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What Is a Rollback Wrecker?

Sandi Johnson
Sandi Johnson

A rollback wrecker is a type of tow truck. Typically used to transport personally owned motor vehicles, a rollback wrecker features a flatbed with rails. The bed, in its entirety, can be hydraulically lowered to ground level. Vehicles to be transported can be driven onto the flatbed or pulled onto it with a winch. After the vehicle is safely positioned, the flatbed is raised back level with the tow truck chassis and locked into placed, and the vehicle is secured for transport.

Although it is most commonly used for personal vehicles, a rollback wrecker can be fitted with a large enough flatbed to accommodate bigger vehicles. Heavy duty diesel rollback wreckers frequently carry large, heavy equipment vehicles such as backhoes, cranes or other construction vehicles. Commercial transport vehicles can be transported for delivery or repairs via a heavy duty rollback wrecker. Tow trucks for large vehicle transport are common, but the term "rollback wrecker" typically refers to emergency roadside recovery equipment for personal motor vehicles.

A rollback wrecker is a type of tow truck for carrying cars and other vehicles.
A rollback wrecker is a type of tow truck for carrying cars and other vehicles.

In terms of emergency roadside recovery vehicles, there are three basic types of tow trucks. These types include wheel-lift tow trucks, hook-and-chain tow trucks and flatbed or rollback wreckers. Wheel-lift tow trucks as well as hook-and-chain wreckers transport a vehicle by lifting the front or back axle, leaving the remaining wheels on the ground to roll behind the truck.

Rollback wreckers are often used in accident in which a vehicle is totaled.
Rollback wreckers are often used in accident in which a vehicle is totaled.

Alternatively, a rollback wrecker allows for the transport of a vehicle entirely on the back of a tow truck. By removing the entire vehicle from the roadway, tow truck drivers and vehicle owners eliminate potential damages to the vehicle that is being transported. Drivers need not worry about low-hanging bumpers, the need to disconnect drive shafts or other factors that make towing via hook-and-chain or wheel-lift tow trucks less than desirable.

Certain characteristics are common to virtually all flatbeds. Material construction for decks, rails and other elements include steel, aluminum or other alloy metals. Most rollback wrecker vehicles include a diesel-driven cab with an extended chassis. Safety equipment, hydraulic mechanisms and mounts for the flatbed are fitted to the chassis to optimize the tow truck's stability when fully loaded.

Options such as rail design, deck size, deck material and capacity vary depending on model, intended application and user preference. Deck rails — the raised metal boards on either side of the deck — might be high, low, fixed or removable, depending on the specific type of rollback wrecker. Additional features such as winches also vary from one wrecker to another.

How Wide Is a Rollback Wrecker?

Rollback tow trucks consist of two parts: the truck itself and the platform. When looking at rollback wrecker specs, you'll probably see platform width measurements. You may see two figures listed: outside and inside. The outside measurement spans the outer edges of the platform, while the inside measurement is for the platform's usable surface. Most rollback wrecker platforms have an outside measurement of 102 inches, equalling 8.5 feet. Their inside measurements are typically between 96.5 to 101 inches — between 8 feet 0.5 inches and 8 feet 5 inches.

Rollback Wrecker Lengths

While rollback wreckers' platform widths remain consistent across different models, platform bed lengths can vary. Many models come in deck lengths between 19 and 22 feet long. However, there are some that run larger. Remember, rollback tow truck capacities can range between 10,000 and 40,000 pounds. The largest of these models come with beds up to 40 feet long.

Deck floor thickness also increases as deck weight ratings grow heavier. For instance, you may see a truck with a 20,000-pound deck rating with floor thickness measuring between 3/16 and 1/4 inches. Added strength ensures dependability during vehicle loading and transport. Again, you'll want to look at platform measurements when shopping for a wrecker.

Towing and Winch Capacities

Unsurprisingly, towing and winching capabilities increase when you choose larger rollback tow trucks. In standard size models, winching capacities start at around 8,000 pounds. Larger models come with winches that can handle up to 20,000 pounds.

Besides heavier deck ratings, bigger models can also tow more. A rollback tow truck with a 40,000-pound deck rating, for example, may be able to tow up to 50,000 pounds. Their tow lift bars can handle between 10,000 and 20,000 pounds, depending on how high the bar is raised.

How To Load a Car on a Rollback Wrecker

Loading a vehicle onto a rollback wrecker takes some patience and care. While you'll become more confident with repeated practice, you can follow some helpful steps for safe and secure loading:

  • Stop your tow truck around two car lengths ahead of the vehicle. 
  • Using your truck's deck controls, adjust the deck until its rear edge is touching the ground. The deck should look like a ramp when you're done.
  • Make sure the edge of your truck's deck is as closely aligned with the vehicle's front wheels as possible.
  • Attach your truck's winch to the vehicle's front. 
  • Using your winch controls, guide and pull the vehicle onto the truck deck. 
  • Attach wheel straps to all four wheels and secure them to the deck. 
  • Using your deck controls, roll the deck forward until it's locked and in its original horizontal position. 

Before you load the vehicle, you'll want to keep a few things in mind. First, make sure that the parking brake on the vehicle is off. Also, you must never drive the vehicle onto the deck. Next, you should load the vehicle with the engine end facing toward the back of your truck cable. Ensure that the vehicle is properly centered before winching. Finally, make sure that the tow chain on the winch that's attached to the vehicle has a little slack — you don't want it taut.

If you must load a vehicle at an odd angle, a few tips can make the job easier. Follow the usual steps up until you winch the vehicle, then pull just its front wheels onto the deck's rear. Engage the vehicle's parking brake and raise the deck slightly until it's cleared the ground. Return to your truck and steer in the opposite direction of the overhang and move forward just a little, keeping the vehicle's wheels on the deck. Keep steering until the vehicle is in a straight line with your truck's deck. Release the parking brake and load the vehicle as normal.

What Is the Difference Between a Rollback and a Flatbed?

People often use "rollback" and "flatbed" interchangeably, but there are some key differences between the two. Both have low flatbeds on the back, but a true flatbed truck cannot tilt or roll its rear deck back. The flatbed stays flat, no matter what. Because the deck can't be moved or repositioned, it's best used for hauling heavy-duty construction vehicles. It's also ideal for towing vehicles that have a flat rear tire.

Rollback tow trucks have different purposes. Thanks to their hydraulics systems, they have the capability to raise, lower and tilt their decks. Despite their broad range in sizes, rollback trucks typically run smaller than their flatbed cousins. For this reason, they're very helpful for hauling vehicles that are severely damaged. However, they can also tow vehicles in good working order, those with minimal damage or vehicles with flat tires.

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    • A rollback wrecker is a type of tow truck for carrying cars and other vehicles.
      By: Bikeworldtravel
      A rollback wrecker is a type of tow truck for carrying cars and other vehicles.
    • Rollback wreckers are often used in accident in which a vehicle is totaled.
      By: Duncan Noakes
      Rollback wreckers are often used in accident in which a vehicle is totaled.