Tow Truck Training: Why It’s Crucial In Today’s Evolving Industry
December 1, 2022
When starting your towing business, it is important that tow truck operator training is a major part of your strategy. It’s never been more important for prospective towers to understand how to drive the trucks and properly operate them. For Ford Wagner, Chief Operating Officer at Texas Auto Carriers, tow truck training is everything.
“Think of your training not only as an investment in yourself but as an investment in our industry. I can’t stress that enough,” he said. “Our industry is constantly evolving. Just 10 years ago, we were barely talking about electric vehicles. Today, they’re in our faces. If you’re not getting the right type of tow truck or properly training your drivers, you’ll be left in the dust.”
Ford grew up in the towing industry and has an extensive background. He and his father started Texas Auto Carriers together in 1984. Then he went on to co-own the San Antonio-based company with his wife, LouAnn. His role in the industry goes much further, though.
“I am also a board member of the Texas Towing and Storage Association (TTSA) where I help train and educate drivers,” he said. “Last year, we ran about 15 light-duty tow truck training classes and a few heavy-duty programs as well. My background has always been in towing. It’s what I love.”
Why Is Tow Truck Training Important?
This is a question that can be answered in many different ways. To start, there are many more types of tow trucks on the roads today. This makes tow truck training all the more important. The difference between operating a carrier and a wrecker is a major responsibility that towers must treat with respect. This can play another key role in a driver’s tow truck training.
“There is so much responsibility in today’s world. And everybody has a phone or camera to record you with,” Ford said. “The amount of knowledge and training required to drive a truck down a road or highway and safely load and unload vehicles is huge. That’s why you can’t simply take a youngster with no experience and put them in the driver’s seat.”
The sharp rise in popularity of electric vehicles, for example, added another element to the tow truck training world. Because of their complex construction, simply loading or unloading these vehicles improperly could spell disaster.
“We know that accidents can damage or compromise electric batteries, so the vehicle could ignite into flames at any moment,” Ford said. “I know a tower that had an EV catch fire five times on the back of their truck.”
So, where can towers learn these skills? A great place to start is at tow shows, the Towing and Recovery Association of America (TRAA), or your state’s towing association. In Texas, there are five levels to the TTSA training and tow truck classes Ford helps conduct. His dedication and passion for tow truck training began when he fell just short of his level three TRAA certification in 1997. The level three certification, which covers more advanced recovery, is a two-part exam that can only be taken at the Baltimore or Florida tow shows.
“I went to Florida to try for my level three certification and I’ll never forget learning that I did not pass. I went home and started taking every training class I could in my region until 2017 when I tried again,” Ford began. “Since I’d been inactive, I needed to first pass the second level. But am happy to say that a few weeks later, I passed my written and oral exam.”
Ford tells his story to help motivate towers to keep pursuing their dreams. While there may be roadblocks along the way, don’t give up. Like Ford, continuing and furthering your education through tow truck training and classes should never get old.
Tow Truck Driver Requirements
The demand for tow truck operators continues to grow as more Americans take to the roads. Apart from certifications, there are several other requirements to be a tow truck driver.
Obtain a CDL
One of the most important qualifications is to have your CDL, or commercial driver’s license. You can operate a tow truck without a CDL. But if the gross vehicle weight rating, or GVWR, is 26,000 pounds or more, Ford believes it should be in every tower’s best interest to obtain their CDL.
“I think it is a common mistake out there that towers don’t feel the need to get a CDL,” he said. “There is a written and driving test that you’ll need to pass. I think in today’s world, proving that you can operate a truck goes a long way.”
Age And Physical Requirements
Federal law states that you must be at least 18 years old to operate a tow truck. It may be challenging to find work in the industry, as most companies will be looking for experience. Because of this, it is common to see companies advertise 21-25 as their minimum age.
On top of age, though, you must be in good physical condition and adaptable to many different scenarios when out on the job. Towing is physically demanding, so you may have to take a physical exam before being hired.
Complete Hands-On Tow Truck Operator Training
Your potential employer may require a lengthy tow truck training process before your hiring becomes official. Ford and his company don’t take the process lightly.
“A new driver in our program will be in a truck for at least one month shadowing another driver. The idea is to have the lead driver show them and demonstrate how to safely operate the vehicle,” he said. “Then, as quickly as possible, the lead driver will move over to the passenger seat and allow the new driver to start doing the heavy lifting.”
Being able to safely load and unload trucks can make or break a career. Always be sure to take your tow truck training seriously. It will help you safely and effectively take to the roads for years to come.
“Anyone that does something in this industry without proper training is at a huge disadvantage,” Ford said. “There is a big difference between knowing something and understanding it.”
Head over to our blog to read more stories and hear from industry experts on trending topics about towing.
What skills do you need to be a tow truck driver?
Besides being proactive in your tow truck operator training, it is important to be a versatile problem solver that is comfortable working in a physically demanding industry.
What are the two types of tow trucks?
In today’s industry, the most popular types of tow trucks are carriers and wreckers. Where carriers feature a flatbed for towing broken down or damaged vehicles, wreckers specialize in recovery jobs and heavy-duty towing.
What is the most you can tow without a CDL?
While obtaining your CDL is very important, you are able to operate a tow truck that has a gross vehicle weight rating of 26,000 or less without your CDL.
What is the highest CDL license?
The highest CDL is the “Class A” license. Often considered “universal”, a Class A CDL will allow operators to drive a wide range of commercial vehicles.