What is Vehicle Recovery?

Do you know what we mean when we talk about towing vs. vehicle recovery? If you drive a small vehicle you may not, but if you’re a tractor-trailer driver you probably do know what’s involved in the recovery of trucks off the road.

For us, vehicle recovery does not refer to vehicle repo or stolen vehicle tracking.  It’s doing whatever it takes to get a vehicle back on the road to be driven, towed, or hauled away.  Proper vehicle recovery for an absolute minimum of additional damage requires skill, experience, and quite literally tons of special equipment.

Vehicle Recovery Steps

When any type of vehicle is off the road, whether stuck in mud on a soft shoulder or after an accident sends it careening, a vehicle recovery gets it back to the road and lined up for a wrecker.

That’s often a lot easier said than done.  The vehicle can be heavily damaged, tangled up with guard railing or trees, or deep in a ravine.  These situations call for special recovery equipment and an experienced operator. Equipment includes chain saws, cutoff saws and cutting torches as you might expect, as well as D-rings (bow shackles), towing dollies for won’t-roll damage, and various types of wide nylon straps.  Additionally, personal safety equipment for everyone involved in the recovery is needed.

Winch Outs

Heavy recoveries are usually done by winch outs.  If you do a lot of off-roading, you probably have a winch on your 4-wheeler.  The steel cable (winch line) is attached to the vehicle via straps (or if that’s not possible, hooks) and the winch reels the cable back onto a drum much like a fishing rod-and-reel.  The person doing the hook-up and handling cables and straps is called a rigger, and is usually managed by the tow truck operator.

There are important differences between tow and recovery straps. Recovery straps stretch some 10-15% to make pulling smoother and more productive, and they have loops for hook-up. (Hooks and shackles are avoided whenever possible as they become heavy flying projectiles if something snaps).  For a truck or car mired in mud, a rigger may us a snatch strap for a quick recovery.  But for big rig recoveries they will need to use some combination of recovery straps, extension straps, and tree straps / trunk protectors.

Before winching the car or truck it may be necessary to flip it back over or rotate it to a better orientation.  There are various types of pulls — straight pulls, angle pulls, and two-way pulls (typically using two tow trucks) as well as double- and triple-line pulls for extra capacity.

There are strict regulations covering equipment used on vehicle recoveries; for example, cables and straps need daily inspection and maintenance. You can then feel comfortable knowing that the vehicle recovery is carefully and professionally planned — from the load rating and hook up points to how to deal with obstacles and potential snags.

Big Rigs, Big Problems

A heavy vehicle recovery team needs more equipment than heavy duty towing crews do — a lot more.  Fully loaded tractor-trailers can have a combined weight of as much as 80,000 pounds (40 tons).  Loaded or unloaded, they sometimes need to be pulled up a steep slope or even lifted into the air.

Major accidents present all sorts of complications, so skill and experience are critical in successful big rig recovery where safety is paramount. For big rig towing it’s often necessary to use straps and spreader bars to distribute pulling and lifting loads as well as snatch blocks for dual-line and angle pulls.  Some situations require air lift bags to get a trailer sufficiently upright for winches to take over.

Under Water Vehicle Recovery

Hollywood Towing is also experienced in underwater recoveries.  Often that’s just a matter of wading out to the vehicle and hooking up for a winch out.  But sometimes we become part of a team of tow operators, professional divers, law enforcement, and other local agencies. With a solid hook-up winching is often enough. If not, floatation bags break the car or truck free of the mud and muck. After recovery insurance and crime investigators do their work, and we’re ready to tow the vehicle off to a shop, impound, or junk yard.

Read about our underwater vehicle recovery successes on our blog, and call us anytime for any of your towing or recovery needs.