How do you carry a motorcycle in a car? | Citizenshipper

Ulhas Sukhare Ulhas Sukhare · Updated March 8, 2023

There are plenty of reasons why you might need to transport a motorcycle by means other than riding it. Perhaps it’s broken down or run out of fuel. Perhaps it’s being taken to a racing track or off-road trail, and you want to arrive without wear and tear for best performance. Perhaps it’s classic or vintage and should be displayed in pristine condition at a venue. Or maybe you’re just moving house.

You may be concerned about the expense of hiring or buying a truck, van or SUV. Fear not! If you own a car in reasonably good condition, it’s much simpler and cheaper to get ahold of a light trailer that will do the job just fine.

A little care is required, since different cars have different towing capacities and your motorcycle may or may not be on the heavy side. Before leaping to avail yourself of a trailer, make sure you understand how to use one, and the various tips and precautions in this guide that will keep your car and your motorcycle safe on a long distance trip.

Follow these steps to ensure the best possible experience for you, your car and your motorcycle.

How do you carry a motorcycle in a car?

Step 1: Find out how much weight your car can tow

This first step is crucial. A car carrying more than its tow capacity can spell disaster for car and motorcycle alike, leaving you stranded by the side of the road. 

The owner’s manual that came with your car should give you the exact tow weight limit. It is always wise to check what the manufacturer says, but if you don’t have the manual to hand, a helpful rule of thumb is that most common sedans can tow about 1,000 to 1,500 lbs.

The information can also be found on a sticker on the driver’s side door frame.

When you make the weight calculation, factor in not just the weight of the motorcycle but any accessories you plan to tow with it plus the weight of the trailer itself. Again, check the manufacturer’s stated weight of the trailer but on average a trailer will weigh roughly 250 lbs.

If the combined weight of trailer, motorcycle and other gear is very close to the maximum tow capacity of the car, you may want to think again. For best performance and safety, experts recommend a car tows no more than 80% of its tow capacity. This will prevent accidents occurring if the road is especially bumpy or steeply uphill. 

To keep weight down, choose the smallest trailer that will fit your motorcycle. 

To find out the weight of your motorcycle, it should also be stated in the owner’s manual. If that’s not at hand, most landfill sites have scales you can use to get an accurate figure for your motorcycle’s weight (although there may be a small charge to use it.)

Step 2: Purchase and attach a tow hitch

A hitch is the gizmo that attaches the trailer to your car. Some cars have one already, but if not, you’ll need one that’s compatible with your car. There’s a standard size and a standard fit but if possible you should ‘try before you buy’. Hitches are vehicle specific so it’s vital you get the right one.

Some hitches cost up to $300. There are many cheaper types available but too cheap is not always a good economy. Remember the mechanical strain a hitch must endure, so choose one that is recommended by other customers or an expert.

If you don’t fancy/have time to drive to an auto store to pick one out, you can buy one online. Amazon has good range, but make sure you know your car’s specifications before proceeding to checkout. A hitch bought online may arrive with a few chips in the paint from transit, but that won’t affect performance. If you wish to, you can paint over the chips.

Installing a hitch is a time-consuming process, and many vehicle owners ask a mechanic to do it. This way you can be sure it’s been professionally attached, but there’s a hefty price tag for it – sometimes hundreds of dollars. If you’re at all handy, this writer recommends you have a go at installing it yourself.

Before choosing this option, make sure you know what is required! The rear of the car must be raised using jacks or similar and sometimes you will need to drill holes into the frame if they are not there.

Any hitch you buy will usually come with the tools you need to affix it as well as clear instructions. If the instructions aren’t clear, Youtube is chock full of videos to help you.

Step 3: Pick the right trailer

CitizenShipper has written a comprehensive guide on this subject – read it here. This top ten list will break down the best trailers for motorcyclists as well as stating their listed load capacity and links to where you can buy them. This will make your choice of trailer much simpler!

Youtube is another great resource for answering this kind of question. Here is a great short video from Discount Ramps on which hitch-mounted trailers are right for you.

Tips and precautions before you set off

    • No harm in repeating: Do not exceed your car’s tow capacity. The dangers of doing so include:
      • ‘Fish tailing’, i.e. your trailer swinging behind you, making steering difficult and hampering other drivers
      • Harm to your car’s transmission
      • Sundry mechanical issues
    • Bear in mind your brake time will change – i.e. double – when you are towing a trailer. Make sure your brakes are up working well and there’s no harm in practicing a lap around the block before hitting the open road.
  • Make sure the electrical components of the trailer are in working order.
  • Register your trailer. If you are borrowing it, make sure to check with the person you borrowed it from whether it has been registered.
  • Drive a little slower than you normally would. If you’re unused to driving with a trailer this is especially important. Slow and steady wins the race!
  • In case your engine starts overheating, pack some antifreeze and extra water. It’s unlikely to happen but there’s no harm in being cautious.

Happy driving!

Is there another way?

CitizenShipper’s trusted drivers have transported hundreds of motorcycles in the last year alone. Many customers have remarked on the peace of mind that comes from using an experienced transporter, and not attempting the sometimes risky business of transporting your motorcycle alone. And your wallet doesn’t have to suffer as a result!

Simply post your shipment and any relevant details about the job itself – make & model, destination, origin and dates – then sit back and relax. Save your excitement for when the motorcycle arrives!