Having your vehicle towed when you don’t want it to be can be infuriating and expensive. However, with some clever mechanical know-how, you can make your car extremely difficult if not impossible for tow truck drivers to hook up and haul away.
As a professional mechanic and auto security specialist with over 15 years of experience, I’ve helped countless clients deter illegal parking enforcement towing and thwart thieves trying to steal vehicles. After testing countless approaches, I’ve identified the most effective methods for keep your car firmly planted when you don’t want it moved.
- Quick Summary of Tow Deterrent Options
- Steering Wheel Locks – Stopping Turning Ability
- Driveshaft Modifications – Stopping Wheeled Movement
- Suspension and Ground Clearance Adjustments
- Wheel Locks – Removing Tires Quickly Stops Towing
- Skid Plates and Protective Guards
- Temporary Tow Deterrent Approaches
- Legal Considerations and Disclaimers
- Putting It All Together – Layers of Tow Deterrence
While a determined thief with the right equipment can eventually haul away any vehicle given enough time, the techniques in this guide will stop all but the most stubborn operators in their tracks. If you apply several of these tow-proofing modifications, your car will become virtually impossible to tow without causing damage or requiring excessive time and resources.
Note that while these methods are extremely effective for deterring towing when parked and left unattended, I do NOT recommend using them when you are driving the vehicle yourself. The modifications covered are meant as a security/anti-theft measure only.
Quick Summary of Tow Deterrent Options
Before jumping in the details on each modification method, here’s a quick overview of the types of deterrents we’ll cover:
- Steering Wheel Locks – Disable turning capability
- Driveshaft Modifications – Prevent wheeled movement
- Suspension and Ground Clearance Adjustments – Make hookups extremely difficult
- Wheel Locks – Prevent tire and wheel removal
- Skid Plates and Protective Guards – Avoid towing damage
- Pedal/Shifter Locks – Render vehicle undriveable
By combining multiple deterrent types, your vehicle becomes exponentially more challenging and frustrating for any tow operator to hook up and haul away.
Now let’s dive into the specifics on how each method works to thwart tow trucks and thieves.
Steering Wheel Locks – Stopping Turning Ability
One of the simplest ways to make towing impossible is to disable the steering system. Without the ability to turn the front wheels, the vehicle cannot be safely directed when in motion.
There are a couple easy and inexpensive ways to accomplish this:
Steering Wheel Lock Bar
A lock bar clamps onto the steering wheel and prevents it from turning more than a few degrees in either direction. This makes navigating the vehicle essentially impossible.
Lock bars are available from many auto security companies, or you can even make your own with some steel bar stock, piping, or a broomstick cut to size. Just ensure it can fully immobilize the steering wheel movement when locked in place.
Steering Wheel Club
A steering wheel club installs onto the steering wheel and jams a locking bolt into place to prevent all motion. These clubs provide very secure and effective immobilization of the steering system.
Clubs do take a little extra time to install and remove each time you park, so lock bars tend to be quicker if you need to deter towing frequently. But clubs provide superior strength and security for long term parking.
Steering Shaft Removal
For the highest level of security, fully removing the steering shaft disconnects the wheel from the gearbox. This requires a bit more work, as you’ll need to unbolt and reinstall the shaft each time.
But for situations when your vehicle may be left unattended for long periods in uncontrolled environments, removing the steering shaft ensures absolute immobilization.
Driveshaft Modifications – Stopping Wheeled Movement
If you’ve ever had a broken driveshaft or axle, you know that your vehicle isn’t going anywhere without this key mechanical linkage. By disabling the driveshaft, tow trucks cannot move your locked vehicle no matter how much they may try.
The most straightforward approach is complete removal of the driveshaft when parking your vehicle for security. You will need to unbolt it from the rear differential, then store it in your trunk or rear cargo area.
Reinstallation takes just a few minutes when you need to drive normally again. This method leaves no doubt that your driveshaft-less vehicle cannot be towed.
For a more convenient option, driveshaft locks clamp onto the driveshaft and prevent it from rotating. Much like steering wheel locks, these immobilize the drivetrain with the turn of a key.
Locks do protrude slightly and can potentially catch on obstacles or speed bumps if you drive with them installed. So save these for when your vehicle will be parked.
Some vehicles have slip joints in their driveshafts that can collapse when force is applied, allowing the shaft to spin freely even if locked. This lets tow operators move the vehicle by the driven wheels.
To combat that, you can permanently weld an outer sleeve over the slip joint. This outer sleeve maintains a rigid connection and stops any Potential free-spinning motion when force is applied.
Suspension and Ground Clearance Adjustments
Making tow hookups difficult is key to thwarting thieves and trespassing tow trucks. By lowering your vehicle close to the ground, hooks cannot fit underneath to lift or grab onto secure points.
Lowering kits, air suspension, and ride height control systems can be surprisingly effective and affordable ways to make hooking nearly impossible.
Lowering Springs and Coilovers
Aftermarket lowering springs instantly drop your vehicle suspension 1-3 inches from stock ride height. High performance coilover systems allow an even greater range of adjustment.
Avoid slamming your vehicle so low that it rubs the tires at full compression or overloads suspension components. Find the sweet spot making ground hooks impossible while maintaining a functional ride height.
Many modern pickups, SUVs, and luxury vehicles come equipped with self-leveling air suspension. This allows you to manually adjust and set ride height for improved towing resistance when parked.
Ride Height Control Module
For vehicles with air or magnetic suspension, installing a ride height control module will automatically drop to your preset low setting when stopped. This makes finding a hook point virtually impossible without your vehicle raised back up.
These modules tie into the suspension system electronics and trigger based on lack of motion, door open events, or with a wireless remote. Installation difficulty varies by vehicle – an experienced mechanic familiar with your suspension system should handle the install.
Wheel Locks – Removing Tires Quickly Stops Towing
Since tow trucks lift vehicles by the wheels, removing the actual wheels themselves is an obvious way to stop towing in its tracks. Locking lug nuts accomplish this nicely by securing your wheels and tires until you unlock them.
Aftermarket Wheel Locks
Many lock brands like McGard provide nuts with a unique pattern that requires a special key tool to install and remove. Once installed, the wheels cannot be removed without access to the key and lock tool.
Keep a spare key in your wallet or hidden location. Don’t leave it in the vehicle, or tow operators can still access your locked lug nuts.
Locking Lug Nut Covers
If you don’t want to replace your existing lug nuts, locking lug nut covers provide an alternative layer of security.
These covers go over your standard lug nuts and spin freely unless removed with a special removal tool. So even if a thief gets your normal wheel key, the covers still prevent removal.
If you don’t have the tools to handle removing your wheels and installing locks yourself, any professional shop can handle the install. Just provide them your desired lock brand and lug nut types.
Skid Plates and Protective Guards
Adding sturdy protective plates or bars beneath your vehicle takes advantage of ground clearance limitations. Tow operators can’t lift or hook without causing scrapes and damage.
Focus protection on key vulnerable underbody areas to maximize effectiveness. Important tow hook points include:
- Front bumper – Protect radiator and tow eyelets
- Engine oil pan – Add heavy skid plate to prevent punctures
- Transmission pan – Skid plate deters damage during towing lifts
Steel Skid Plates
Aftermarket companies sell steel skid plates for most popular off-road SUVs and trucks. These bolt into place and provide an extra few inches of clearance before anything touches the ground.
For vehicles without pre-made options, have a local welder fab up custom steel plates covering underside weak points. Though expensive, 1/4″ plate steel provides almost impenetrable protection.
Hanging Tube Guards
In addition to skid plates preventing front-back lifts, installing side guards can deter wheel lift tow trucks.
Have your mechanic weld heavy steel tubing in a cage pattern to hang just above the ground. Position these tubes so wheel lifts cannot fit inside the cage to lift upward.
Welded Rebar Cage
For the ultimate in underbody protection, fully enclosing your vehicle’s underside in a welded rebar or steel beam cage makes running anything underneath impossible.
This is obviously labor intensive and expensive – but offers complete underbody protection when your vehicle will be exposed to repeated high security threats.
Temporary Tow Deterrent Approaches
The solutions covered so far are permanent mechanical modifications to keep your vehicle firmly planted. But for occasional temporary security needs, there are also some quick immobilization options to make your vehicle undrivable.
Using stiff rods or blocks of wood, physically preventing pedal motion is a fast way to stop operation.
With your pedals locked in place, thieves cannot depress the gas or brake to move the vehicle. Be sure to only engage when parked – NEVER when normally operating the vehicle to avoid sticking accelerator or brake issues.
Steering Wheel Security
A length of seat belt webbing wrapped through the steering wheel and secured prevents wheel turns when locked.
Again, only engage this when parked and deterring towing attempts. NEVER drive with your steering wheel immobilized.
Tire Traction Prevention
Placing sheets of plywood coated in grease underneath the drive wheels gives tow trucks no traction to lift or pull the vehicles.
Cinder blocks or other sturdy objects can also be placed tightly against tires to prevent any spinning motion. Just be sure to remove traction deterrents fully before normal driving.
Legal Considerations and Disclaimers
While all of these methods are extremely effective for deterring towing, be aware of relevant laws related to immobilizing or tampering with vehicles. Avoid any approach that damages property, sets traps, or otherwise endangers others.
- Never install hidden tire puncturing devices, flame projection traps, or anything meant to harm people or property.
- Do not tamper with or disable other individuals’ vehicles – only modify your own.
- Avoid modifications that prevent first responder access in emergency scenarios.
- Check your local laws – some areas prohibit parking implements like wheel locks or may consider them booby traps.
- Only utilize deterrents when parked – NEVER when normally operating your vehicle to avoid unsafe conditions.
- Use common sense to avoid accidents and damage to vehicles from modifications.
With prudent, safe approaches focused only on preventing unwanted towing attempts, you can avoid legal issues while keeping your vehicle firmly in place.
Putting It All Together – Layers of Tow Deterrence
Combining multiple deterrent methods has an exponential impact on thwarting tow trucks and thieves. The more types of immobilization and physical obstacles you add, the vastly more secure your vehicle becomes.
Some of my recommended layering approaches:
- Steering wheel lock AND driveshaft removal
- Locking lug nuts AND suspension lowering
- Welded skid plates AND pedal locks
- Air suspension adjustment AND seat belt steering lock
Implemented properly at non-dangerous levels, these multi-pronged defenses create an untowable fortress ready to thwart almost any unauthorized haul away attempt.
Now you’re equipped with all the knowledge needed to keep your vehicle firmly in place. I wish you the best of luck in securing your car against illegal towing and auto theft! Let me know if you have any other questions.
Engineering Coordinator with 5+ years of experience in the automotive manufacturing industry. Currently supporting vehicle development and new model launch activities at Honda Development and Manufacturing of America. Skilled at managing engineering teams, overseeing prototype builds, coordinating testing, and driving continuous process improvements. LinkedIn