Tow truck

Tow truck
Heavy Tow truck
Wrecker on duty in Jyväskylä, Finland

A tow truck (also called a wrecker, a breakdown truck, recovery truck or a breakdown lorry) is a vehicle used to transport motor vehicles to another location (generally a repair garage), or to recover vehicles which are no longer on a drivable surface.

Towing services are generally provided by an emergency road service operator. Vehicles are often towed in the case of breakdowns or collisions, or may be impounded for legal reasons.



The tow truck was invented in 1916 by Ernest Holmes, Sr., of Chattanooga, Tennessee. He was a garage worker who was inspired to create the invention after he was forced to pull a car out of a creek using blocks, ropes, and six men. An improved design led him to manufacture wreckers.[1] A museum in Chattanooga called the International Towing and Recovery Hall of Fame and Museum features restored antique wreckers and displays related toys, tools, equipment, and pictorial histories of the tow truck industry.

Types of towing equipment

Five general types are in common usage, usually based on the type or size of vehicle to be towed truck chassis:

A heavy-duty boom truck
A car being loaded onto a flatbed tow truck.
  • Boom – not specifically for towing, many trucks are equipped with an adjustable boom winch for recovering vehicles that are in a ditch, culvert, over an embankment, or any place the vehicle cannot be safely backed-up to.
  • Hook and chain (also known as a "sling" or "belt lift") – chains are looped around the vehicle frame or axle, which is drawn aloft by a boom winch to rest against a pair of heavy rubberized mats so the customer's vehicle can be towed on its other axle. Slings are not used much today because they can scratch the bumpers of cars. But they are sometimes used for towing vehicles that have been in an accident or have one or two of the front or rear wheels missing or for pickup trucks and other vehicles that have steel bumpers
  • Wheel-Lift – evolved from the hook and chain technology to produce a large metal yoke that can be fitted under the front or rear wheels to cradle them, drawing the front or rear end of the vehicle clear of the ground by a pneumatic or hydraulic hoist so it can be towed. This apparatus generally picks up the drive wheels of the vehicle (ie the front wheels if it is front wheel drive, the rear wheels if it is rear wheel drive) touching only the tires.
  • Flatbed (also called a Rollback or a Slide) – the entire back of the truck is fitted with a bed that can be hydraulically inclined and moved to ground level, allowing the vehicle being towed to be placed on it under its own power or pulled by a winch.
  • Integrated (also referred to as a "Self Loader" Snatcher, Quick Pick or Repo Truck) – boom and wheel-lift integrated into one unit. Used in light duty trucks to repossess vehicles or move illegally parked vehicles. Most have controls for the apparatus inside the cab of the tow truck to make quick pickup possible without the inconvenience of exiting the truck to hook up the vehicle. Heavy duty trucks are also manufactured with integrated lift.

These are the most common arrangements, but are by no means exclusive, as there are flatbed units that offer a wheel-lift, boom trucks that can recover but not tow, and wheel-lift units that offer a combination boom with sling.


Heavy Tow Trucks in action.

Tow trucks are usually operated by private businesses, except for major highways and toll roads, where the road authority may operate the tow trucks for that stretch of road. Businesses who operate a large fleet of vehicles, such as school bus companies or package delivery services, often own one or several tow trucks for the purposes of towing their own vehicles. Government departments with large fleets (such as the police departments, fire departments, transportation authorities and departments of public works of major cities) may similarly own tow truck(s). Police department tow trucks may also be used to impound other vehicles.

In the Australian states of New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria there exists a Tow Truck Act, and tow trucks are identified by number plates ending in "TT". An example of a statute regulating the operation of tow trucks and the towing industry generally is the Victorian Accident Towing Services Act.


Requests for service are placed to a dispatching center. Some tow services communicate with drivers using wireless telephone equipment. In others, the dispatching center contacts an available tow truck driver via mobile radio or by sending a text message using a mobile data terminal. Recent technology includes the use of GPS and on board wireless equipment to dispatch drivers via an LCD screen receiver.

Impounds and storage

1970's style tow truck still in use, Edmonton Alberta (2006)

Many tow companies have the capability to store vehicles that have been wrecked or impounded by police agencies. In these circumstances, police agencies notify a contracted towing provider to secure the vehicle and tow it to a storage lot. The tow company will sometimes prevent access to the vehicle until the law states the owner can claim it (usually after any fines are paid).

Nearly all tow companies charge a fee for storing vehicles.


Navigation systems are becoming more commonly used to tell the location (of stranded vehicles) to tow trucks. Automatic vehicle location (AVL) systems are sometimes used to help the dispatch center staff determine the closest tow truck. AVL may use GPS technology. It may display the location of all tow trucks on a map or may feed data directly to a computer-assisted dispatch system which automatically recommends the closest available units.

See also

Mercedes-Benz Sprinter


External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • tow truck — tow trucks N COUNT A tow truck is a motor vehicle which is used to pull broken or damaged vehicles …   English dictionary

  • tow truck — tow ,truck noun count AMERICAN a truck used for moving vehicles that cannot be driven …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • tow truck — ☆ tow truck n. a truck equipped for towing away vehicles that are disabled, illegally parked, etc …   English World dictionary

  • tow truck — tow′ truck n. trs wrecker 3) • Etymology: 1940–45 …   From formal English to slang

  • tow truck — noun a truck equipped to hoist and pull wrecked cars (or to remove cars from no parking zones) • Syn: ↑tow car, ↑wrecker • Derivationally related forms: ↑wreck (for: ↑wrecker) • Hypernyms: ↑ …   Useful english dictionary

  • tow truck — UK / US noun [countable] Word forms tow truck : singular tow truck plural tow trucks American a breakdown truck …   English dictionary

  • tow truck — (Roget s IV) n. Syn. tow rig, tow truck, service vehicle, hoist truck; see truck 1 …   English dictionary for students

  • tow truck — noun A vehicle used to tow away broken down vehicles. Syn: breakdown lorry, breakdown truck, wrecker …   Wiktionary

  • tow truck — noun Date: 1944 a truck with winches and hoist mechanisms for freeing stuck vehicles and towing wrecked or disabled vehicles …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • tow truck — /ˈtoʊ trʌk/ (say toh truk) noun a truck for towing other vehicles, as from accidents, etc …   Australian-English dictionary

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