Types of Tow Trucks

The 4 Main Classes of Tow Trucks

As many know that there are different cars and trucks for each lifestyle and job needed. Tow trucks are much the same. There are four different classes of tow trucks that can be used for various reasons. So what are the four main classes of tow trucks?

The four classes of tow trucks are:

  1. Flatbed or Rollback
  2. Hook and Chain
  3. Integrated
  4. Wheel Lift

With so many different classes of tow trucks, you may be wondering what each tow truck is used for and what makes them different from the others. This article can help explain each class, not only what sets them apart from the others, but how they are typically used.

What makes a Tow Truck a Tow Truck?

There are many things that make a tow truck a tow truck. The main reason is that a tow truck is just that: a truck or vehicle that tows away broken down, impounded vehicles that need to be moved.

A tow truck is not the same as a car carrier, which transports several new or used cars to a different location. Tow trucks are typically used in situations where there are accidents or transportation of a disabled car to a mechanic shop.

What is the Most Common Tow Truck?

With so many types and classes of tow trucks, you may be wondering what the most common tow truck is. The most common tow truck can vary depending on the methods. However, in the past, the tow trucks that were used the most were the hook-and-chain type.

These tow trucks were more common because they were typically more useful for already damaged cars.

The 4 Main Classes of Tow Trucks

Since tow trucks are used for different things, there are more than one type and a class of tow trucks.

The 4 main classes of tow trucks are:

  1. Flatbed or Rollback
  2. Hook and Chain
  3. Integrated
  4. Wheel Lift

With four main classes, tow trucks can be used for different types of reasons.

Flatbed or Rollback

Flatbed tow trucks are typically used to transport vehicles on their flat-topped bed. To pick up any vehicle, they place the flatbed on the ground and simply drive the vehicle onto it; however, if a car or truck is disabled, chains would be placed that pulls the vehicle onto the flatbed.

Once the vehicle is in place, this tow truck then uses its hydraulic system to lift the bed back up and into place. The flatbed tow truck is a great option to use since it offers a safer, less-damaging way to tow a vehicle.

Hook and Chain

When there are junk vehicles, these tow trucks are typically used. Since they use a heavy-duty hook and chain that is attached to the rear, the vehicle in question is lifted halfway and pulled behind. With this method, a car or truck is being transported this way, and the chances of damage are high.

The damage caused to these cars is due to them being dragged behind the tow truck with their bumper and other parts like the drivetrains, in danger.


What happens when a bus or a rig needs to be towed? The only tow trucks that are capable of towing these bigger vehicles are integrated tow trucks.

Integrated tow trucks are faster when it comes to hooking up to other vehicles. The swift hooks up make this tow truck perfect for those jobs that include repossessions and illegal parking.

Since integrated tow truck operators can control the lifting and connecting system from inside, they do not have to leave their trucks for towing. This is due to the wheel lift and boom being in a single unit instead of separated.

Wheel Lift

The wheel lift tow truck is pretty much an updated version of the hook and chain tow trucks. However, wheel lift trucks have a metal yoke that secures the vehicle and is placed via the operator below the car or truck’s front or back wheels.

Even though this setup is similar to a hook-and-chain tow truck, there is not as much pressure on the vehicle that is being towed. This means that the damage that is typically caused by the hook and chain tow trucks doesn’t happen with the wheel lifts.

What are Big Tow Trucks Called?

With so many different-sized vehicles out there, you may be wondering what the biggest tow truck is. The biggest tow truck is called a Rotator Tow Truck. This tow truck is one of the biggest out there.

Rotator tow trucks are considered big trucks. They are typically called into jobs that require more lifting and towing than the normal tow trucks you see every day. There are three uses for these trucks.

  1. Heavy-Duty Towing
  2. Towing vehicles from embankments and ditches
  3. Recoveries from freeways

Heavy-Duty Towing

Since the rotator tow truck is one of the heaviest and largest of them all, they come with a pivoting crane-like arm that helps with towing large vehicles like tractor-trailers and other large vehicles. They have the capacity to lift up to 70 tons, making them perfect tow trucks for these heavy and larger jobs.

Towing from Embankments and Ditches

Sometimes some accidents involve a vehicle running up an embankment or into a ditch. When this happens, rotator tow trucks are perfect for the job of getting them out. Since their arm rotates 360 degrees, they can pull any vehicle out of a ditch and off embankments.

Recoveries from Freeways

When an accident or disabled car is on the freeway a lot of space is typically required. This means multiple lanes are shut down by police and traffic is backed up. Rotator tow trucks can winch cars and trucks into an uptight position with a small amount of space.

Rotator tow trucks are also able to work parallel to any vehicle needing to be towed and this is beneficial in accidents because it allows for more lanes to be open for traffic.

What’s the Difference Between a Tow Truck and a Wrecker?

When you hear of a tow truck, you may also think of a wrecker. However, the two are not the same.

A wrecker is used when recovery may be needed since they have a large boom with extra cables. This allows more precise access to the vehicles needing to be moved.

Even though tow trucks can have booms as well, they are typically flatbeds. This means that when a tow truck is needed, the vehicle is pulled or driven up onto the flatbed and then raised back onto the truck.


Tow trucks can be used for a multitude of reasons. Some are made with junkyards and accidents in mind while others are used for those trips to impounds, repossessions, and car mechanics.

There are bigger tow trucks that are used for bigger jobs of loading and towing large vehicles like buses and tractor-trailers. In cases such as this, a rotator tow truck can be the go-to since it offers a more precise access and can be used in different areas and terrains.