A Buyers Guide: Towing

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Flatbed or Rollback Tow Truck


Inevitably, auto accidents and mechanical problems will occur. When they do, and you find yourself in need of a tow, you will be way ahead of the curve if you already have your facts in order.

  • Which type of tow truck is best equipped to tow your vehicle?
  • What information will you need when calling the towing company?
  • Know what to expect when payment is due.
  • How do you make sure the tow company is properly insured?
  • Regularly shop for competitive mileage and hookup rates among local companies.

Tow trucks are manufactured in a wide variety of styles and sizes. Knowing which type truck is best suited for your vehicle/s will help you to be prepared in an emergency.

  • The sling, or belt type wrecker is becoming more of a liability but some wrecker services continue to use them. Because of late-model vehicle designs, including easily damaged bumper covers, remotely mounted laser sensors, and supplemental inflatable restraint systems, sling type wreckers are nearly obsolete. When scheduling a tow truck service, always make the dispatcher aware of the year, make, and model of your vehicle. This information will aid the tow truck service in dispatching the proper truck to your location.
  • Wheel-lift wreckers are designed to lock onto one end of the vehicle, lift it using the wheels, and tow the vehicle away. Because no chains or straps come into contact with the body of the automobile, the wheel-lift has largely replaced the sling type wrecker. The wheel-lift also has limitations. In addition to heavily damaged vehicles, all-wheel drive vehicles, for instance, also propose a problem for wheel-lift tow trucks.
  • The flatbed or rollback type wrecker is the safest bet for towing light and medium-duty vehicles without the risk of additional damage. This type of truck is equipped with an aluminum or steel bed, which tilts downward in the rear, forming a type of ramp upon which to load inoperable autos. A heavy-duty winch, which is rigged with a long cable and “J” hooks, is mounted toward the front of the bed. The winch is used to pull vehicles up onto the bed, where they are secured using the winch and two additional chains. Because of the flatbed design of this truck, two and four-wheel drive vehicles and heavily damaged vehicles can be towed safely. Flatbed wreckers with secondary wheel-lifts installed are also popular. This provides the tow truck driver with the capability to tow multiple vehicles, at once.

In addition to your pertinent vehicle information, the exact location of your vehicle will also be required. If you have broken down, or had an accident on a state highway or interstate, then relay your direction of travel, the highway number, and the number of the nearest mile marker, if possible, to the dispatcher. This will greatly expedite the tow truck’s arrival on the scene and get you, and your car, to safety faster.

Ask the dispatcher which form of payment will be accepted by the tow truck driver. Some insurance companies require that the tow bill be paid by the insured, and then reimburse the vehicle owner, later. Normally, tow truck operators are prepared to accept credit or debit cards, but rarely will they accept a personal check. Still, others will demand cash. Having this information, in advance, will help you to avoid an embarrassing situation.

Tow truck drivers carry insurance documents in their trucks and on their person. They are trained to present current proof of insurance to prospective clients upon demand. If you have doubts about the integrity of a towing service, then ask to see proof of insurance prior to your vehicle being loaded on the tow truck.

S.M. Darby

S.M. Darby

I am a freelance author with over 25 years of experience as a professional, ASE certified automotive technician and shop owner, muscle car enthusiast, avid street racer, and classic car restoration specialist.

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