Towing a Jeep

Flat towing vs. trailering your Jeep is always a hot topic. Here are some questions and ideas from the CJ-3B Bulletin Board:

Flat Towing Preparation

Dave Rush asked: "Does the drive shaft need to be removed to tow my Jeep? I just put my trans and transfer case in neutral and go. Am I doing something bad to my Jeep?"

Rick and Melanie WestJosh: "You would be best off to rent a trailer from U-haul. It is a lot cheaper than a new rear axle. At least put it on a dolly, disconnect the rear driveshaft from the axle, and change the fluid in the rear axle before the trip."

Drac: "I towed my '47 CJ-2A hundreds of miles every spring for years for bear hunting. I loaded it down with about 300 lbs of meat for bait as well. All I did was disconnect the rear driveshaft and take off the front hubs. I found a soup can that would fit over the hubs to protect them from the elements, and used duct tape to hold them on. I never had any trouble, and just did this again to bring my present CJ-2A home, about 500 miles, with no problems. Oh ya, I wired the driveshaft up underneath and wrapped a lot of tape around the U-joint. I drove at 65 MPH all the time. Also, I used a couple of trailer lights mounted to 2 pieces of metal 1/2" conduit about 10" long. I stuck them in the holes at the rear fenders for the top bows to go in. I did the wiring up the same as normal trailer wiring. Works great."

Wayne: "I've towed just about every model of Jeep made in the last 20 years, as that's how long I've been collectin' and trading in them. For long distances it is well worth disconnecting drive shafts as I have a DJ-5 in the yard that someone else towed here from FLA that has two gears in the tranny that have been ground flat on one side 'cause the thing kept bouncing in and out of gear probably the whole trip. I myself jammed a '60 Dodge Panel truck into 2 gears at once on the New York thruway as it was "too cold" to get under the darn thing on snow to remove. Guess what! I had to get under it on the side of the thruway and it was still cold! And don't forget to tighten the lug nuts!!! That same darn DJ has HUGE wholes in one wheel cause I trusted previous owner's installation and I actually had the wheel fall off as I rounded a turn!"

Craig Buckley noted on WillysTech: "Between my Dad, my brother and me, we've probably logged 100K miles over the last 30 years flat towing flat fendered and other W-O vehicles and we've towed with everything you can imagine except a Plymouth Cricket, or at least we didn't tow far with the Cricket. We always take both driveshafts out after once noticing a connecting rod where it didn't belong (through the side of the block) as a result of the vehicle somehow going into gear while being towed. We think something stowed in the Jeep may have hit the shifter and bumped it into reverse after hitting a pot hole."

Chris Henry: "I have a buddy who pulls his Jeep about 200 miles a few times a year for a trail ride. He told me that he pulls it at 60 mph, and if you stop you can't put your hand on the differential, it gets that hot. Imagine what that heat can do to bearings, lubricants, etc."

Drac: "If your diff is getting hot from towing then you have a problem obviously. I've checked my diff for heat several times while driving and never found it to be more than warm! The bearings were designed to allow speeds as high 60 MPH or faster. Just make sure the oil level is up to the fill hole. As far as breakdowns go, they can happen anywhere, usually not in our driveways either. But you're right, moving is not the best time to have it happen, so if you want to avoid all problems then tow it on a trailer and carry spare bearings in case one of the trailer bearings piles up on you!"

Dangers of flat towingJC Jenkins: "This picture was taken as we were trying to tow my '62 3B home with a tow bar instead of a trailer. Both rear wheels sheared the keys on the axles, dropping it on to the spring plates. First lesson learned. The driveway we are on, belongs to a retired machinist, who rethreaded the axles and got us back on our way. What luck."

Jeff: "In my never-ending quest for the easiest way to tow a CJ, I went to my auto parts store where I told them I wanted to make my own car dolly and I was also interested in adding rear trailer hubs to my wheel so that the rear end doesn't turn (someone suggested that on this page). Well this old timer immediately said, 'What, are you nuts?' Then he went on, 'I tow my '41 jeep by making a solid connection bumper to bumper so that the front of the jeep is off the ground, I pump up my rear air shocks to level her out, drop the rear drive shaft and off I go. If it's bumpy I remove the front wheels.' Now that's a trick I had never heard about. He said he has been towing like that for years without any problems. I think I will stick to a dolly."

Wes Knettle: "Over the years I have sold some Jeeps because I didn't see the sense in towing them over 1000 miles when I moved around in the military. You have a vehicle which under its own power is hard put to do 55 MPH, and its components were designed accordingly, and folks want to tow them 65+ MPH for great distances. Sounds crazy doesn't it? If you love the Jeep and can't part with it, then get it up off the road on a trailer. A few years back a fellow did a nice article in Off Road & 4 Wheel Drive magazine. He built an adapter with its own built in wheel bearing which with the Jeep's original wheel removed, would bolt to the Jeep's hub. Then he bolted his trailer tires to the adapter, and away he went turning only his trailer wheels and trailer bearings. The bolt-on free-rolling bearing reduces wear and tear on long over-the-road hauls at higher speeds like 60 and up. If you were in a postion to have lock-out hubs on the rear then they would accomplish the same purpose.

"I don't believe anyone feels you cannot drag a '41 MB down the highway at 70 MPH spinning all the old parts in both axle/differential assemblies at much higher rotational speeds then they were ever exposed too under their own power. The only question I would have is: Why would you want to? Dollies, hubs or home-made bearing plates are a lot cheaper and will give you less roadside repair time. Just how many 1939 Ford roadsters, 1927 LaSalles, 1950 Ford convertibles and 1955 Chevy BelAir's have you seen towed with a tow bar bolted to the front bumper at 70 MPH down the highway?"

Rankine Roth's Jeeps

In a 2009 discussion on the Bulletin Board, Ken Bushdiecker recommended: "Remove the propeller shaft joints (Spicer joints) at the axle input yoke by removing the U bolts. Be carefull now. Do not knock a trunion cap off from the Cardan cross journal. Unfastened trunion caps will easily slide off from their journal. The exposed trunion caps should be wrapped well with duct tape to hold them onto the Cardan cross journals. Then snugly wire the free end of the propller shaft up to the frame. Simple as that!"

Another reader commented, "You can flat tow without disconnecting the shaft -- just put trans and transfer in neutral."

Which got this response: "That's about the worst thing you want to do, unless you are driving a short distance and at low speed. If you are planning on doing any sustained speed over 45mph you will destroy your drivetrain. Those components are not designed for high speeds. Save yourself the headache and learn from those of us that have not removed drive shafts and taken the risk. I personally had my parking brake drum shatter due to high speed (60mph), then had the rear driveshaft beat the hell out of my frame and body."

Daryl said: "Great time to check u-joints and the rest of the drivetrain. It's only four 5/16 nuts and a piece of bailing wire to tie up the prop shaft. An ounce of prevention beats a pound of cure. Just because your brother's cousin towed his Jeep 2 million miles in neutral and never had a problem, makes him lucky not right."

The neutral tow-er responded, "Well, I guess it is an opinion thing -- I have flat towed many times, usually going 200 miles one way. Towed at 55 mph speeds with no trouble ever. I would only dissconnect a shaft if i had a bad u-joint or a damaged trans case. Always have used lockout hubs in the front. These are my personal experiences in 45 years of Jeeping, and some of my Jeeps were new, most were not. Opinions vary."

Jamie added his experience: "I used to flat tow (300 miles) my '56 CJ-5 each deer season to the lease and would take it loose and tape it to the spring. Duct tape is your friend. Now I flat tow (45 miles) to the new camp and just slip the shifters into neutral and keep it under 60 mph."

Steering Problems in Flat Towing

Cliff Todd made this observation: "I've noticed when I tow my 1964 Jeep behind my pickup, that when making a right turn the front wheels do not always track around (turn right) with the turn. They stay pointed straight ahead. Left hand turns are great. They and the steering wheel turn left. Then straighten back to the correct position after the turn. I do not tow it very often. And try not to unless I really need to do so. However this lack of turning to the right kind of bothers me. Have had several other older Jeeps and none of them had this problem."

Bart McNeil: "There have been a lot of comments on towing a Jeep on almost all the forums, and yours seems to be a common problem with flat towing. There are problems inherent in the type of steering gear the stock CJ-3B has. Not being an expert I can't explain it other than to refer to the steering ratio of 17.9 to 1 with the F134 engine and 19 to 1 with the V6 engine. The steering wheel has to turn 17.9" for the wheel to turn 1".

"In a towing situation if the front wheels are forced to turn one inch then the steering wheel will have to turn 17.9". For the steering wheel to turn the wheels requires little effort but for the wheels to turn the steering wheel it takes (relatively) tremendous effort. Any misadjustment or wear or binding will cause the results you mentioned. With the front axle jacked up you can probably feel the binding when you manually turn the wheels (as if being steered). Just a little binding in the steering gear box will probably stop the wheels from turning."

"The interesting thing is that for an auto which some suggest should never be flat towed it is probably (one of) the most flat towed vehicles ever made. Moses Ludel, in The Jeep Owner's Bible, states that "A common cause of steering parts damage is from towing your Jeep. The Ross cam and lever type gear cannot tolerate this reverse flow of energy, where the road causes the cam to turn the worm shaft." He then speaks of the later Saginaw system as a better system which eliminated much of the awkwardness found in the Ross cam and lever system. People on various forums have suggested the front wheel dolly system where the front wheels are lifted on a dolly so the dolly takes the stress of turning, not the Jeep."

Mike Boyink: "My '66 CJ-5 with V6 (originally a diesel so not sure of the steering box ratio) and 32" tires has been flat-towed quite a bit including 3 trips from MI to CO and UT over its lifetime. The stock Ross steering remains tight with very little slop. I've heard so much about trouble flat-towing yet haven't experienced anything bad yet! Just lucky I guess.... I am going to be changing the towbar setup somewhat, going to Tomken towbar shackles so I can get rid of those shin-killers on the bumper..."

Jim Sammons: "After looking at the steering mechanism, couldn't one take the nut off the bar attached to the pitman arm (?) and have the wheels and tie rods float during towage. I wonder if taking this apart too much would be detrimental to the steering assembly? At least the reverse energy would not go back through the steering box, etc. I had high hopes of towing my 3B to my antelope hunting area. It's not a long drive, about 60 miles, but I would have a string of cars behind me at 50 mph."

Wayne: "Swerving sometimes seems to be a problem when there is too much weight in the back of the towed vehicle. Air pressure being equal and slightly over-inflated is helpful especially if you have an aggressive tread. I towed a '57 Willys PU 1500 miles from Central FLA to NNY with no problems after I took the 900 x16 military tires off the front, put some smaller 15 inchers on front and made sure the lockouts were locked out."

Philip Christensen suggested: "Keep an eye on your Jeep's steering wheel to make sure she follows along obediently around turns. I used a piece of red electrical tape on the steering wheel at 12 o'clock so I could always glance back and be sure the Jeep was steering the same direction I was as I pulled out of gas stations etc. Also to help a little to reduce drag, I flipped the windshield down about halfway home and it really made a difference. I forgot the Jeep was even back there it went so smooth."

Get a Trailer

Stephen GallagherJC Jenkins: "Get a trailer... put your prize in a position not to be hurt. Why would you ever think that you could drag a Jeep, with all its old and variably worn components, at highway speed, usually with some homemade towbar, and not expect some major conflagration? This is how it goes in California: a Jeep being towed gets away, most auto insurance won't cover the damage to someone else, and unless you have the Jeep insured for collision, it's not covered. A tow dolly only eliminates the front axle and its steering components; the rears of our Jeeps are the most touchy. Do you have the grease fitting next to the backing plates, or do your rear bearings lube from the diff? And who among us can guarantee what shape our rear diff is? Look, it ain't cheap in the beginning, but I have a Carson car trailer, $2200 including tax, licence, etc. The company I bought it from services the axle bearings every six months, they guarantee all the welds (no Uncle Billy Bob's Midnite Welding here), AAA insures the trailer and whatever it hauls for liability and replacement for $124 a year. All of this is cheap insurance that nothing ever happens to my baby, and if it ever does I have the ability to do something about it."

Wes: "You only have to have a wheel, wheel bearing, axle or diferential failure once on the open highway, miles from anywhere to appreciate a trailer or toting device. Now you leave the Jeep unattended for hours while you go for parts hoping you can find them nearby. For those of you using your Jeep once a year for the hunting trip, wait till you have to get some seriously rusted lug nuts off by hand on the highway just to change a flat tire. Or have to get the Jeep towed to town to access a torch to get them hot enough to remove. We all do lots of things and stay lucky and unscathed for years. Some of us learn from other peoples errors and problems."

Evan: "Just wanted to add my comments about towing, specifically about using the 'tow dolly' where the front wheels are off the ground. I towed my 54 CJ-3B from AZ to CO but only got about an hour out of Phoenix and decided it wasn't going to work. It had me really scared because it was very unstable and would 'swerve' (maybe because of the narrow wheel base?) Maybe others have done it and been fine, but I ended up having to find a full-car trailer and then it was smooth sailin'."

What Kind of Trailer?

Jeff: "I move my Jeep three or four times a year over 200 miles, and in the past I have rented a U-Haul trailer which is overkill (looks like it could haul a '68 Fleetwood). I want to purchase a utility trailer that would do double duty, haul my Jeep and my stuff. I want to keep the gross weight below 3,000 lbs. because of DOT regs. Does anyone have any info on a trailer type that would be just big enough for the Jeep?"

A Jeeper: "J C Whitney has Tilt-Bed Trailer Plans for single axle (4,000-lb capacity) and tandem axle (10,000-lb capacity)."

Piet VersleijenKeith Ross: "Make sure you use a tandem axle trailer! A few years ago I used a tandem axle trailer to haul a '71 Jeepster from NC to OK. No problems. A few weeks ago, I used a friend's 'specially built to haul a CJ-5' trailer with a single axle to move my CJ-7 about 200 miles. Things got very exciting when one of the trailer tires (fairly new 8-ply trailer tires) blew on I-35. I almost lost the Jeep, trailer and my truck. I learned afterwards that the same thing had happened TWICE to the guy I borrowed the trailer from! Luckily, it did have sway barys on the hitch. He is currently rebuilding the trailer to add a second axle. I learned my lesson and will only use a tandem axle trailer from now on to haul vehicles."

Cheap Trailer

Josh Goodwin: "For those of you who are concerned about towing your Jeep, here is a cheap way to make a trailer:

  1. Find a junk Camper in someone's backyard or a junkyard -- a dual axle with electric brakes on at least one is best. (Mine was a 17-foot camper, slept 5 with a full bathroom.)
  2. Offer the owner a small sum of money (mine cost $50)
  3. Rip out the beds, tables, toilet, floors, walls, down to the bare frame. (This took me 3 hours and was a great stress release.)
  4. Bolt on two 12-foot planks to park the Jeep on top of. (2"X12"X12' planks were $25 each.)
  5. Wire it with a cheap trailer light kit from Wal-Mart or the like. (This cost me $20.00.)
And for $120 I had a nice dual-axle trailer with electric brakes that was perfect for any 1/4-ton Jeep. Unfortunately I sold it about 3 months later for $400."

Ernie Cable: "I built a trailer the same way several years ago for my Model T truck. I did one thing in addition to what Josh described, and added an X brace for strength. When I had the trailer stripped down to just the frame, I could stand on one rear corner and twist the frame almost to the ground. So I added two pieces of 1/4 x 1-1/2" flat bar to the top of the frame from corner to corner in an X and welded it to every cross member. Then put the 2 x 12's on and it worked great."

If you've got a long way to go, and don't want to tow, try 1stAboard.com, a site that can help you find an auto transport company.

Thanks to Piet Versleijen, Melanie West, JC Jenkins, Stephen Gallagher and Rankine Roth for the photos, and to all the contributors. -- Derek Redmond

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Last updated 13 October 2009 by Derek Redmond redmond@cj3b.info
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