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What are Different Types of Tow Trucks?

By Shannon Kietzman
Updated May 23, 2024
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Tow trucks are vehicles used to pull other vehicles. They are commonly used to haul vehicles that have failed due to mechanical errors or that have been in an accident. Most are owned by private business owners who earn their money removing vehicles from roads, highways, ditches, and other situations. Some trucks, however, are owned by the government and used to patrol toll roads and highways. Some companies also own ones that are used exclusively to tow other vehicles owned by the company.

There are three main types of tow trucks: hook and chain, wheel-lift, and flat bed. Hook and chain trucks, also referred to as sling tow trucks, are no longer used as much as they once were. This is because they work by wrapping a chain around the axle or frame of the vehicle. This can cause scratches or other damage to the car. Typically, this type of truck is reserved for vehicles that have been damaged in an accident, vehicles that do not have their front wheels or their back wheels, and vehicles with steel bumpers.

Wheel lift tow trucks are similar to hook and chain trucks, but they use a metal yoke rather than a chain. This yoke is hooked under either the front or the rear wheels of the vehicle to be towed. Using a hydraulic or pneumatic hoist, the front or the rear portion of the vehicle is lifted from the ground as it is towed.

Flatbed tow trucks, also called rollback tow trucks, contain a large empty bed in the back of the truck. Using hydraulics, this bed can be inclined in order to form the shape of a ramp. The vehicle can then be either driven onto the flatbed or a winch can be used to drag it into place. After the vehicle is in place, hydraulics are used again to level out the flatbed in order to haul the vehicle. Flatbed styles are the preferred method for hauling vehicles, because they do not place pressure on the vehicle or drag it for a period of time. Rather, all of the stress is placed on the tow truck.

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Discussion Comments

By anon178963 — On May 22, 2011

@anon151383 no,if you had an all wheel or 4 wheel drive maybe but as long as your drive axle was lifted, it should not have caused any damage.

By anon151383 — On Feb 10, 2011

If a rear wheel drive vehicle is lifted from the back and pulled backward with the front wheels on the ground, can this cause damage? After being towed this way at 45 mph my front axle seals are leaking - could this be the cause? or are there any other things that could be damaged?

By anon108834 — On Sep 04, 2010

1) No, we don't need to gain access to the inside of a vehicle to tow it.

2) If it is a RWD vehicle, only accessible from the front, that makes the job easier, actually. The way I'd do it is, I'd "walk the bed" into the car; lift up the front wheels, hook it, and continue to "walk the bed" into the car until I get to the rear wheels, then winch it up onto the bed. It causes no damage to the vehicle at all. Then to get the vehicle off the bed, I'd shake the rear wheels off the bed, and walk the bed out from under the vehicle.

Note: "Walking the bed" refers to the tow driver moving the tow truck into the disabled vehicle, rather than dragging the vehicle. This can be done from the outside of the tow truck. If you can't bring the car to the truck; bring the truck to the car. It is, essentially, "driving" the tow truck backward (or forward, respectively) without actually being in the truck.

By anon49566 — On Oct 21, 2009

IF you are towing a rear wheel drive car with the baking brake engaged, the tow truck driver would use dollies. These are the little tires that you see on the back of the tow truck. There are metal axle bars they go in front of, and behind the tire and attach to the wheel section of the dollies. Or the driver has the option of using a flatbed or roll back truck. they can drag the car onto the bed or use plastic skates under the tire of the car to allow it to slide onto the bed without damaging the tires on the vehicle being towed. I hope this helped?

By Gil — On Mar 15, 2009

I'm very curious to understand the solution to that situation as well.

By anon9227 — On Mar 02, 2008

Couple Questions

1)Does the tow truck operator have to gain access to the inside of the vehicle to tow it?

2)How is a rear wheel drive vehicle that has the parking break engaged towed, if the tow truck can only access the front of the vehicle and does not gain entry into the vehicle

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