A tow truck is a truck used to move disabled, improperly parked, impounded, or indisposed motor vehicles. Tow truck has many other names like a recovery vehicle, a breakdown truck, a breakdown lorry or a wrecker. This process might include retrieving a vehicle that has been damaged in an accident, restoring one to a drivable state following a mishap or in adverse weather conditions, or towing or moving one to a repair shop or another destination using a flatbed. A tow truck is different from a car carrier trailer. The latter is commonly used to move multiple new or used vehicles simultaneously in routine transport operations.


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Types of tow truck

There are 5 different types of tow truck that are suited for recovering particular vehicles : 

  • boom tow truck also called boom wrecker
  • wheel-lift tow truck
  • flatbed tow truck
  • lift flatbed tow truck
  • integrated tow truck

Here is some developed information for each one of these types.

Boom tow truck

A boom in a tow truck is combined with a winch and is a component of a heavy duty tow truck. That kind of recovery truck is used to recover vehicles from places that are not easily accessible. A tow truck can have either a fixed boom, a rotary boom (also called rotator wrecker) or use a hydraulic-powered tube.

Wheel-lift tow truck

A wheel-lift tow truck, developed from earlier hook-and-chain technology, uses a metal yoke to secure and lift a vehicle's wheels for towing. Invented by Arthur W. Nelson in 1967, this system hoists either the front or rear end of the vehicle, depending on the drive wheels, while only contacting the tires. Known as the spectacle lift in Europe for its shape, this design also includes variations like the "underlift" or "chassis lift" for heavier trucks, lifting the axle or frame.

Flatbed tow truck

A flatbed tow truck also known as a "rollback", "slide", or "tilt tray” features a bed at the back that can be hydraulically tilted and slid down to ground level. This design allows a vehicle to be driven onto it or pulled on with a winch. Ideal for transporting immobile vehicles, these trucks are commonly used in the US for moving vehicles severely damaged in crashes, as they carry rather than tow the vehicle.

lift flatbed tow truck

Lift flatbed trucks utilize a boom with a wheel-lift frame to vertically lift vehicles and load them onto the bed. This design is particularly effective for removing parallel-parked vehicles and is commonly used in Europe.

integrated tow truck

Integrated tow trucks, also known as "self-loaders", "snatchers", "quick picks", or "repo trucks", combine a boom and wheel-lift into a single unit. These are predominantly used in light-duty applications for repossessing or moving illegally parked vehicles. Most feature in-cab controls for the towing apparatus, allowing for quick pickups without needing to exit the truck. Unlike wheel-lift trucks, where the operator manually secures the vehicle's wheels to the yoke, integrated trucks have movable arms at the boom's end that quickly and easily clamp onto a vehicle's wheels, often controlled from within the truck's cabin. Heavy-duty trucks with integrated lifts are also available.

Different weight categories of tow truck

There are also several sizes and weight categories of tow truck. Light-duty tow trucks have a towing capacity from 1,75 to 3,75 tons and are suitable for towing passenger vehicles like sedans, hatchbacks, small SUVs. Medium-duty tow trucks have a towing capacity from 3.75 to 8.5 tons and are suitable for towing larger vehicles like full-size SUVs, vans, smaller commercial trucks.

Heavy-duty tow trucks have a towing capacity from 8.5 to +12.5 tons and are suitable fo towing large vehicles like buses, RVs, semi-trucks, heavy machinery. Specialized Heavy-Duty Tow Trucks have a towing capacity over 25 tons and are suitable for extreme towing tasks like large construction equipment, heavily loaded trailers.