Best of Deals Car Reviews Repair Shops Cars A-Z Radio Show

Towed a 4runner wrong, what could have happened, and what should I do now?

I recently moved, and rented a UHaul with tow dolly for my 2002 Toyota 4runner 4WD automatic. My wife, who made the reservation, did not see the warning that you have to disconnect the driveshaft to tow it, and the guy at the UHaul place never said anything about it, so I just put it in neutral and towed it with the front wheels on the dolly. The trip was about 360 miles, and I only learned afterwards that I could have ruined the transmission by doing towing it like that.

So I have a couple of questions. First is, what exactly is the problem with towing like that? What’s going on inside and how are things potentially getting damaged? Second, what should I do now? It seems to run fine, I’ve driven it over 1000 miles since then with no problems.

Any advice appreciated-

I would service all drive train fluids involved including the transmission and rear differential…and pray.

Did you have the transmission in neutral and the 4wd system in neutral, or just the transmission?

The problem is that many automatic transmissions circulate fluid to lubricate the bearings with a pump run by the input shaft. Towing in neutral doesn’t run the pump, so lubrication is lacking. Maybe it wasn’t far enough to cause damage.


It’s not going to turn out good.

In order for the transmission to get the proper lubrication the engine has to be running. This turns the torque converter which turns the pump within the transmission. When you towed the vehicle that far at whatever speed, the internals of the transmission were spinning without lubrication. This would be the same as running an engine without oil in it.

I had one person that was going to tow their vehicle behind another. Until I looked up that it can’t be done unless the speed was kept under 14 MPH and for no further than 10 miles.


“Second, what should I do now? It seems to run fine, I’ve driven it over 1000 miles since then with no problems.”

Look skyward, say thank you, and drive on. It ain’t broke. Don’t fix it.
For future reference, yes, you unintentionally took a risk towing it like you did. For the reasons already stated. But you lucked out. Celebrate. Don’t obsess.

"Celebrate. Don't obsess."

Good advice!

Your mistake may help a lot of others out there that tow vehicles especially the motorhome folks. A lot of 4WD vehicles and AWD vehicles as well, have problems if towed incorrectly. I’ve heard from some RV friends of mine that some vehicles can be towed with all 4 down but never with 2 up on a car dolly. Some have to be towed with all 4 wheels up. Then we have vehicles that are 2WD and some can be towed with wheels down and some cannot. It’s confusing so the best thing to do before towing any vehicle that you own…is to read your vehicle owner’s manual and know for sure. Follow @mountainbike’s advice for right now. You may have dodged a bullet on this one.

A friend has a motor home and tows a Mazda Protege behind it with its front wheels on a dolly. Goes all over.

Thanks for the explanations and advice guys. I’m probably going to change the fluids at least, and hope for the best.

texases, putting the 4wd system in neutral for some reason didn’t occur to me, probably because I hadn’t used it in a while- hadn’t needed it at all where I was living at the time. It’s in H2 normally. So that’s where I really goofed, it seems. If I had done that, would it have been ok to tow that way?

"Would it be ok to tow that way? "

I have seen more then a few old Suzuki Side kicks / Trackers that were towed with all 4 wheels down. It definitely depends on either the manual or your lack of respect for the vehicle. Either way, as I originally posted, just changing fluids and pray…dealing with problems as they arose seems most logical. Big question…if you loose confidence, do you trade/sell and accept the loss value by telling the dealer/buyer what happened to the car ? It’s simple for most…tell all, but it’s a thought and for many, a tougher decision.

. I believe, way back when, olde 4wd had manual transfer cases with a neutral and like the old Sidekicks and many trucks, just limited rotation to fewer components…just a guess from having owned one but with a weak memory. Latter 4Runner, different animals, but maybe similar in that respect with your 02…just keep saying a prayer now and then. My feeling is that it may be ok for short distances, and with a dumb old Sidekick, who cared after that…but being an auto instead of a manual and a 4. Runner all has a bearing too. Pray too your manual was over cautious.

The rear end probably won’t need to be changed because of this but I would suggest doing it anyway as this is something many people neglect. The same goes for the transfer case unless it shares fluid with the transmission.

Pay attention or tell whatever shop you have do the work to pay attention to the condition of the drained fluids. Look for unusual amounts of wear materials that might indicate a problem or damage caused by this.

Does your owners manual say anything about towing precautions?

OK there’s a lot of misinformation flying around about how or if to flat tow, dolly tow or trailer the 4Runner 4wd. Obviously if people could afford a solid 2-axle car trailer with ramps, electric brakes etc this conversation would be over now. There’s a million people with the incorrect notion that the front drive control shifter should be in N. In the manual for my 2000 4Runner SR5 Limited N, and L4, show that fronts are locked, Rears are locked and the transfer case is engaged. H4 disengages the transfer case while locks remain. H2 disengages the locks and is the mode the vehicle should always be in unless 4wd is callled for. So that’s pretty important - front drive control in H2. Auto trans should never ever be towed with the rear wheels down. Transmission destruction is assured if this is not followed. This is where the idea comes from of disconnecting the rear driveshaft for flat tow or front wheel dolly tow and it is sound advice. So front drive in H2 - NOT N … NEVER N. Rear driveshaft disconnect. Auto trans in N. Key in ACC mode. Your Toyota 4wd Auto can be towed in any configuration in this manner.

Four years later?
Chaosity, do you realize how old this thread is?


I am the original poster. So, over four years later, and having driven tens of thousands of miles since then, here is the update. I had no work done other than normal, and minimal, maintenance (I did not have anything ‘checked out’, nor did I change the fluids) my 4runner is running strong, and the 4wd works fine.

So no, destruction is not ‘assured’ if you don’t follow the rules, @chaositymeteoritics. Are you a borg?

@the_same_mountainbik, you had the best advice for followup with [quote=", post:5, topic:77955"]
you lucked out. Celebrate. Don’t obsess.

@texases, I appreciated your concise explanation, and reason… [quote=", post:3, topic:77955"]
Maybe it wasn’t far enough to cause damage.

Maybe I just lucked out. But there you have it.

1 Like