Towing An Electric Car Could Damage its Motor


More fuel efficient, cleaner, and using less harmful chemicals in their operation than gasoline powered automobiles, electric vehicles seem to be the smarter choice. Yet some EV customers now have more to be concerned about than just recharging their EV.

There are a lot of hidden costs of ownership of any car, and while electric cars cost less to maintain, towing could be a problem. Maybe not quite as alarming as you thought, but don’t underestimate this issue. If you often find yourself parking illegally or on the side of the road, then listen up, because it could cost you a lot of money.

Recently a Smith Newton electric  delivery truck for FritoLay was towed for a parking violation in New York City. The drivers of the truck then went to pick up their vehicle, but instead of driving it away they picked it up with another tow truck, a flatbed. Why? Well the city was not sure that the electric truck was towed with a flatbed, and without disengaging the driveshaft from the electric motor (which takes about 20-30 min.),  serious damage could occur to the motor if the wheels are rolling without the motor on. The workers of FritoLay were not certain that the initial towers were aware of this critical detail and decided not to take any chances.

Most electric vehicles do not have a transmission connecting its motor to the driving wheels, nor does it have a neutral setting, which would normally disengage the wheels from the motor. So, while a regular car can be put into neutral to disable the drive-train before being towed, an electric vehicle, like the Smith Newton, cannot. If the electric vehicle (while turned off) is towed from the drive wheels, the motor will continue to spin as the cooling system remains inactive. Due to the friction from the spinning, this could heat the motor to a point where it may be completely ruined. According to Bryan Hansel, chief executive of Kansas City-based truck maker Smith Electric Vehicles U.S., a new electric motor would cost him about $5,000 if it needed to be replaced. Who wants to spend $5,000 on top of a towing violation ticket?

To avoid such an inconvenience, there is more than one solution. If you are not going to spend the time dropping the driveshaft and towing from the drive wheels, then tow from the idler wheels to prevent the motor from spinning or ask for a flatbed tow-truck. You can also look into electric vehicles whose manufacturers have designed models where this nuisance won’t be an issue. The Nissan Leaf and Ford Transit Connect EV are front-wheel-drive, which prevents any damage that could be done by towing. They also are both equipped with a gear box. This allows the vehicles to be shifted into a “Park” or “Neutral” setting. The first locks the driven wheels, while the latter disconnects the driven wheels from the motor.

So if you are in the market for an EV, make sure you do your research first. If you are already a lucky owner, watch where you park (or don’t park) and be aware of the instructions when towing your vehicle correctly.

Source: Green Car Advisor; image from

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  • This is a class-action lawsuit waiting to happen, I think. It seems like the smart solution would be to start the cooling system whenever the motor is spinning, using the regenerative braking system (which, in theory, would be generating power while the vehicle was being towed) to keep things copacetic.


  • I wish you’d used a less sensational title. The title makes uninformed readers assume that all EVs can be ruined by towing, when in truth only a minority (direct drive) designs could be damaged. At the end of the article you admit that this problem is not universal, but the damage is already done. While you are correct about this problem for this particular vehicle, you’ve painted the whole industry with unwarranted concern. Headlines like this (unintentionally) sabotage new technologies by planting seeds of doubt in potential consumers’ minds. And on this web site, to boot!

    • @ Garp

      “COULD” is very prominently featured in the headline. It is hardly sensational, and is in fact a very real issue that EV owners could be facing. If even one EV owner reads this and it saves them thousands of dollars in repairs, all the better.

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