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Posted on Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 5:57 a.m.

Wrecker drivers are heroes of the hook and hoist

By Rich Kinsey

It may start with a police officer radioing dispatch, “Send me a hook!” It may be a call from a cranky motorist, late for work, on the hottest or coldest day of the year whose car won’t start because of a dead battery, keys locked in the car or some more serious mechanized malady.

Other days, a “wintry mix” will send motorists driving too fast for conditions and beyond the laws of physics — kinetic energy, friction and centrifugal force, to name a few — spinning into ditches, fixed objects or other vehicles. No matter how they are dispatched, wrecker drivers will push their tow trucks through any conditions to get us out of a jam.


Bill Shaw, from Triangle Towing, perches on top of the wheels of a rolled over semi truck as he pulls a strap over the top of the truck to help get the truck back upright after it crashed on eastbound I-94 between Liberty and Scio Church in 2009. file photo

Wrecker drivers come in all different shapes, sizes and dispositions. Some will smile and talk your ear off, while others are quiet, sullen and usually only grunt in answer to your question. Some constantly chomp the unlit stub of a cigar in their mouth while others look bookwormish, but all share a very dangerous and necessary job.

Wrecker drivers are some amazing individuals. They work in the worst weather conditions, at all hours of the day or night, usually with cars whizzing by, but they very seldom complain.

To police officers who watch them work, we have to gaze with amazement at how they slide through gravel, mud, snow or slush under wrecked cars and trucks, dragging tow hook and chains in order to clear the road. Other times officers will watch these experts navigate insanely tight spots, like the parking areas around off campus student housing, to “hook” a car and then somehow thread their wrecker and impounded car out of the same tight spot.

The most unique and common feature about all of these unsung heroes is that no matter what they are faced with, they all shrug their shoulders and as “Larry the Cable Guy” — who was also the voice of “Mater,” as in tow-mater the tow truck, in Disney’s "Cars" movies — would say, “Git R Done.”

Wrecker drivers all seem to share a cool head and a confidence that, whether it takes a wrecker or an army of wreckers, they will pull the twisted metal out of the ditch or the broken down bucket of bolts off the shoulder and clear the road.

Wrecker drivers around a college town get a bad rap because they are tasked with towing cars in violation of the law or parked on private property without permission or right. Those in violation, who did not read the signs, did not bother to obey the law or were just plain rude, will grumble and complain about how much the tow companies charge for their services, but there is usually an easy solution. Read the signs, obey the law and, if necessary, get up a little earlier in order to find a legal parking spot.

There is no sense getting angry with the wrecker driver who has been directed by the police or requested by a property owner to impound a car that is illegally parked. The man or woman hooking up the car is just doing his or her job. Those suffering their cars being towed and impounded are the ones at fault here.

We must also remember how dangerous it is to be a wrecker driver. There are no real statistics on tow truck driver fatalities — because they are lumped in with all truck drivers — but several trade journals estimate 35 to 50 tow truck divers die in traffic incidents annually. Many states, including Michigan, have enacted “Move Over Laws” to make all emergency workers on the side of the road safer.


A tow truck makes its way down Fourth Street on a snowy winter day.

Melanie Maxwell | file photo

In Michigan, the law mandates that if a motorist sees emergency lights on the side of the road and there is more than one lane traveling in their direction, they are to move out at least one lane away from the emergency vehicles and personnel, if that lane of traffic is clear. If the lane is not clear or if there is only one lane in their direction, they must slow down to a safe speed — including stopping if necessary — and move as far away from the emergency crews as they can safely do so, in order that emergency crews (police, fire, ambulance and wreckers) can complete their work.

These are good laws that make it safer for emergency workers to operate. The high visibility garments, which federal laws now mandate that workers on the side of the road wear, also save lives.

Now it is up to us. We drivers must pay more attention, slow down and keep wrecker drivers and all who work along side our highways safe.

So next time you see a wrecker driver plying his trade by the side of the road, first slow down, next move over a lane if possible and then metaphorically doff your hat at these heroes of the hook and hoist. Send them all your good thoughts or prayers that they stay safe and can find you and your car swiftly next time you need them.

Lock it up, don’t leave it unattended, be aware and watch out for your neighbors.

Rich Kinsey is a retired Ann Arbor police detective sergeant who now blogs about crime and safety for


Steve Johnson

Fri, Aug 10, 2012 : 5:39 p.m.

The majority of this article is spot on when it comes to the actual employees that represent these towing companies. I worked in the industry for over 10 years, and I can say without question, that the people I worked with were some of the best at what they do. The biggest reason for high prices is not the cost of fuel or equipment, its due to the extremely low prices that companies like AAA pay these towing companies to provide service to their members. When I left the industry, AAA was paying a towing company about $24.00 for a service call which included a tow up to the first 5 miles. Its this kinda strangle hold on towing companies that forces them to make up for it in other ways. Towing for the Police requires competing for a contract that covers that particular area of town, and those prices are set with in that contract, based on the known guidelines set forth before bids are excepted.


Fri, Aug 10, 2012 : 6:53 a.m.

This is for the folks that have a problem with wrecker drivers being a hero. How many of you have been in there shoes? How many of you could actually do it? Not many i'm sure. We all know sum jobs are dangerous but how many farmers an roofers have gotten hit by a drunk driver. Think about did santa do a fly by. They work 24/7 never knowing what there next call is gonna b. Could sum of u even stomach sum of the things they are called to. So the next time u c a wrecker driver think about the family he or she has at home. While there out helpin an takin care of others we sit at home prayin they'll make it back home. So yea they are heros. An if sum have a problem with the word hero. Then the next time you break down maybe u should call someone with a hammer an a plow. Not a Tow Truck. Just sayin


Fri, Aug 10, 2012 : 6:21 a.m.

@ TravisT: I will try to explain why an impound costs more than a tow. 1) To be on the police rotation, a towing company must meet certain higher standards as far as number of trucks, condition of trucks, types of trucks, insurance levels, and most importantly, availability. A call from law enforcement must be answered immediately, 24 hours/day. Often police expect the tow truck to be on scene within 20-30 minutes. 2) A towing company must maintain a secure, locked, fenced impound yard with additional insurance for the yard and an office which is staffed long hours by someone who can handle difficult customers. 3) There is a huge amount of paperwork involved including coordination with police, finding out who the registered owner is, sending certified letters sent to the registered owner of the vehicle, and determining if the person who comes to claim the vehicle is the legal owner. 4) Along with towing illegally parked vehicles, there are abandoned vehicles which are required to be towed and for which the towing company will probably never be able to collect any payment at all, but all the paperwork must be done and the proper wait periods followed. 5) Towing companies often hold auctions to dispose of these vehicle, but rarely receive as much money as is owed on the vehicle for the sale. The rest of the vehicles go to the scrap yard. 6) In some communities, towing companies must pay to be on the rotation list with the police. Believe me, towing companies are not getting rich towing impounded vehicles.

Fat Bill

Sat, Aug 11, 2012 : 3:44 p.m.

Remember too, that because of the 24-hour police contract coverage requirements, between police calls the general public has access to towing and road service 24-hours per day, every day of the year. In more rural areas, you would be hard pressed to find a tow company willing to come change your flat tire on the side of the road at 3 AM. In Ann Arbor, there are 3 companies standing by for police calls; somebody will be able to come out, generally for a reasonable rate. If only one company is open at 3 AM, can you guess how much a flat tire, jump start, lockout, or winch-out may cost?


Fri, Aug 10, 2012 : 1:39 a.m.

I love these guys and the humor they have. Especially when they gave me the wrong tow truck to get a stuck school bus out of a snowy ditch. Ice sent me packing. Thanks for the giggles. Can't wait to see you folks next winter. Yes, there are two different types of two trucks.

Craig Lounsbury

Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 9:28 p.m.

The word "hero" has gotten awfully cheap lately. Tow truck drivers aren't heroes by definition of their job description, sorry. Farmers and roofers have more dangerous jobs and nobody calls them heros for showing up to work. A hero is a 62 year old Vietnam veteran who steps in front of a bullet and gives up his life for his 12 year old granddaughter. That's a hero. A tow truck driver is just a tow truck driver unless, as an individual, he/she does something heroic outside their job description.


Fri, Aug 10, 2012 : 1:42 a.m.

Sorry but these guys do put their lives on the line when they have to get a stuck school bus out of a ditch holding a few children on the bus because if we got them out? It would be more dangerous then not. Especially on ice. So watch your wording next time you see a tow truck come and get your family member out of a stuck situation.

Fat Bill

Fri, Aug 10, 2012 : 12:40 a.m.

Of course roofers don't have to worry about a drunk or distracted driver plowing into them while they are nailing triple tab. But yes, most tow operators are just working like everybody else.

Donald Hickman

Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 6:22 p.m.

First off, Mr. Kinsey, thanks for this. In my 20 yrs of towing, I have never seen someone write something that praised what I do to the extent that you have outside of my trade publications. Thank you. > observer. If it seems excessive, you should try on that shoe. With equipment prices, both rolling and tools, chains, safety equipment. Then there's insurance, fuel, tires, maintenance. Then driver wages for good drivers, that will show up, answer the phone at all hours of the night, maintain a valid license and pass a drug test at the same time. And training the driver so he knows how to do his job, taking care of you're (or you're wife and or child's) vehicle in what ever predicament it's in at what ever time, in what ever condition you may find you're self in. Yes, it's expensive. I agree. Excessive, no. I have to pay the same price you do. Thanks again Mr Kinsey. It's nice to be appreciated. Don Hickman Rusk, TX.


Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 2:58 p.m.

According to a report by the Detroit Free Press, the average purchase prices of new cars has risen from $28,160 in 2009 to $29,217 in 2010. (and prices rise by at least 3% annually): So it's no wonder getting your car out of that ditch costs a bit. Costs of fuel, maintenance and insurance have also risen significantly over time. In reality though: cost in proportion of income remains roughly the same: due to constant pressure to get more money for the work we do. So inflation of the dollar is built into our car-centric economy due to such factors as the cost of personal transportation. Nice little treadmill we're running on, eh? A good new bike costs 1/75th as much, no fuel cost, no insurance cost, no license plate cost and almost zero maintenance cost. Better yet: bicycles kill exactly ZERO tow truck drivers. We are SO isolationist in our thinking that we completely miss the fact that people in European countries enjoy this wildly successful transportation alternative. The average American spends an hour per day commuting to work (in a car). And that's when there are no break downs or collisions requiring a $100 tow job. The high cost of parking downtown is completely eliminated: the money saved buys a LOT of other good stuff.

Fat Bill

Sat, Aug 11, 2012 : 3:36 p.m.

We are ready to tow more busses and fewer cars; bring it on! Until some major cultural or economic shift occurs in our society, it will only get worse. In Ann Arbor, simply parking is a major economic concern. Property that might otherwise be redeveloped in and around campus and downtown is instead rented out for parking. Owners of this land are forced to protect their interests by having these lots patrolled. Tow companies profit from the removal of illegally parked cars. The city profits from parking tickets for people unable to park on private property violating city parking laws. Attorneys from both sides make money when they have people try to sue the city, the property owner, and/or the tow company over having their car towed. It is a constant cycle, a definite P.I.T.A.

Tom Todd

Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 2:54 p.m.

Everyone expects those without a college education and or teachers, to make peanuts for a living and believe the jobs that said people do who don't have a degree are Easy.

Fat Bill

Fri, Aug 10, 2012 : 12:42 a.m.

Everyone assumes that wrecker drivers lack higher education....not the case around here.

jacob ruppel

Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 2:42 p.m.

I would have to agree with all the comments on this page. Quick question for you guus. Do you wrecker sport red lights lime the one in the pic? And while hooked and towing are you required to run lights active?

Fat Bill

Fri, Aug 10, 2012 : 12:44 a.m.

Red lights are only used at the scene while stationary...and while driving along shoulders in the backups approaching a freeway crash scene.


Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 2:40 p.m.

I'd like to know why people get to park outside my house in a no parking zone all day without getting towed, but when my own car was accidentally left there after a party it was towed first thing in the morning, as soon as it becomes a no parking zone. Is it because of my out of state license plate? Or just an inconsistent city policy? Either way, thanks for letting everyone park in front of my house except for me!

jacob ruppel

Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 2:45 p.m.

Travis t i would have to say it would be the inconsistent city tow policy. I do know that some states (north carolina) will tow your car if your in a no parking zone with say a new york plate. They really are supposed to put a 24 hr tow warning tag and if the vehicle owner does not comply with in the set time then you ha e to pay the impound fees.


Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 1:55 p.m.

Good article! I think these guys and gals are taken for granted. I know I've been thankful for quick and reliable tow service when and where it is least convenient (of course that's always how it happens). Also, I work on a volunteer fire department and I've seen tow truck drivers pull mangled cars out of some pretty awkward places. They're always there when we need them...thank you tow drivers!

Thomas Rollins

Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 1:19 p.m.

Good article. I have dealt with wrecker drivers and wrecker companies both personally and professionally. They do the jobs that most of us cant do or are unwilling to do, such as change a tire in a storm. Jump your car in a snowstorm or remove your car after an accident. This guys help fire departments and law enforcement open roads qucker after accidents or other emergency incidents. The down side is high fees, which they are requried to charge for the state or local government. Most tow fees are under $100 which is reasonable So pull to the left when you see a tow driver doing their job on the side of the road and give them a brake slow down when approaching them on the side of the road.

Becky Monroe

Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 12:21 p.m.

I'd be happy to try and help you understand why the cost of a tow truck seems to be a bit excessive. Most important in my opinion is the risks they take. For the year 2012 the towing and recovery industry has lost 20 people and counting so far. The majority of them died along side the highway/roadway. A risk we take willingly for sure but one none the less that compromises our family life in the event that one of us is struck down. Being private business owners, many of us don't have great health care, high wages and lost wage benefits. In addition to that, the cost of our equipment is not what one might expect. An average sized tow truck and the necessary equipment to make it a wrecker is approximately $65-$75K for one truck. Training for drivers/operators to be able to properly use and operate their equipment is costly but well worth it. The kicker is General LIability Insurance for the trucks. We're a small fleet, we pay an avg of $40+K a year for ins. Repairs and maintenence on our trucks so that they can pass a DOT inspection on any given day, not cheap and the price of fuel, well you know about that! There are a lot of factors involved in calculating the cost of every job these men/women and trucks perform. We are no longer Cooter with booms in the backs of our pickup trucks towing your 1965 Malibu off the roads. The make/model of what you drive also affects the cost of your service! While there are a few tow companies out here who do not invest in training and equpment maintence and yes even some who gouge, the biggest share of our industry is honest and trust worthy and will go the distance to take good care of you when you are in need of their assistance.

Superior Twp voter

Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 6:13 p.m.

Excellent response and info.

Becky Monroe

Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 12:23 p.m.

And did you know that a good number of tow co. owners are also Firefihters and EMS people? NOT ALL but a good number of us are and proud to be so! I'd encourage you to question your bill for service. If you believe it is a bit excessive, consider where you broke down, how long it took to get to you and what it required to get you off the road/highway to safety. Then was worth it to you to pay their fee and would you be wiling to do the things he/she did to take care of your needs.


Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 12:05 p.m.

If you have a problem with a wrecker driver, or how much they charge, I would recommend the following: 1. Make sure you have enough gas in your vehicle before you drive it somewhere. 2. Maintain said vehicle. That means making sure your tires have tread and air, and you should change your oil every once in a while. It may also help to take it in for routine maintenance as determined by the manufacturer. 3. Don't park your car illegally (e.g. don't block a street, don't park your car in someone's yard that you do not know, those sorts of things). 4. Pay your car note on time. Please don't threaten to shoot the wrecker driver because you can't afford the Escalade you just bought. 5. Don't drive 80 mph on the highway during a snowstorm. 6. Don't try to go offroading in your little 2wd pickup truck, or worse, your family sedan. 7. Etc.

jacob ruppel

Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 12:01 p.m.

Hello i would like to say the content is dead on. I advocate for tow truck operators and their families and have done some public speaking on the slow down and move over law. There was a bit of information that was "incorrect" every year 60 tow truck operators are killed by hit and run or " strike bys". This year alone we have had 21 in the united states killed in the line of duty. And some 40 or more world wide. And to answer observers question about the high prices for service. It will depend on if the tow company set its own rates or goes through an auto club such as AAA. The car clubs set the rate that the companies can charge. So 90% of the time it would be the car care clubs responsible for the higher prices for services.


Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 11:46 a.m.

Maybe you can tell me why they charge so much......seems a bit excessive......


Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 2:47 p.m.

@gb946 It is the city's job to punish me, which they do by writing me a very expensive ticket (much more in a tow away zone than in other areas). What the tow truck company is doing is taking advantage of the fact that there is no supply and demand. If I could choose who towed me, they would have to compete for the lowest price. Since I do not choose the company, they can charge whatever they want. Tripling the price is definitely unethical because it's not their job to teach me a lesson. They are merely performing a standard service. Also, see my post below about why I consider the circumstances of my car being towed to be questionable.


Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 2:38 p.m.

The higher the tow and storage bill the better lesson you learn to watch where you park the next time to avoid being towed. Break the law and park illegally, get towed and hopefully learn a lesson.


Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 2:36 p.m.

@Arbuckle Maybe a better question then is why does the tow truck company charge you $100 when you ask them to tow your car, and $280 when the city asks them to tow your car (and this does not include the cost of the ticket and associated fees)? Seems kind of unethical to jack up the price for people who have no say in the matter, especially since illegal parking jobs are probably the least dangerous for the tow truck drivers. They're certainly less dangerous than getting a car on the side of the highway.


Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 1:48 p.m.

I've had to call for a tow several times and I don't believe it has ever been over $100. I'd say that's pretty good considering the price of fuel for a big truck, insurance cost, worker's wage, and their speedy service. Maybe you're using the wrong company and need to shop around...


Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 1:14 p.m.

Because the people that hire them don't care about the price. The people whose cars are towed don't get a say I the matter.


Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 12:21 p.m.

Suppy and demand is a wonderful thing. If they are charging too much and making too much money feel free to go into business charging the lesser amount you feel is fair. Since it will be much less than they do, you will get all the business and be a success. What an opportunity!


Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 12:15 p.m.

Lets see. 100,000 dollar truck Business Licenses Training Big Insurance Policy One of the most dangerous professions in history often putting their lives at great risk rescuing you. Providing an emergency service getting you out of a jackpot.... ?