We understand our towing equipment, but we sometimes forget that not everyone does so we need to explain what it all means.
When people think of a tow truck they usually picture a short vehicle with an angled metal arm sticking out the back. That’s a boom truck. They also have a winching system that consists of a long cable (wire rope) wound around a powered drum, run up and then deployed out of the boom. A hook at the other end of the cable attaches to the vehicle, and as the drum turns the winch pulls the vehicle out of a ditch or other predicament and up to the wrecker. But you can’t tow a car that way, just pulling the vehicle by the cable. When the tow truck stops the car would keep going. Not good. So a rigid tow bar gets used to connect the tow truck and the vehicle being towed. Safety chains serve as back-up.
That’s the basic picture of the key towing equipment, but there’s some important add-ons and options.
- The boom can be in a fixed position, be able to pivot left and right, or be able to extend its length (telescoping) through powerful hydraulics. That lets the winching system tackle more difficult situations.
- A wheel lift is a metal yolk that’s placed under rear wheels (or front, whichever are the drive wheels). Hydraulics lift that end of the vehicle off the ground. That way there’s no need to disconnect the power train, even for long-distance towing.
- A wrecker self loader has an integrated boom and wheel lift as a single unit.
- Alternatively, a dolly with its own set of tires can be placed under either set of wheels for a tow.
There’s also a very different alternative — flatbed rollback car carriers. These flat bed tow trucks have wrenches, but feature a long flat area that tilts so a vehicle can be pulled up onto it. Rather than being towed, the vehicle rides on the flat bed. It’s ideal for providing the best of care for specialty vehicles, as well as for handling vehicles in the worst condition. There’s no power-train issues, and no problem if one or more wheels won’t turn. Plus the wrecker’s suspension smooths the ride.
All tow trucks must meet very specific requirements for various gross vehicle weight ratings and working load limits.