer from a friend or family member, rent one from your local U-Haul or Home Depot, or simply purchase one yourself if your know you’ll need it enough and have the storage for it.
You’ll want to make sure that you use the smallest possible trailer to haul your motorcycle is you are using a sedan to tow it, not a truck. Try to find a trailer that weighs no more than 250 pounds – 300 pounds. Remember, the weight of your trailer should be added in when calculating how much your car is towing.
If you don’t have access to a trailer or simply don’t want to deal with one, I highly recommend using a motorcycle dolly. In fact, I would recommend using this over a towing trailer because they require less maintenance and are very easy to use.
If you don’t know what a motorcycle tow dolly is, it’s a contraption that connects to your hitch and buckles on to the front tire of your motorcycle. It will raise the front side of your motorcycle off the ground but will leave the back tire on the road which will roll behind you when you start driving. Because of this, you’ll need to make sure to put your motorcycle in neutral to avoid any mechanical issues with your motorcycle.
You can click here to go to my recommended trailers page for a link to find the motorcycle tow dolly.
Above is a video demonstrating how the tow dolly works. Though it is being attached to a truck and a scooter is being used, it can still be used on a regular sedan with a motorcycle. The biggest reason I love the idea of a motorcycle tow dolly is it’s weight. It doesn’t weigh more than 35 pounds. That’s way better than adding an extra 250-300 pounds for a whole towing trailer.
The average motorcycle weighs about 400 pounds. This can all depend on the make and model of your motorcycle and all the extra add-ons you have. If you have a lot of extra gear on your motorcycle, consider slimming down and taking all that extra stuff off to make things a little easier for your car.
Please remember though, just because the motorcycle tow dolly is only connected to half your motorcycle, that does not mean you only count half the weight of your motorcycle being towed. Your car is still towing the whole motorcycle so consider the whole weight of the motorcycle into your calculations.
With that being said, if you use the motorcycle tow dolly method, the total towing weight should be around 435 pounds, which seems to be quite lower than the towing limit of most sedans, even with counting on only towing 80% of the suggested capacity.
Still, if you use a towing trailer, you’re still only at around 850 pounds of towing, so using a small towing trailer is still an excellent option.
Understand The Laws And Safety Precautions
Once you have your motorcycle all hooked up and ready to go, there are still a few other things to consider when towing.
I cannot emphasize this enough, please make sure you do not exceed your towing capacity. Aside from causing transmission and other mechanical issues, hauling loads exceeding your towing capacity will also make your trailer sway or “fish tale” which can be extremely dangerous for other drivers around you.
Working Brakes: At this point you will need to make sure your brakes are working well. This is not the time to find out that your brakes are going out or that your brake pads are wearing thin. Whenever you are hauling or towing anything, you’ll need to plan on doubling the amount of time to brake compared to how you normally would. You’ve got a lot of weight behind you that’s pushing your forward.
Trailer Safety: If you’re using a trailer, make sure it is registered, especially if you’re borrowing from a friend or family member. You’ll also need to make sure all the electrical components work. If you don’t have one already, you’ll need to get an electrical trailer connector. The trailer you’ll be using should come with a plug that needs to be connected to your vehicles electrical connector. That way the trailer’s brake lights and blinkers are in sync with your car, and drivers around you will know where you’re going.
Electrical trailer connectors are not expensive, usually running from $10 – $20. Again, you’ll need to get one that fits your car specifically.
Tow Dolly Safety: If you plan to use a motorcycle tow dolly, you don’t need to worry about any electrical connectors. The size of your motorcycle isn’t big enough to obstruct other driver’s views of the car’s brake lights and blinkers. A motorcycle tow dolly also does not require to be registered. It’s probably a good idea to put a bright orange flag on the back of your motorcycle to create more awareness to other driver’s about your load.
Road Safety: If you’re towing anything, weather with your car or with a truck, you should never go over the speed limit. In fact, it is a lot safer for you and the drivers around you if you go about 5 or 10 MPH slower than the speed limit. Take is slow. There’s no reason to go fast with such an amount of cargo; your life could count on that.
Emergency Equipment: It’s a good idea to have extra containers of water and antifreeze during any time you are towing with your car. It’s not a guarantee, but you do have a higher chance of overheating your engine when you’re towing with a car. Having water and antifreeze may come in handy. Every few minutes, take a glance at your temperature gauge if you have one. If you notice it getting a little too high for comfort, pull over and let your engine rest for a few minutes.
Is it possible to tow something with my motorcycle? It is possible to tow small trailers and cargo loads with your motorcycle. Your motorcycle’s towing capacity depends on the make and model. That being said, all motorcycles should keep it to a minimum amount of cargo.
Why do motorcycles have different size wheels? Most motorcycles have larger front wheels, meaning they’re bigger in diameter and skinnier, to help with movement and steering. The back wheels are shorter in diameter and wider to help with traction and control of the motorcycle since that is where the power is coming from. Click here to see my article for more information.