Towing Your Car
I have saved lives, fought fires, washed dishes, driven nails, and now I tow. If there is one thing I know, It’s towing. And you people can’t drive, so I have job security. That said, let’s get to what you should expect when you call for a tow truck.
Let me tell you what it’s like being a tow truck driver. I come to rescue you and your vehicle in any situation you can put your vehicle in. I have removed cars from places you can’t get a car into. I have seen cars on all four sides and front and end. Quite often, I arrive at the scene of an accident before the fire department. I know all the streets in all the cities I work in. I know every short cut to get you where you need to take your car. I know most of the automotive shops in my area. I know we all make mistakes, myself included. I have set tow rates that I cannot bargain lower prices. I know what your car needs. I have done this for a long time and have seen your situation more than once. My goal being there, at your aid, is not just to tow your car, but to make sure that you, being my customer, are also safe and off of the side of the road, and hopefully, driving away.
I will give you all the respect that I would show any other customer; regardless of race, creed, color, sexual preference, or religion (did I miss any?). I have seen some superfreaky strange, ungodly people in my time, and they all are treated the same as the multibillionaire technogeeks. Yes, I do give preferential treatment to some, but you are not one of them, so don’t ask. I may give you a break if you really need one, but don’t ask. And do not lie to me, because I will find out, and I will not have any mercy after that.
I only ask a couple things from you. First, listen to what I tell you. I stand out on the highway all the time, you do not. I am still alive after all this time. If you do not listen to me, you may die by BMW poisoning. It isn’t pleasant. If I want you to stay in your car or get in my truck, it is for your safety. I have grown eyes in the back of my head, I know what traffic is doing. So listen to me and do what I ask, it’s for your own safety. If you do not choose to listen to me or you put my life in jeopardy, I may abandon you on the side of the road, and have done so many times.
Second, I know how to tow your car. Do not help me unless I ask. I do this for a living. I have my methods for each car depending on the situation. I know things about your car you do not. I know things about your car that the manufacturer doesn’t even know. If you do something I did not ask you to, your car may be damaged, you could get injured, or worse, I could get hurt. I do this by myself all day, five days a week. Give me your keys, step back, and watch. I will roll up the windows and turn off the hazards. DO NOT HELP ME! And stay away from the car until I am done. This is for both our safety.
Third, stay off my bed. It is slick and hazardous. I know, because I have slipped on it many times. The fall is nothing, but when I don’t make the dismount, the landing really hurts. By luck alone, I haven’t fallen off the edge. If you are on my bed and slip and hurt yourself, you may sue my company and myself. So stay off!
And most important of all, give me the respect I deserve. My job is dangerous and can be complicated, and I make squat for money, so don’t give me any undue attitude. If you piss me off (which is not easy) I will leave you at the side of the road. I have the right to refuse service to anyone for any reason!
Oh, yea! Pay me for my services! I will keep your car until I get paid. No, I will not negotiate. I have set prices. If I am called by a law enforcement agency (Police, CHP), you will pay the rates that are set by that law enforcement agency, under contract. I cannot negotiate prices or I could loose my contract with that agency. If you do not pay me for my services, I will have you arrested, and Defrauding an Innkeeper is a misdemeanor (and I may get to keep your car when it is impounded by that law enforcement agency). And my gas is not free.
If you will be riding in my truck, please don’t stink or smoke. All animals stay in your car. And leave all your stuff in your car; my cab is not very big.
That’s what you can do for me. Now, what I should do for you:
As an occasional customer of towing services, there are certain things I expect from a tow service. First of all, I expect a competent, trained, and courteous driver. Even on my worst days, I am nice to all my customers. The company I work for sends me to a towing class every two years to update my skills, and I would hope I don’t appear to be a stereotypical tow truck driver (toothless knuckle dragger). I have seen a lot of operators who have no clue how to properly tow a vehicle. There are cars out there that I have to think about how to hook them without damaging them, and sometimes towing takes some serious contemplation.
A tow truck should be clean inside the cab and not smell like cigarettes (yuk!). The cleanliness of the outside of the truck is not really an issue because they do get used and abused, but it should be relatively well kempt. The driver should be reasonably clean also. We tow truck drivers do roll around in the dirt and deal with your greasy, dirty cars, so don’t expect us to show up in a tuxedo to tow your Bently. Conversely, I don’t want somebody’s oil soaked butt sitting on my clean seats.
The truck itself should appear to be in good working order. I see a lot of unsafe tow trucks out there. The condition the operator keeps his truck is in direct correlation with how he will treat your vehicle. Our shop has a few beat-up, old trucks. They look well used, but are mechanically sound and safe, and we do our best to keep them clean. These trucks are run through the ringer, so they will have bumps and bruises, but there is a limit to how beat-up a tow truck should be.
All tow trucks should be fully equipped to deal with any normal vehicle, but don’t expect them to have equipment specifically for your exotic car. The towing equipment is expensive, especially specialty equipment, so don’t whine when we can’t tow your Ferrari the way the owners manual says to. I will do my best (my truck is fully equipped to tow anything) to tow your car safely and correctly, but there are some cars that are so hard or complicated to tow that a driver may refuse to tow them or may damage them when towing. If you are stupid enough to lower your car, I may refuse to tow it due to the fact I may damage the air dam when loading it.
Any towing company that contracts with the California Highway Patrol must have all its’ trucks inspected annually to assure compliance with safety and equipment guideline set by the state of California. The CHP is very strict, so these companies must maintain and equip their trucks properly or the vehicle will not be allowed to respond to a CHP call. To assure that your tow operator complies with these standards, look for the CHP inspection sicker on the windshield. All AAA™ contractors comply with CHP standards, and must also comply with AAA™ standards.
Before towing your car or even performing any services, the tow truck operator should inform you of the cost of the required services. It is wholly unfair and deceitful to inform someone of the exorbitant amount of money they are to pay after the service is performed. Towing can be expensive, so always expect to spend a lot of money on towing. We have to pay for a lot of different things (trucks, fuel, insurance, etc.) to keep our company operating and to turn a profit, so don’t expect us to give you a brake on the price. A AAA™ membership is a good way to ensure a bad motoring day doesn’t break you before even getting the car to a mechanic.
Different cars may take different types of tow trucks, and the tow companies and operators should know which type of truck to send to each kind of vehicle. Sometimes a different kind of truck other than what you think is required may be sent to take care of your car. Some situations may require two trucks. Each situation is different, and what your owners manual says is right may not be for that particular situation, so don’t be surprised when you don’t get what you asked for. If you don’t get a flatbed tow truck when you asked for one, don’t cry, a wrecker is fully capable of towing almost any car out there.
I have found that many manufacturers have no clue as to how their vehicles need to be towed. Some car companies think their cars will never need towing, and provide only the minimum necessary to tow your car. I have found that the more poorly built your car is, the less likely it is to be towed with ease. The better built vehicles are generally well equipped for towing.
Most European and exotic cars come equipped with a tow eye that screws into the bumper, this is only meant to pull the vehicle up onto a flatbed, it is not for securing the car to the bed. These tow eyes are usually mounted on one side of the bumper. This orientation of the tow eye is bad, and may bend the bumper as the tow trucks winch pulls it toward the center of the bed. Do not blame the tow driver for this kind of damage to your car, it is the morons who put this hook to the side of the bumper who should be to blame. A competent tow driver should know this and will not pull your car too close to the winch, preventing any damage. This may leave you car in the wrong position to distribute the weight properly to the axles of the tow truck, possibly putting the tow driver at risk for a ticket when going through truck scales.
The tow eye also may spontaneously unscrew itself while the car is being winched onto a flatbed, resulting in the car rolling away and hitting something. Another result of piss poor engineering. This is a result of the way the wire rope on the winch is coiled and the weave of the cable. As the cable is rolled onto the winch, it naturally spins in the direction of the cables spiral wrap, thus unscrewing the eye.
Intelligent auto makers will permanently attach a tow hook toward the center of the car under both bumpers. The car can be pulled to the farthest forward position on the bed, thus evenly distributing the weight of the car to the axles of the tow truck, the way it’s supposed to be.
Many Japanese and some American cars come with four permanently attached shipping hooks meant to be used for securing the car to the ship when transported overseas. These hooks are fantastic for both winching and securing the car for transport. I think all cars should be equipped with these hooks. They make my job both simpler and safer. If the U.S. Department of Transportation had a clue, they would require these on all vehicles, simply for the safety of all tow truck drivers.
There are four basic types of towing devices for passenger vehicles; the flat bed (aka car carrier or roll away), the wheel lift, the cradle, and the sling. Flatbed tow trucks will usually also have a wheel lift, and a wheel lift tow truck will often also have a sling. Sling trucks and cradle trucks are rare now, but do exist.
A flat bed tow truck has a large flat surface that slides back and drops the rear end down at an angle to facilitate pulling a vehicle onto said surface. A Right ApproachTM bed splits to decrease the angle of the bed for lowered and extra long cars. Once the auto is winched onto the bed, the bed is retracted and the car is secured. The vehicle is secured at four points (the winch doesn’t count) onto the bed.
If the vehicle doens’t come equipped with some kind of hook for winching it onto the flatbed or it is heavy, we will use big hooks on your suspension or other part of the vehicle.
When securing a car to a flat bed, different vehicles require different means. Some tow operators prefer different means over others. Chains are the general choice for most cars, but straps are better for others. Chains with hooks are the norm in the industry, but the same chain with a large hook also will have a cluster of smaller hooks on the other end. The large hooks are used to hook onto suspension parts, but should not be used on lightweight suspensions. The cluster will have a ‘T’ hook, ‘L’ hook and a chain hook. The ‘T’ and ‘L’ hook are for use with the shipping hooks and other assorted holes on the frame. The chain hook is for securing the chain to itself.
When using chains, if the car is not perfectly straight on the carrier, one chain may be loose while one is tight. This is just fine as long as the loose chain will not fall off. Some operators may pull the loose chain tight by pulling the car forward with the winch. This will result in your car possibly being severely damaged. Tell the operator to put your car on the ground and call a competent driver before he completely screws up your vehicle. I use a sister hook between the chains to pull both chains tight equally, preventing any damage.
Straps are used the same as chains, but are tightened by hand using a ratchet, thus being less likely to cause damage.
Wheel straps should be used for exotic and European cars. Wheel straps loop through the spokes of the rims and linked with a chain or ratchet strap. An eight point tie down system is becoming the norm in the industry. These are straps that go over the top, then loop around the wheel. This is a good means of securing the vehicle to the bed, but should not be used for heavy or wrecked vehicles. If the transmission is in neutral without the parking brake on, these straps may work loose over time. Just the normal bouncing and shaking can loosen them.
Wheel traps cover the entire wheel and are then strapped down.
A wheel lift tow truck grabs the front or rear wheels of your car and lifts them off of the ground. There are auto-load wheel lifts that are controlled from inside the cab, and the standard wheel lifts that must be manually adjusted to the width of the car, then ‘L’ bars slid around the wheels. The wheels must be strapped to the wheel lift to keep the car from falling off. Two safety chains must be attached to the car in case the car does fall off the lift.
Many European cars have low aluminum oil pans which may be damaged by a wheel lift. These also tend to be the crappiest cars out there, so just avoid buying a car with an aluminum oil pan, and you may never need a tow truck. Just kidding (not). The difference between a steel oil pan and an aluminum oil pan is the steel one will dent, bend, and flex without any serious consequences, the aluminum one cracks with any kind of insult. Any competent wrecker operator will know how to prevent any damage to the oil pan, and most often we will send a flatbed for these kinds of cars.
Wreckers also carry dollies. These are the sets of little wheels you see on the bed. They are used to lift the wheels off the ground and act as the wheels for towing when the cars wheels won’t spin, or when towing a car with an automatic transmission or 4 wheel drive. Most tow drivers prefer not to set dollies, they are heavy, so we usually try to get a flatbed out to those who may need dollies, but many situations require them.
If you are one of those who insist on a flatbed for their car, whether or not it needs it, this part is for you. Sports cars, like Ferarri, Porsche, Lamborghini, and Tesla generally need a flatbed, but can be towed with a wrecker when the need arises. Regardless of the fact that your owners manual says you need a flatbed to tow your car, most normal cars do not. No, your P.O.S. BMW does not need a flatbed, unless it is an M or X class, and they can go on a wrecker when needed. If you are stupid enough to lower your car, you should ask for a flatbed. Any all-wheel drive or 4-wheel drive vehicle needs a flatbed. If a wrecker shows up to tow your all-wheel dive car, make sure he knows that it is an all-wheel drive. Some AWD cars look just like their 2-wheel drive counterparts, it’s not always obvious. For Audis and Subarus, we generally just send a flatbed if we can, but not always. A jacked up 4x4 should go on a flatbed. Any vehicle with 30 inch or greater tires should be flat-bedded. In general, it’s best not to ask for a flatbed if you do not need one. Besides, you’ll pay more for a flat bed than a wrecker.
If your vehicle is missing all its’ wheels due to being stripped, don’t call for a tow truck. Towing a car without wheels can cause serious damage. Instead, contact the tire store that you intend to buy the replacement wheels from first. They often have a set of spare wheels just for such an event. Or just buy the replacement wheels and take them to the car, then call for a tow truck. We can lift the car off the ground and place the new wheels on the vehicle. We may even be able to pick up the wheels for you.
We’ve solved flatbed vs. wrecker. Now we ask the question, “how big a tow truck do I need?” Well, how big a vehicle do you have?
If you have a normal passenger vehicle, any light-duty tow truck will due, but when you get to SUVs’, trucks, campers, and motor homes, weight becomes a factor. A standard light-duty tow truck can legally haul 15,000 pounds and weighs 12,000 lbs. un-laden. Thus, he can haul one half of a 6,000 lb. vehicle. Your 7,700 lb. Excursion is way too heavy for a wrecker. A standard light-duty flatbed can carry 26,000 lbs. legally, and weighs 17,600 lbs. un-laden. Thus the tow truck now weighs 25,300lbs. with the Excursion on its back. Barely legal. Fill it with all the crap an average family takes on vacation, now the tow truck is overweight. Not to mention that the family weighs around 500 lbs., probably more. Gee, you need a bigger tow truck, or a thinner family, with less stuff.
Now, you and your passenger vehicle don’t have to worry about being overloaded, at least by a legal standpoint. But, large pickups and commercial trucks are subject to inspection at the whim of the CHP. But we’ll discuss that in a different chapter. The reason I speak of this is that if the tow truck is overloaded, whether the driver knows it or not, and that driver goes through a CHP inspection station, that driver will be cited and may have to unload the excess weight. So if you ask for a light-duty tow-truck and the driver refuses to tow your vehicle, you now know why.
A light-duty tow-truck may be able to tow your F-350, but if it is loaded, it needs a medium-duty tow truck. Things are now getting expensive. If your vehicle has a weight sticker issued by the DMV, that’s the green on white sicker with the 2 digit number and year on it, you probably need a medium-duty tow truck. A motor home needs a medium duty tow-truck. A pickup with a camper may need a medium duty tow truck. A limousine needs one too.
Any vehicle with a GVW of greater than 26,000 lbs. needs a heavy duty tow truck. If your vehicle requires a class A or B license to drive, you probably need a heavy duty tow truck. A bus of equivalent motor home needs a heavy hauler, and may even require a low-boy flatbed. Any heavy duty tow vehicle will be expensive. Expect to pay from $200 to $500 per hour.
How do I know if the right truck has arrived? Well, hopefully the tow company has sent the appropriate truck to your locale based on your description of your vehicle. A two axel wrecker or flatbed are light duty trucks. A medium duty wrecker may have two or three axels. Look at the green and white weight sticker. The number will be greater than 26. A heavy duty wrecker will have a minimum of three axels, often more. The tow operator will know the capacity of their vehicle and knows the repercussions of towing too much weight with the wrong truck, including damage, fines, and injuries (I hope).
Tow damage is something that does occur, much to the detriment of the owner of the tow company. I blame the auto makers for a lot of the damage, due to their piss-poor engineering. But often enough, the tow operator is the one to blame. We all want to assure damage-free towing, but sometimes it is unavoidable. If you have wrecked your car, or need it extracted from place it shouldn’t be, don’t expect us to always be gentle. Sometimes, it isn’t possible to access tow hooks on a vehicle, or the car is so destroyed that there is no reason to be gentile. If you wrecked your car because you are drunk, don’t expect any sympathy. If the reason for the tow is a lack-of-maintenance problem, like your ball joint failed and the wheel fell off, the tow truck may cause more damage when transporting the car. The tow guy should inform you of this before lifting the car.
Winching vehicles onto a flatbed is often the source of tow-related damage. Often, an operator will use big hooks placed onto the suspension. These hooks often are drawn into the CV joints and may tear the grease boots. Look at the hooks after they are removed. If there is grease on the ends, the boots may have been torn. These hooks may also get placed around tie-rods or other steering related components, bending them. Brake lines can be crushed or kinked too. If your car runs, it may be far better to drive it onto the flat-bed. No need to shove hooks into places they shouldn’t be.
Light duty suspensions of today’s modern cars may also be damaged by these hooks. Always watch where the operator places the hooks. I, personally, use a small, single hook placed in a accessible shipping hook on the car. Shipping hooks are holes or loops designed for tying the vehicle to a ship, train, or truck when it is shipped to the dealer from the factory. These hooks or holes are double-walled and are strong enough to take the weight of the car being pulled up onto the bed. Many auto makers cover these holes, making finding them and loading very difficult.
Big Metal Weenies are probably the most often tow-damaged cars out there. The tow eye is in the wrong place, they cover the shipping hooks, they have wimpy suspensions, and low, aluminum oil pans. They are also the most towed car out there. If any BMW engineers out there are listening, stop putting covers over your shipping hooks! And put the tow eye in the center of your bumper. Even better, just put a loop on the front and back in an accessible spot, like you used to. Tow eyes get lost and are often a bitch to find. This goes for Lexus also and Mercedes also! BMW, your cars are a hazard to the towing industry! BMW your carbage is a hazard to my life and your customers are all douche bags!