Types of Tow Trucks: Flatbed, Hook & Chain, and More

Types of Tow Truck

A tow truck is a vital component of the towing industry, as it provides indispensable services like vehicle recovery and transportation to a wide range of customer requirements!

However, not all tow trucks function in the same way or serve the same purpose. 

This article is a complete guide to the different types of tow trucks and their specific applications. 

If you are looking for information on which tow truck is the ideal choice for your situation, we’ll provide a comprehensive breakdown of the following: 

  • Flatbed trucks 
  • Wheel-lift trucks
  • Hook and chain trucks 
  • Boom trucks 
  • Other types

Let’s get started!

Flatbed Tow Truck

Flatbed Tow Truck

A flatbed or rollback tow truck is equipped with a flat-surfaced empty bed on its rear for carrying vehicles. This type of tow truck utilizes a hydraulic system that shifts the flatbed up and down vertically to mount a vehicle. 

When an operator is going to pick up a vehicle, all they have to do is simply position the flatbed on the ground and drive the vehicle over it!

If a particular car can’t be driven because it is inoperable, the operator will apply a winch and chains to help haul the vehicle onto the flatbed. 

Once the vehicle is secure on the bed, the truck’s strong hydraulics will lift the bed along with the vehicle up into an unmovable poison behind the cab. 

Flatbed trucks are one of the most common types of tow trucks that you will encounter due to their ease of operation. 

You’ll often spot them on the road towing cars to their designated location. Recovery towing companies generally use flatbed trucks to transport vehicles that have completely broken down or have been in an accident. 

Using a flatbed truck is one of the most popular and safest ways to tow vehicles because they do not drag the vehicle or place any potentially dangerous pressure on it. 

This kind of truck protects a vehicle from harmful conditions during towing because it takes all the stress, making it an excellent choice for long-distance transportation. 

Aside from moving damaged or disabled vehicles, the gentle towing method of flatbed trucks makes it an ideal option for luxury cars, classic cars, motorcycles, and more! 

However, one of the biggest drawbacks of using a flatbed truck is its overall cost. They are generally more expensive to maintain and operate – resulting in more costly towing fees

Wheel-Lift Tow Truck

Wheel-Lift Tow Truck

As opposed to being hauled or tilted, a wheel-lift truck incorporates lifting as a method to tow a vehicle. 

The specific lifting component of this type of tow truck is known as a Yoke, which is located on the underside of its front wheel tires. 

It functions as a hook that is attached to the back of the truck, leaving minimal to no damage to occur on the vehicle being towed since it is lifted off the ground. 

Similar to flatbed trucks, wheel-lift tow trucks are relatively simple to operate and are mainly used for disabled cars that need to be towed off the highway right away!

They also provide flexibility because vehicles can be attached to either the front or back wheels – not to mention that they can even be used to transport passengers as well. 

Wheel-lift tow trucks are a fast and efficient way to tow a vehicle without having to load it onto a truck bed. 

This type of tow truck is incredibly versatile and ideal for both short or medium-distanced towing. Additionally, since they do not use chains, there isn’t as much strain on the vehicle being towed. 

As a result, operators don’t have to worry about a car’s bumper getting scratched. This makes wheel-lift trucks an appropriate choice for vehicles in need of repair instead of those headed toward a junkyard. 

Furthermore, the faster hookup process and easier maneuverability make it more suited for lighter vehicles or those that need towing in tiger spaces. 

In terms of potential drawbacks, wheel-lift tow trucks are not a good choice for low or heavy vehicles!

They should also be strictly avoided if the two wheels that come in contact with the road cannot roll safely due to certain issues. 

This means that the vehicle to be towed should have no flat tires and no problems rolling when the transmission is in neutral. 

Hook and Chain Tow Truck

Hook and Chain Tow Truck

Professional roadside services often employ a hook-and-chain tow truck for towing junked vehicles. 

It is basically equipped with a hook at the back for securing a vehicle, suspending one in the air while the opposite’s wheels are on the ground during towing.

The hook itself can even be extended to the bumper while the chain is wrapped around its frame and has the ability to pull a vehicle out if ever it is stuck in snow or off-road conditions. 

The robust build of a hook-and-chain tow truck also allows for the efficient and safe removal of cars damaged in collisions, making it ideal for responding to road accidents. 

When a vehicle has axle damage or experiences a flat tire, these tow trucks are a reliable solution thanks to their secure attachment – even when the vehicle has compromised wheels! 

One of the biggest advantages of a hook-and-chain tow truck is its simplicity and fewer moving parts. 

This enhances its overall durability and reduces the likelihood of having to deal with any mechanical issues. Its adaptability and straightforward design make it a preferred choice for streamlining the towing process of disabled vehicles. 

Aside from towing, an operator can attach the hook to a piece of cargo to pull it behind as they head towards their destination. 

Hook and chain trucks were once the standard in the towing industry but have since fallen out because of their high potential for causing damage to a vehicle’s frame or body during operations. 

As such, they are less common today and not recommended for modern vehicles that are built with complex drivetrains. 

Not only are hook-and-lift trucks incompatible with four-wheel or all-wheel drives due to dragging, but they can cause serious scratches as well. 

Currently, they are more commonly seen as a cost-cutting method for quickly towing totaled cars or heavily damaged vehicles. 

Boom Tow Truck

Boom Tow Truck

Boom tow trucks, also known as boom wreckers, function similarly to hook and chain trucks. 

They are built with an adjustable boom winch that extends and retracts. This device consists of a hydraulic arm to lift the vehicle from the ground and helps in keeping the truck balanced while towing a vehicle!

Its precise maneuvering abilities and added flexibility allow it to reach challenging angles during a recovery operation, especially in off-road terrain.  

Compared to the other trucks on this list, a boom tow truck causes less damage by making use of a sling or belt for hauling a vehicle. However, it’s important to note that they are not suitable for vehicles with all-wheel drive. 

Instead, this type of tow truck can really help you get a lot done when it comes to pulling vehicles out of ditches, embankments, and hard-to-reach locations. 

They are an incredibly versatile piece of equipment that can rotate and even lift heavy loads, making them ideal for recovering larger vehicles. 

Other Types of Tow Trucks

Depending on the specific requirements of a given towing situation, the different types of tow trucks also come in highly specialized variations:

Integrated Tow Truck 

Integrated tow trucks are some of the most powerful and invaluable pieces of equipment used in the towing industry!

This type of tow truck is capable of handling various vehicle sizes by essentially combining the features of a flatbed truck and a regular tow truck. They have both enhanced safety and increased efficiency during the removal and towing process. 

These tow trucks primarily specialize in the recovery and towing of heavy-duty vehicles like rigs and buses. They are even used in hauling vehicles for repossession because of how fast and easy it is to hook up. 

An integrated tow truck generally comes with an integrated wheel lift, boom, and an extra axle to help better withstand the immense pressure during transport. 

An integrated tow truck’s arms are installed in its core for more strength and stability. An operator doesn’t have to leave the truck when picking up a vehicle because they can easily control the boom and wheel-lift system from the cab.

Heavy-Duty Tow Truck

Heavy-duty rotator tow trucks, also known as oversized tow trucks, are the pinnacle of current tow truck technology because they are equipped to handle even the trickiest and most demanding recovery operations. 

These trucks are built with powerful engines, heavy-duty winches, and reinforced frames that can handle extreme amounts of weight. 

For recovery operations that need absolute precision, a rotating crane is applied to lift and position heavy loads. This allows the truck to efficiently respond to rollovers, accidents, or other emergencies that involve large vehicles. 

Towing companies use these heavy-duty trucks and recovery units in their fleet to handle large construction equipment, semi-trucks, boats, tractor-trailers, and a wide variety of other oversized vehicles. 

This makes them an integral service for those in the commercial and industrial sectors!