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Types Of Tow Trucks : All The Different Kinds & Their Uses

Types Of Tow Trucks : All The Different Kinds & Their Uses

Tow trucks or wreckers are used to lift abandoned, damaged vehicles or have broken traffic rules. These trucks are often found at car accident sites and carry multiple vehicles from one place to another.

There are mainly five different types of Tow trucks used for carrying out the functions mentioned above. If you want to know all the details of the types of tow trucks, keep on reading.

Types Of Tow Trucks

1. Hook and Chain Tow Trucks

This type of tow truck consists of a hook and chain attached to a crane. The chains are looped around a car and lifted off the ground with a boom winch.

The boom winch is attached to the car’s front or rear wheels and drags it along the road. This is the earliest method of towing vehicles but is not preferred today.

Hook and chain trucks cause a lot of damage to the attached vehicle due to maximum contact with the tow truck.

To reduce the damage, you can replace chains with rubber slings. However, they still cause damage to the bumpers and are inconvenient to carry any car.

Hook and chain trucks use a variety of booms that are attached to a winch.

The booms can be fixed, have pivoting A-frames, or can also be powered by hydraulics. The booms are very useful in lifting cars from a ditch or a low area typically inaccessible.

Tow trucks are pretty standard today, but it was unheard of in 1916. Back then, it took some 10 men and several hours to recover a car from a ditch.

However, a mechanic, Ernest Holmes, found the hook and chain method to reduce the extensive human resources required. And voila! The method got popularized due to its high efficiency.

2. Flatbed Tow Trucks

Flatbed Tow trucks are the safest way to lift a car. They don’t tow vehicles; instead, they carry them. Flatbed trucks come with a large cushioned space that can be inclined to the ground with hydraulic power.

The car is lifted onto the bed and then carried to its destination. If you want to be extra cautious with towing your vehicle, a flatbed truck is the right fit for you.

In the United States, these trucks are often used to remove cars from crash sites. Also, flatbed trucks come in handy to lift large tractors and oversized vehicles that seem immovable.

Flatbed trucks involve a slide and tilt mechanism that includes a carrier body and a sliding tray with pivotal control.

The car to be loaded should be kept at a distance of eight feet from the tow truck. The cables are then pulled out and connected to the front wheels of the car.

After this, you need to start winching till the car is entirely lying on the bed. If you are sure your car is safely loaded, you can lift the bed off the ground and carry it to the desired location.

3. Wheel Lift Tow Trucks

Wheel lift tow trucks are an advanced form of the hook and chain trucks. A wheel lift truck has a boom and a pair of crossbars.

The crossbars are attached to the drive wheels of the car being towed. If your car has a front-wheel drive, the bars will attach to the front wheel.

Only two wheels are attached to the tow truck, while the other two drag along the road. This is much better than the Hook & Chain truck because the crossbars don’t touch the carried car’s body.

Modern wheel lift trucks use hydraulic transmission for more power and greater efficiency.

Wheel lift trucks are ideal for towing small and light vehicles that need to transport quickly. Due to their compact size, wheel lift trucks are used to transport vehicles on narrow and congested roads.

Now, you might be wondering which is better- The Flatbed truck or the Wheel Lift Truck? Let us tell you that the flatbed provides the ultimate protection to your car. Yes, the wheel is better than many but not as good as the flatbed.

However, flatbed trucks are bulky and require a lot of space. They are difficult to park and are unsuitable for closed areas.

This makes them inconvenient for transporting on busy roads whereas the wheel lift trucks require very little space.

Also, flatbed trucks are costly due to their advanced features. On the other hand, wheel lift trucks come at affordable prices and do their job well.

In short, you can opt for wheel lift trucks if you have a hatchback or a lightweight sedan.

However, it’s better to choose a flatbed truck if your car is bulky or it needs to be transported over a long distance.

4. Integrated Tow Trucks

Integrated tow trucks use two different combinations to lift any vehicle. The most widely used combination is between a boom truck and a wheel lift truck into one unit.

These hybrid trucks are used when a heavy boom truck is not needed, and you need to gain access to narrow roads.

Integrated trucks have automated interiors, and the arms are firmly attached to the core of the vehicle. This provides the best stability to your car without causing any damage.

This kind of truck is often used to lift improperly parked vehicles and damaged cars from accident sites.

Since integrated trucks don’t require any manual effort, they are prevalent in areas that experience heavy snowfall. They are also used for heavy-duty jobs like lifting buses.

And smaller trucks, transporting cars to faraway places and rescuing vehicles from military zones.

Integrated trucks are commonly used in transporting fleets of vehicles across several kilometers and are approved by the Government.

5. Rotator Tow Trucks

We have many options for towing cars, but what about towing trailers and buses? It is where rotator tow trucks come into the picture.

Rotator trucks are the heaviest and the most powerful of all the tracks on this list. Some rotator trucks have fixed booms, whereas others have pivoting parts for smoother functioning.

Rotator trucks can carry somewhere between 35 and 70 tons using hydraulic power. It is crucial to reduce the over-hang while towing a vehicle with a rotator truck.

Hence, it is better to keep greater weight at the front and less overhang at the rear.

These trucks come with different chassis variations depending on their weight and stability. If you need to lift a bus or truck trailers, it is best to go with more significant configurations.

Rotator trucks are to lift cars from embankments and ditches. The arms can rotate 360 degrees and can quickly rise to a height of 30 feet.

It makes them more suitable for handling road accidents in the hilly areas, where the terrain is rough.

It also deals with crashes in freeways without occupying too much space and ensures that the regular traffic remains unaffected and the car accident site is cleared at the earliest.

Interestingly enough, rotator trucks have also been using to rescue flatbed tow trucks.

Hence, it is clear that rotator tow trucks should be your first preference to lift and transport bulky vehicles. On the flip side, rotators do not provide as much safety as a flatbed.

Flatbed tow trucks make sure that your car’s body does not get any scratches and have shock absorbers to prevent sudden jerks.

However, rotator trucks provide excellent stability but do not guarantee protection against scratches.

Rotators are much like the rough and tough guys who get the job done without thinking much. So, if your car is too precious, rotator trucks might not be the one for you.


There you go! You have a complete list of different kinds of tow trucks. Some of them, namely, the boom trucks and the wheel lift trucks, are meant for light to medium-duty use.

But the flatbed trucks and the rotator tow trucks are meant for heavy use. Depending on your car type and the company you trust, you can choose the best tow truck for yourself.

Resource links-

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