Not all tow trucks are the same, and different situations may require various pieces of equipment. You probably don't want to spend much time thinking about your tow when you're stuck on the side of the road, but a little knowledge can go a long way. By understanding some differences between tow trucks, you can ensure that your vehicle reaches its final destination safely.
Although there are a wide variety of trucks used to haul everything from light vehicles to big rigs, wheel-lifts and flatbeds are the two types you are most likely to encounter. Understanding when you need a flatbed truck can help you to request the right service from your towing company, potentially saving you time and money.
Wheel-Lift vs. Flatbed
If you picture a classic tow truck, you're probably going to imagine a hook-and-chain rig. Although these trucks are still in service, they are often only used to transport vehicles with severe or unrepairable damage. Wheel-lift trucks look similar, but they offer greater protection for the towed vehicle. Many towing companies still make regular use of wheel-lift vehicles.
Flatbed trucks are easy to identify. These trucks have a long, flat bed that safely isolates the towed vehicle from the ground. Flatbed trucks offer the most considerable amount of protection and flexibility, although their larger size means they can sometimes be difficult to maneuver into tight areas.
When to Use a Wheel-Lift Truck
Wheel-lift trucks have one major disadvantage: two of the towed vehicle's wheels will drag freely on the ground. If you drive a front-wheel-drive vehicle, then the front wheels must be elevated. Likewise, the driver must lift the rear wheels on a rear-wheel-drive vehicle. This requirement can pose significant challenges if the drive wheels are inaccessible, such as with cars parked against walls.
As you might expect, a wheel-lift truck is entirely useless for towing all-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive vehicles. The limited protection also means that wheel-lift trucks are not ideal when transporting a car on the highway or over long distances.
When to Use a Flatbed Truck
Flatbed trucks fill in where wheel-lift rigs are not suitable. Flatbeds can transport vehicles with any drive configuration, including all-wheel-drive vehicles. In most cases, a driver should be able to load a car onto a flatbed in forward or reverse, which offers additional flexibility. Finally, the elevated position provides better protection for long trips or high-speed travel on a highway.
By understanding a bit about how tow trucks operate, you can ensure that your car makes it through any tow unscathed.