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Tow trucks are an important part of any city’s automobile services. Hundreds of vehicles break down and are left at the side of the road for help or there are many vehicles that are illegally parked daily. Tow truck businesses have their work cut out for them as they take to the streets and transport vehicles to repair shops and impounds across the country. If you are meaning to start a tow truck business it can be useful to learn the types of tow trucks, their functions and use, and of course their cost.
Tow trucks are essential to our automobile-filled society as these commercial vehicles inevitably break down or otherwise need to be transported for one reason or another without moving themselves.
Tow trucks are used to recover these broken down, illegally parked, or impounded cars to where they need to be. It is useful even for regular automobile owners to be somewhat familiar with different types of tow trucks because if they ever need to hire one, calling on a specific one might be more appropriate for your vehicle or situation.
Tow trucks are also made distinct from other vehicle transports like car carrier trailers as they often are only capable of moving single vehicles at a time. While on the other hand, car carrier trailers move multiple vehicles simultaneously.
There are several types of tow trucks available on the market in different configurations that all have their pros and cons. Here we will discuss some of the common types of tow trucks, how they work, how they are used, and how they stack up against each other. As a bonus, we will also talk a bit about the tow truck business and the prices you can expect for tow trucks on the market.
Types Of Tow Trucks
There are many types of tow trucks available with different capabilities to suit different situations. The types of tow trucks are divided into their use and the size of the vehicle that they are capable of towing.
There are six types of tow trucks that we will discuss here. These are:
Flatbed Tow Truck
Flatbed tow trucks are somewhat different from the classic tow truck look that may come to mind. This tow truck has a large flatbed behind it that allows you to load a whole vehicle onto it for transport. There is a ramp on the rear of the flatbed. This is capable of sliding out and tilting downwards towards the ground to allow the vehicle to be towed to drive up onto the flatbed and be secured in place with a winch.
Afterward, the tow truck may then transport the vehicle safely. However, certain weight limits cannot be exceeded when loading a vehicle onto the flatbed, so it is important to keep that in mind.
The advantage of this type of tow truck is that it keeps the vehicle completely off the ground for the journey and this is one of the safest ways that you can tow vehicles. It has a very small risk of damage.
Another reason that you would need this type of tow truck is if the vehicle that needs to be moved is totaled. This means that there is a possibility of towing the vehicle by regular means on the road as its wheels may no longer be capable of moving or supporting its weight.
Hook And Chain Tow Truck
The hook and chain Tow Truck was one of the most common types of tow trucks in times past. This particular truck is the “classic” tow truck that comes to mind when one thinks of a tow truck.
With its arm with chain and hook dangling from behind, this truck works by affixing a hook to the front bumper or axle of the vehicle to be towed. Afterward, the boom on the vehicle will lift that half of the car into the air, with its rear wheels keeping in contact with the ground. The vehicle can then be towed to its destination.
This is a tried and tested design and the one that really started the tow truck industry. Today however it is not commonly seen anymore. This is because of the relatively large potential damage that it can cause to the vehicles it is towing. This is due to all the chains being wrapped around as well as the towed vehicle being only partially off the ground with the rest still in contact with the road.
Despite this, the hook and chain tow truck can still be seen transporting totaled cars as damage done to them is not a factor anymore.
Rollback Tow Truck
Rollback tow trucks are very similar to flatbed tow trucks. Both of these types of tow trucks have flat platforms on their backs that they use to transport their towed vehicles. The difference however lies in their method of loading.
A rollback tow truck has a specialized hydraulic system that is used to tilt the entire flatbed and allow the vehicle to be loaded more easily onto the platform. This ease of loading makes this type of tow truck more suitable for towing cars that have been damaged in such a way that they cannot be loaded onto a more rudimentary flatbed tow truck.
This additional hydraulics system makes these tow trucks more forgiving when compared to the simpler flatbed trucks, on damaged vehicles and equipment that is more sensitive to damage.
This also makes this tow truck better suited to emergencies as since the flatbed can be tilted it can more easily adapt to irregularities in the terrain and spaces that are often present in vehicular accidents.
Wheel Lift Tow Truck
The wheel lift tow truck is one of the most common types of tow trucks today. It is very similar in its operation to the hook and chain tow truck. It also lifts the front portion of the towed vehicle and pulls it with its rear wheels still in contact with the road.
The difference is in the way it lifts the vehicle. A wheel lift tow truck has what is called a yoke which is attached to the back of the truck, and is what goes under the front wheels of the towed vehicle to lift it off the ground. Lifting the front wheel is the most common method but if the vehicle to be towed is in a difficult spot that makes it hard to get to the front wheels, the truck may also tow the vehicle from the rear wheels.
These types of trucks are common now because of how simple and quick their operation is. Operators with this kind of truck can arrive at the scene, hook up to a vehicle and start towing in mere minutes.
And since there are no chains or hooks involved, the risk of damage is much less than with a traditional hook and chain tow truck. The yoke is also quite a stable platform and also reduces any damage potential involved.
Integrated Tow Truck
An Integrated tow truck is one of the more powerful types of tow trucks. These large trucks are used to tow similarly large vehicles like busses and trucks. These types of vehicles often break down and are in need of towing services.
The integrated tow truck is built specifically to handle larger vehicles that more common types would struggle with. These tow trucks include an arm in the center of its rear platform that connects to the front wheel of the vehicle to be towed, lifting them off the ground. This heavy-duty arm is very stable and allows for the tow truck to handle loads that are significantly heavier than the tow truck itself.
Owners of normal cars or even SUVs and Vans will not need the services of an integrated tow truck, but busses, trucks, and mobile homes do.
Semi Tow Truck
A semi tow truck is an oversized towing vehicle. It is very large compared to the other types of tow trucks. It is a semi-trailer truck with a large flatbed in tow where it loads the vehicles or even heavy equipment for transport.
A semi tow truck is usually only used for large-scale operations such as transporting construction vehicles and equipment. These are already out of the realm of vehicles that a normal towing operation will have at their disposal but you do still see them traversing the highways with large motor vehicles (or several) or even boats in tow.
Tow Truck Prices
Another thing that may be of interest to both clients and business owners is tow truck prices. This includes the prices of hiring one as well as the price of acquiring a tow truck. In this section, we will look at some of the costs associated with purchasing a tow truck for your business as well as the common costs of towing services.
Purchasing A Tow Truck
The prices of tow trucks can vary significantly based on the types of tow trucks they are, the brand, and whether you purchase them brand new or used, to name a few.
Generally, tow truck prices range from $10,000 – $50,000. Not an insignificant amount, it can be useful to skim through various online marketplaces where there are listings for both new and used tow trucks to get a good idea of what the particular kinds of trucks you are looking for generally cost.
Towing Service Cost
Towing services usually charge a base fee plus a fee for every mile towed. On average, this will cost about $75 – $100 to hire a tow truck service. In this context, we assume that you are using a normal car.
Most towing companies will charge an initial fee of $50 for the first 5-10 miles of towing, with a further fee charged for every succeeding mile traveled. Usually, the rate is $2 – $4 per mile. Many factors affect the cost of towing such as location, distance traveled, type of vehicle to be towed, and even time of day.
Towing services can run you anywhere from $50 for a basic service to up to $300 for a higher-end towing company with more specialized equipment.
The Towing Business
The towing business is quite a stable industry and is often only marginally affected by major economic downturns. No matter what the state of the economy is, some vehicles need to be towed. Perhaps you would like to get into it.
You may have noticed in the previous section on the prices of tow trucks that starting up a towing business has some substantial costs involved. And you would be right. Aside from the cost of the vehicles, there are other associated costs.
Another such cost is the licensing fees that have to be paid to obtain the class B licenses needed to run these tow trucks. Permits are also needed from the state where you will be operating in, as well as any additional permits from the municipality or highway departments. You should get in contact with local clerk offices to find out all the permits needed to start operations.
Other Businesses That Use Tow Trucks
Tow trucks are seen in many different fields as when large numbers of vehicles are involved it is useful to have the ability to tow them when needed. Major highways and toll roads usually have tow trucks dedicated to only that road handled by their road authority.
Public institutions like police departments, fire departments, transportation authorities, and even the military operate fleets of towing vehicles. Both to tow their service vehicles and also to enforce traffic laws and regulations.
This however requires a large fleet of vehicles and a good variety of tow trucks that cater to different situations. These institutions may not own all the types of tow trucks and therefore will often resort to contracting private towing companies. This means there is a lot of business available for private towing companies.