8 Key Differences: Auto Transport vs. Tow Dolly

December 5, 2019

You’re getting ready to move and you have almost everything in order. You’ve already made arrangements for an apartment, and notified the post office, tax agencies, and Social Security Administration of your address change. There’s just one problem – you have no idea how you’ll get your car there.

You might be thinking of renting a tow dolly from U-Haul as it’s one of the cheapest ways to transport your car, but you still want to consider all your options. The biggest choice you’ll encounter is deciding between renting a tow dolly or a car carrier, and that’s exactly what this post is going to help you with.

Let’s get started.

Tow Dolly vs. Car Carrier: Understanding the Differences

Before we get to the pros and cons of either option, let’s find out the differences between the two. This will give you an in-depth understanding of which one would best fit your needs.

1. How They Work

A car dolly or tow dolly is a two-wheel trailer that will lift only the front wheels of your car. The rear wheels remain on the ground as you tow your car with a tow dolly. On the other hand, a car carrier or car shipping carrier is a four-wheel trailer that will lift your entire car off the ground.

2. Vehicle Compatibility

A two dolly is suitable for most front-wheel-drive vehicles as well as a few all-wheel drive, rear-wheel-drive, and four-wheel drive vehicles. At the same time, there are certain weight restrictions so it wouldn’t be suitable for towing heavier vehicles.

A car trailer, on the other hand, can transport even heavier vehicles like trucks and modified cars. The carrier company will simply make some adjustments to accommodate your vehicle weight. For instance, if it’s a heavier car, they will reduce the number of vehicles the trailer is transporting for that particular trip so it doesn’t exceed the max weight limit.

3. Setup Effortlessness

Hooking up your car to a tow dolly can be a bit complicated, especially if you’re new to it. You need to make sure that the drive wheels are extra secure so there’s no risk of accidents. This is important because when you tow a car with a tow dolly, you can’t apply the emergency brake to keep the car in place.

The setup is particularly complicated when you have to tow a rear-wheel drive. You might even need to take the drive shafts out due to front clearance issues. Alternately, you may also opt for flat towing for a more seamless setup.

The following video gives you some idea of how to safely load a tow dolly.

On the other hand, vehicle towing with a car trailer requires minimal effort from your end. The carrier company will typically load and unload the vehicle on your behalf, so it’s effortless for you.

4. Vehicle Wear and Tear

When you tow a car with a tow dolly, you leave the rear wheels on the ground, putting more weight on them as the front wheels are lifted. So there’s some risk of wear and tear on the tires over time. As such, it may not be the best way to tow a car long distance or to transport classic cars.

In addition, tow dollies can result in clearance issues with some vehicles that are low to the ground or long in the front. Some of the car components may get dragged while towing, causing damage to body kits, bumpers, and undercarriage parts.

With a car carrier, the entire vehicle is loaded onto a trailer, meaning there’s minimal risk of wear and tear on your tires. If it’s an open car carrier, however, there’s still some risk of minor dents and dings from road elements in transit, but these are generally covered by insurance.

5. Cost

When it comes to cost, renting a tow dolly is generally the more affordable option. For example, renting a tow dolly from U-Haul typically starts from $98, while an auto transport from the same company costs around $118 or more.

However, there may be a few additional rental and fuel charges if you don’t have the vehicle to tow it with. Plus, most moving companies won’t rent out tow dollies unless you’re also renting a truck from them, so the cost of renting a tow dolly will be tacked onto your total bill.

There’s also the fact that pulling another vehicle behind a truck will significantly decrease your gas mileage. This means you could rack up your fuel expenses since you’ll need more gas than usual to cover the same distance.

6. Safety

One of the biggest car dolly towing issues is trailer sway, which is the fishtailing movement that occurs when you drive at a high speed. It’s one of the main causes of towing accidents, and is particularly risky when you’re towing your car during bad weather as the roads get slippery, making it even more difficult to control the vehicle. 

Check out the following video on how to prevent trailer sway.

A car trailer or carrier is a lot safer than tow dollies in this aspect, as the entire vehicle is loaded onto it. Since the driver only has to focus on controlling the vehicle they are driving, there’s less risk involved.

7. Speed

Rental companies recommend that you maintain a slower-than-average speed during vehicle towing. This is mainly to ensure safety and prevent trailer sway as mentioned above. Having to maintain a slower driving speed significantly increases your transit time.

Car shipping carriers have some speed restrictions as well, but there’s no risk of trailer sway so they can go a bit faster than trucks with tow dollies.

8. Maneuverability

Maneuverability is another concern with vehicle towing. So you may be wondering – can you back up with a tow dolly? Although you technically can, it may be a bit challenging for inexperienced drivers. If you haven’t done it before, you may have a hard time backing up to set down the towed vehicle in the right place.

Car carriers do not have the same challenge. As the entire vehicle is loaded onto the carrier, the driver only has to control the vehicle they’re driving. This makes it much easier to back up and maneuver the carrier.

Tow Dolly: Pros and Cons

Pros

  • It’s cheaper
  • It’s great for short-distance vehicle towing
  • Have your car with you at all times

Cons

  • It’s time-consuming to set up
  • Decrease in gas mileage
  • Safety concerns
  • Risk of vehicle wear and tear
  • Not suitable for heavier vehicles

When You Should Consider Using a Tow Dolly

With a lower gas mileage and a higher risk of vehicle wear and tear, a tow dolly isn’t necessarily the best way to tow a car long distance. However, it’s a highly affordable option for vehicle towing within the same state or for short distances. If you’re only moving across town, for instance, you wouldn’t necessarily want to spend hundreds of dollars on a car carrier.

Auto Transport: Pros and Cons

Pros

  • It’s safer
  • It’s more effortless
  • There’s less risk of vehicle wear and tear
  • It’s suitable for heavier vehicles
  • No additional mileage on your car
  • Perfect for cross country auto transport

Cons

  • It costs more

When You Should Consider Using a Car Shipping Carrier

With the security it offers, a car shipping carrier is perfect for cross country auto transport. That way, you can effortlessly transport your car without the risk of major wear and tear. It’s also a good option for transporting a vehicle that exceeds the max weight limit a tow dolly can carry, even if it’s for a short distance.

Bottom Line: Which Should You Choose?

The final choice completely depends on your needs. As quickly summarized above, go with a tow dolly only for short-distance vehicle towing and for cars that do not exceed the weight limit. Go with a car carrier for cross country vehicle transport and for cars that are heavier than what a tow dolly can carry.

It’s not always wise to go with the cheapest option, as you’ll be sacrificing a lot in the process – including safety and vehicle condition. So make sure you thoroughly assess your requirement and choose accordingly.