Triumphs and Troubles in the U.S. Towing Industry

From Rising Insurance Costs to Tow Show Tributes

Tow truck operators are everyday heroes to stranded motorists. Towing also fuels the livelihoods of more than 35,000 businesses in the U.S., according to the Towing Recovery Association of America. But the towing industry, like all sectors, has its troubles as well as triumphs. We recently spoke with Todd Chase about industry developments from his unique perspective as a tow financing professional, part-time tow operator and trainer. He and Mike Kendro are tow financing specialists at Advantage Funding, where Todd serves as national program manager.

Which towing industry trends are having the biggest impact on vehicle financing?

A huge trend right now is changes in the insurance market for tow operators. Some insurance carriers have backed out of the market, causing a spike in premiums for operators. At least part of the problem has been loss claims. Some insurers are deciding they no longer want the risk and are no longer going to write the coverage. So, what’s happening is that a tow company could get financing for a truck, but then find out the insurance rate for that truck and decide not to buy the vehicle.

A few months ago, this problem was just on the horizon. Now it’s happening, and some tow customers are having second thoughts about adding to their fleets or replacing old equipment.

What advice can you give tow companies that are feeling the pain of rising insurance premiums?

Fleet expansion and replacement continue to be important for the survival and growth of towing businesses. For the short term, a company’s goal should be to manage this in a way that allows for the possibility of higher insurance premiums. Vehicle financing professionals with tow industry experience can discuss creative financing and equipment options to make this happen.

Second, tow operators can make sure that they and their employees are properly trained to prevent as many accidents as possible and lower the risk in our industry. Deaths of tow operators who are killed while working roadside are a worker’s comp issue, which is separate from vehicle liability insurance. But vehicles can easily be damaged in tow, causing $5,000 or more in damage, and filing those claims with insurance companies is what causes the risk that concerns insurers. Proper training can reduce the likelihood of vehicle damages.

You can also call your insurance company to complain, but your voice will be much stronger if it is one of many. I suggest getting involved with your state towing association in addition to national associations. These associations represent the tow industry in your state and need their members’ support to become strong and rally the insurance companies. Rising insurance premiums may be affecting other vehicle markets, but the tow market is getting hit hardest.

Speaking of the importance of getting involved in the industry, two big tow shows are right around the corner. Which activities are you looking forward to this year?

The Tow Expo International in Dallas Aug. 17-19 will have a recovery show where they demonstrate and entertain with live recovery demos. It’s an interesting thing to see. Meeting tow operators from across the country is always another highlight for me. Advantage Funding will be there with a booth, and the Jerr-Dan Financial Solutions team will also be there supporting Jerr-Dan vendors. Please stop by and see us.

The Tennessee Tow Show is Sept. 14-16 in Chattanooga, and if you’ve never been to it I recommend attending the “Wall of the Fallen” ceremony 10 a.m. Saturday Sept. 16 at the International Towing & Recovery Hall of Fame & Museum. Names are added to the wall each year for tow operators who’ve died in the line of duty, and it’s a very emotional experience. In the towing industry, an operator gets killed every 6 days in the U.S. on average, according to museum estimates, and many of these deaths are roadside accidents.

The museum has also set up The Survivor Fund to give monetary support to families who’ve lost someone in the line of duty.

I also want to mention that a different event in the industry, The Spirit Ride, has been making a major impact as tow operators carry the “move-over awareness” message along the nation’s highways. The “Spirit” casket is travelling along America’s roadways in a relay involving tow car carriers across the country.  I haven’t seen it yet but it has been very successful, and other disciplines like fire and police have been involved in escorting the ride through their areas. The Spirit Ride is scheduled to make an appearance at the Tow Expo International in Dallas Aug. 19.

What are the current “move over” laws?

I think every state except Washington, DC, has a move-over law. Move-over laws generally require drivers to move over one lane before passing vehicles working at roadside, and if you’re unable to move to the next lane, you must slow down.

Even though there are move-over laws, it doesn’t mean people adhere to them. I’ve worked on the side of the road myself, and people just fly by on interstate highways, not moving over at all. Even if they adhere to the law, there are so many distracted drivers out there they don’t even realize you’re there on the side of the road! I’m a trainer for the Massachusetts State Tow Academy and we try to teach tow operators to be aware of the distractions of the motoring public.

Can you recommend roadside best practices to help keep tow drivers safe on the job?

Never leave the cab of your truck without high visibility clothing—a vest—and always try to operate from the non-road side of the vehicles as much as possible. You must go over to the traffic side some, but try to use your tow controls on the non-road side.

I don’t know many operators who wear head lamps, and they would have to be facing the direction of travel to be visible anyway. Because you’re moving a lot when you’re working, head lamps may not be that effective.

The most effective thing is to wear a high-visibility vest. An ANSI Class 3 Safety Vest has highly reflective material and you can get them any place you buy towing parts or buy them online. If you wear that vest, no matter where you are, it should be seen.