Car breakdown: Can an electric car be towed normally?

In the event of a breakdown, can an electric car be towed like a combustion car? UPSA knows the answer.



Vehicle breakdownCan an electric car be towed normally?

Electric vehicles can also break down. But can they be pulled like a combustion car or does it cause damage? UPSA experts know this and tell what to watch out for.


UPSA Expert Team

Question from a “20 minutes” reader

Once upon a time, we walked through the thorns when the refuel warning sounded. In an electric vehicle, you can also stop with an empty battery or in the event of a breakdown. My colleagues say you can’t pull an electric car. Is this true and what should I pay attention to in the event of a breakdown?

Response from the UPSA team of experts*

Breaking down with an empty battery, of course, can get you in trouble, even in an electric car, and cost you money, just like in a combustion car. In 2020, the Federal Court, for example, imposed a fine of 1,500 francs on a driver who remained on the highway with an empty tank, for driving a vehicle that does not comply with safety rules and violating the highway code. So it’s better to recharge a little than to stop in the middle of an intersection or even a highway with a battery that is too empty.

If an electric car is no longer driving, it is unnecessary because its battery traction is too empty. The latter can also be given “juice” by a mobile charging station to continue driving to the charging station. As with combustion cars, it can happen that the starter battery of an electric car is empty while the traction battery is still charged. Since the high-voltage battery is activated by the starter battery – usually conventional lead-acid batteries – the electric vehicle can also be bridged in the event of an empty starter battery.

Pulling can lead to overheating, insufficient lubrication of the gearbox as well as unintentional voltage generation by induction in the electric motor and high voltage components.

UPSA Expert Team

Now we move on to towing, if nothing happens – because electric cars can also have “normal” breakdowns in addition to an empty battery: because electric cars don’t have a mechanical clutch, they cannot be pushed, for example. Towing an electric vehicle can be tricky depending on the type of electric propulsion. The reason: in many electric vehicles, the rotating part of the electric motor (ie the rotor) is directly connected to the drive shafts and wheels through the automatic gearbox. Pulling can lead to overheating, insufficient lubrication of the gearbox as well as the inadvertent generation of induction voltage in the electric motor and high-voltage components, which should be absolutely avoided due to the cost consequential damage.

Some manufacturers explicitly prohibit towing. Others allow it with restrictions.

UPSA Expert Team

Normally and when the high voltage system is activated, this voltage generation is used in the form of energy recovery when braking or decelerating, but it can only cause damage in the event of breakdown or towing. This is why some manufacturers outright prohibit towing. Others allow it with restrictions. For example, an electric vehicle can only be towed at a maximum speed of 30 km/h and for a maximum distance of 30 kilometers. Therefore, it is always necessary to start by consulting the user manual to find out what the manufacturer recommends or prescribes.

Send your questions by e-mail to The most interesting current questions, as well as their answers, will be published every week in the Lifestyle section of “20 minutes”.

*The Swiss Professional Automobile Association (UPSA) is the association of Swiss mechanics. 4,000 companies employing 39,000 people (including 9,000 young people in initial training and ongoing training) ensure that we move in a safe, reliable and economical way. UPSA’s legal department and UPSA’s team of experts, including Markus Aegerter (trade and service), Olivier Maeder (training) and Markus Peter (technical and environment), ensure that everything is clear.

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