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When broken down and waiting for assistance, it’s important to know which type of tow truck is best suited to your car to minimise any additional damage during transit. Not every tow truck is capable of moving all types of vehicles, so make sure you inform the towing service of your car’s year, make and model to ensure that the correct truck is used. The two main types of tow truck are wheel-lift trucks, which pull the vehicle on a pair of its own wheels, and flatbed trucks which lift the vehicle completely off the ground to rest on a flat platform.  

When towing any two-wheel-drive car, the drive wheels must be never in contact with the ground as this can cause critical damage to the transmission and drivetrain. Even if the car is in neutral, the car should not be towed on its drive wheels; although neutral disengages the engine from the transmission, it does not disengage the wheels from the transmission. As the drive wheels turn the transmission turns; this is dangerous as while the engine is off there is nothing actively cooling or lubricating the transmission and overheating can result. So, for front-wheel-drive vehicles, the front wheels should be elevated and vice versa for rear-wheel-drive. For all-wheel-drive and automatic cars, none of the wheels should touch the road and only flatbed trucks may be used.

Flatbed Trucks

Although the more expensive option, when it comes to towing, flatbed trucks provide the most protection to your vehicle. The vehicle is hoisted onto the flat platform at the back of the truck by hydraulics (if the car cannot drive itself onto the platform) and is fastened in place before transportation. Flatbed trucks can transport vehicles efficiently and safely because the car is not dragged behind and cannot collide with roadside debris. Flatbed trucks are the only truck type which can transport heavy, automatic, or four-wheel drive vehicles, but due to the simplicity of a flatbed, it is capable of moving almost any other type of vehicle, including boats. Securing the vehicle to the platform can be more complicated than the attachment process in wheel-lift trucks, but the extra time required is worth the added protection if damage is to be minimised.

Wheel-lift Trucks

There are two types of wheel-lift trucks, those which use the older hook and chain method or those equipped with more modern ‘metal yokes’. Both are less safe than flatbed trucks because the vehicle being towed is essentially dragged behind the truck and is likely to collide with anything on the road. Despite this, the services provided by these types of trucks are usually more affordable than the flatbed alternative. 

Hook and chain trucks are only recommended for transporting wrecked vehicles as the hook, which is attached directly to the vehicle’s axle or body, will almost always cause some sort of damage. The chain which connects the hook to the truck can also scratch and dent the exterior of the vehicle, so it’s best to use this method only when extra damage to the vehicle during transport is not of concern.

Wheel-lift trucks which use a metal yoke and hydraulic lift to suspend the drive wheels are more stable and therefore safer. Without the hook and chain, the chances of damage in transit and damage to the car body decrease.

It’s essential to consider the condition of your vehicle and the situation you are in before contacting a towing company. But in a pinch, it’s probably best to use a flatbed truck despite their price.