How do they tow cars left in gear with the parking brake on?

Let’s say I have a manual-transmission, AWD car like a Porsche 911 Turbo, BMW 328xi, Subura Impreza WRX, whatever. I park it somewhere illegally, and leave it in gear, with the parking brake applied.

How would a tow truck tow my car away? Even if I parked in the middle of nowhere, it seems like it would be difficult - and what if I parallel parked between two other cars (in front of a hydrant or something)?

They use a flatbed truck. The truck’s bed slides back and down, forming a ramp. At the top of the ramp is a winch. The ramp/bed is smooth, with no tread or other friction surface. The winch hook is lowered and attached to the towbar on the front of the car. The winch then drags the car, kicking and screaming, onto the bed. Once onto the ramp, the entire bed/winch/car assembly rises and moves forward into the travelling position. The wrecker operator then completes safely tying the car down to the truck, and then off your Porsche goes to car jail.

My sister’s car broke down on a rather long bridge. While she was gone to get help, a state trooper called a wrecker to pick her car up off the bridge (it wasn’t in the safest of locations. When she got back, the car was just being tied down and readied for travel. She ended up having to get new tires, because the five feet or so that the car was dragged on the asphalt tore up the tires. She was not happy.

Most tow trucks I have seen carry with them wheeled devices that can be placed under the set of locked wheels if needed allowing the cars to be towed if for some reason they will not turn freely.

Not to say the other two responses are wrong, but all the towtrucks I’ve seen have a crane on the back of a flatbed truck. The crane has four arms from which ropes/chains hang, and somehow these are attached to each wheel, so that the car is lifted off the road and on to the truck without damaging it. Otherwise the operators would presumably be liable for any damage caused.

I have not seen tow trucks like that in the US. I did a quick google search for what I described and could not find it. But I did see a few pictures of what you describe. The few that I looked at seemed to come from UK websites.

The answer in most cases is quite simple. The tow truck operator breaks into the car, takes it out of gear and releases the brake.

IIRC, someone on the Board who does this for a living mentioned not long ago that there’s only one car (don’t recall which one) which defeats this by automatically relocking itself. For that model, he uses the flatbed.

gaspacho’s right, they don’t use that type of tow truck here. I saw one for the first time when I was in England this March on a rugby tour. That design is necessary in the UK because of space limitations. In the US, cars sometimes end up in ditches or other areas that are non-accessable to a tow truck. In this case, a large winch is required, so most tow trucks here are designed around said winch (for the most part).

I cannot imagine how this would work. Breaking into the car requires damaging the locking mechanism or breaking a window. Sliding it across the pavement merely risks damage, but does not require it. Once inside the car, modern cars with automatic transmission will not allow a shift out of park without the key. There are, of course, ways to defeat this, but they require damaging the transmission interlock. Car theives don’t worry much about this, but I would imagine a law-abiding wrecker driver would be more concerned. That is especially true since there are less destructive ways to capture the vehicle.

Not so. Locksmiths can get into a car without risking damage. I take it you’ve never locked your keys in the car and had to call AAA?

A locksmith can use the VIN to look up the keycode and cut a key. Isn’t that a rather lot of trouble for just towing a disabled or illegally parked car?

They call that a dolly tow. I see them used quite frequently here when downtown parking lanes turn into traffic lanes at 3 PM.

The two wheels of the dolly are placed on either side of the tire. The device jacks up a bit and raises the tire off the ground, and the other end of the car is hitched up to the tow truck, and it’s off to Car Jail.

Doesn’t make a bit of difference if the car is parked in gear, brakes are set or whatever. With our hills, parking in gear/brakes set and wheels curbed is the norm, so the tow truck crews are used to dealing with it and seem to do dolly tows as their standard method.

A good operator can do this in not much more time than it takes me to describe it.

Locked my keys in a rental car a few months back. The guy had a cool little thing that looked like a blood pressure cuff. He slid in inbetween the glass and the door frame, blew it up enough to slide a flexible rod in to pop open the lock. No need to cut any keys.

If they did this to a Subaru without turning off the AWD (which you need the key to do), they would destroy the car.

I’ve locked my keys in my car a couple times and had to call AAA. They never did it that way. One time they used a slim jim. The other time, I accidentally dropped the keys in the trunk and closed it. My car has a security device that locks the trunk release with the car key. Since the keys were in the trunk, I couldn’t use the key to unlock the trunk release. The locksmith was able to pick the lock.

I think they have a lot of tricks at their disposal.

This is the device I’m familiar with. I don’t know if they use something different for cars without power door locks.

It is the perfered method of repo men since it is so quick. Those working for regular impound usually use the flatbed/winch since it is more versitile. It can be used to get a car out of a ditch, drag a car whose wheels are no longer going in the right direction or for a car that is locked with the parking brake on.

I once locked the keys into a rental truck. Since it was past midnight, instead of calling a locksmith, I found a nearby tow truck and offered the driver $20 to pop the lock for me. Took him all of 30 seconds with a slim-jim.

Have you ever actually seen this done?

I’ve never heard of it before.

You’re saying a locksmith can get into a vehicle by calling someone with the VIN and getting a key cut?

Why does that sound outrageous? That is what locksmiths do for a living and it is a regulated profession. They have access to lots of tools and procedures that regular people aren’t allowed to get into everything from safes to alarmed buildings. I doubt they would need to resort to that however. I have had locksmiths, police, and tow trucks break into my vehicles using slim jims and fancy rods. I used to have a slim jim and learned to use it. Someone that is good can break into a car in 30 seconds or less using a slim jim.

Maybe someone will know if this is true or not:

The last time my brother locked his keys in his car the police would not slim jim it for him because supposedly an officer had been killed somewhere when he was slim jimming a car with side airbags. The airbag activated and rocketed the slim jim into his head. I’ve heard this over and over since then and I’ve “confirmed” it with several policemen but I know that they are not any more immune to ULs than the rest of us are. I do know that police used to gladly slim jim cars and most, if not all of them, will not do it anymore.