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I’m Moving. How Much Will It Cost to Tow My Car?

June 24th, 2016 - 1:52 PM

Towing a car​

If you’re considering moving long distance, you may be thinking about how you’ll get your vehicle across the country since you’ll be driving the truck. One option people consider is towing.  While car dollies and car carriers are one solution, towing may not always be the best option, specifically if you’re cost sensitive. There are some expenses that come with towing that can go unnoticed on the front end — truck rental, car carrier rental, fuel, liability coverage and tow gear (hitch, mount and ball, wiring, safety chains, tie downs, etc.). Beyond the price, it’s also important to consider available options, if there are reasons you shouldn’t tow, and towing alternatives. So if you’re thinking, “Should I tow my car?” make sure to take those factors into consideration before making a decision.

car dolly

What are my cross country towing options?

There are essentially two options for towing a car: a car dolly or a car trailer.

A car dolly is a two-wheel trailer that supports the front wheels of a vehicle while the rear wheels remain on the road.  While these are useful for transporting smaller vehicles long distance, it’s a good idea to check the owner’s manual and manufacturer’s guide to make sure your car is equipped for this type of towing. Fortunately, car dollies work with most front-wheel-drive (FWD) automobiles (some rear-wheel-drive (RWD), all-wheel-drive (AWD) and four-wheel-drive (4WD) vehicles also work). A quick check will let you know for sure. While using a car dolly doesn’t add mileage to the odometer, steer clear of major potholes or cracks in the road — these could cause damage to the car you’re towing.

The other option is a car trailer — a four-wheel trailer that holds the entire vehicle off the ground. This equipment is typically more expensive, but it reduces wear and tear of the rear wheels and decrease the chance of damage. This a great option for heavier/larger automobiles, RWD, AWD, luxury or vintage vehicles.

Note: Unless your car is front-wheel-drive, make sure to disconnect the drive shaft when using a car dolly rental to prevent damage to the transmission. If you have questions about this, check with your mechanic.

How much does it cost to tow a car?  

The cost of state-to-state towing depends on many factors including the company you choose, what type of car you tow, when you move and where you move from and to. Let’s look at a long distance moving example from Tampa, Florida to Sacramento, California (2,908 miles) towing a 2016 Nissan Altima. We’ll compare the prices of Budget®, Penske® and U-Haul® rentals. Note: These prices are based off the current rates. Prices may differ depending on your specific move.

Budget towing rentals

According to the Budget Truck Rental website, “Tow Dollies can be rented with a Budget Truck reservation and cannot be rented separately.”  This means you can’t tow using your own vehicle. You also have to rent at least a 16-foot truck if you want to tow a car behind it. If you use a Budget truck in our example (towing a 2016 Nissan Altima from Tampa to Sacramento), it will cost $831 to rent a truck and dolly or $1051 for a truck and trailer.

  • Budget car dolly – $219
  • Budget car trailer – $439
  • Budget truck rental – $612

Penske towing rentals

Penske will not allow their towing equipment to be used with a personal vehicle — it can only be used with a Penske rental truck.  In the example move, the dolly/truck combination would cost $980 and the car trailer/truck combination would be $1040.

  • Penske car dolly – $260
  • Penske car trailer – $320
  • Penske truck rental – $720

U-Haul towing rentals

U-Haul allows towing equipment with a rental truck or a personal vehicle. In the example, a move from Tampa to Sacramento in a U-Haul rental truck would cost $1669 for a dolly and truck and $1889 for a car trailer and truck.

  • U-Haul car dolly – $219
  • U-Haul car trailer – $439
  • U-Haul truck rental – $1,450

If a personal vehicle is used with U-Haul towing equipment, you’ll be required to enter the make and model of both the vehicle doing the towing and the vehicle being towed. Once that information is entered, you’ll be advised whether the vehicles are acceptable for towing. In an example where a 2016 Chevrolet Tahoe (with a 6,000-pound hitch rating system) is used to tow a 2016 Nissan Altima, the base prices were:

  • U-Haul car dolly – $329
  • U-Haul car trailer – $659

These examples provide the rates for renting the equipment, but remember to also consider additional charges like fuel, tow gear, damage coverage and date of move. All of these factors will a play a significant role in your final towing cost.

The disadvantages of towing a car

While towing a car might sound like a good and affordable option, there are some things to think about before towing cars across country.

Fuel. Rental trucks already get much lower gas mileage than most personal vehicles. When you add a trailer with a car loaded onto it, the fuel economy drops even more. According to fueleconomy.gov, every 100 pounds of extra weight will decrease your miles per gallon (MPG) by one percent. The average loaded car dolly weighs around 4,000 pounds, which can result in a significant reduction to your MPG. So, when planning your move, you’ll need to prepare for the extra cost of fuel on top of the cost of renting a car dolly or trailer.

Wear and tear. If you rent a car dolly, the rear wheels of your vehicle stay on the road. This increases the chances of injury to your tires and makes wheel damage due to potholes, cracks, gravel or uneven lanes more likely.

Reverse difficulty. Because the back wheels of the towed vehicle are on the road, but you’re not actively steering it, experts recommend not driving in reverse when using a tow dolly.

Slow speeds. ​Some states have maximum towing limits of 55 or 65, which could mean longer travel times. Check with the states you'll be traveling thorugh to verify any towing speed regulations that may be in place.  

Safety checks. Once the towing equipment is hooked up, you’ll need to perform a safety check. After you’ve driven five miles, stop and inspect the tire straps, bolts, chains, coupler hand wheel, ramps and other items to make sure they’re still secure. Budget recommends perform this safety inspection every 50 miles during your trip, which means you’ll need to stop every hour!

Trailer sway. Trailer sway is the fishtailing movement of the trailer caused by high speeds and is the main cause of trailer accidents. Read more about trailer sway here.

Did you know you don’t have to tow a car?

Moving long distance can be stressful enough without having to worry about towing a car. U-Pack is a great alternative that allows you to move affordably without driving a rental truck — which means you can drive your vehicle instead of hauling it. We deliver a moving trailer or container to your door, you load the equipment and then our professional drivers take it to your new location. You’re free to drive in your vehicle and avoid towing costs and concerns altogether.

Once you factor in travel, fuel, insurance, car carrier rental and truck rental costs, you may find that it’s more affordable and convenient to move with U-Pack. Get a free online moving quote to see how you can move without towing costs.

Another great option for moving a vehicle when you don’t want to tow it or drive it is auto shipping.  

Do you have additional questions about towing a car or moving with U-Pack? Leave us a comment below or call a U-Pack representative at 800-413-4799.


U-Haul® is a registered trademark of U-Haul International, Inc. Budget® is a registered trademark of Budget Truck Rental, LLC. Penske® is a registered trademark of Penske Truck Leasing Co., L.P. Use of third-party trademarks or registered trademarks does not imply any affiliation with or endorsement by such third-party.