What to Expect When You’re Expecting… to be Towed: Part 1

You’re making for a great day. The radio is playing your favourite songs, you’re logging profitable miles and its one of those days you love being a driver.

Then it happens. A little yellow light illuminates on the dash or there is a big pop noise and suddenly your good day goes bad.

If you have to call a tow truck, here are a few tips to help you save some money, downtime and aggravation in a tow situation:

1. Stop somewhere safe and stay in the truck. I know this is not always possible, but try to get the unit out of the intersection if you’re in the city. Or get it all the way on the shoulder. (Be careful of soft shoulders in the spring and fall, especially if you are loaded heavy — or we’ll be calling more then one tow truck!)

Staying in the truck keeps you safe. It keeps you available to be contacted by cell or satellite in case we need more information. The only reason you should get out of the truck is to put out your triangles, flares or cones, and to…

2. Open the hood. I know this sounds like I am contradicting myself, but if you have to get out at all, open the hood, regardless of the type of breakdown. It immediately lets other drivers know the situation and you will find less road rage if you are blocking a lane or ramp. It also indicates to any law enforcement that you are not illegal parked.

Opening the hood is especially helpful if the unit is in a yard, truck stop or a busy street. There could be hundreds of trucks in the small area, especially if you’re with a fleet that has matching colors or trucks. Finding the unit could be difficult. This saves the tow truck time and saves you money. Remember, most tow trucks are hourly.

3. Have all the information at hand. Dispatchers and tow truck drivers need important information: location, orientation, weight, type of break down, where the unit is going, are we splitting truck from trailer, etc. If you’re a company driver, it’s a good idea to check all of this out through your company dispatch before you call for a tow. If you’re an owner operator, this is a good opportunity to check around for pricing and availability.

During this step, loads that require permits or TDG paperwork should be arranged as well. Many provincial laws require this documentation to be carried in the “powered” unit, and since yours isn’t running too “powered” on the back of the tow truck, it’s best the operator takes it along.

4. Make the commitment. Once the decision has been made to contact a tow truck driver, clearly provide all the information you collected in step three. Follow any instructions they may have in preparations for the truck to arrive.

The sooner you make the call, the sooner the tow truck will arrive. If you wait too long, especially if you are a blocking a lane or a busy street, law enforcement might be “nice” and choose who will tow you. This is not recommended as you will have little say over price once you’re on the back of someone else’s hook.

Depending on your load configuration, a tow operator or dispatcher may ask you to unpin the trailer or stay pinned. It’s always good to ask if there is anything you can do before hand.

Never unpin unless directed to do so by the operator on scene or a law enforcement agent. This is especially true if you are on a soft shoulder or on a major route.

5. Lastly, a little tip I learned from my years towing: most jurisdictions in Canada consider a break down a non-driving, off-duty activity. This classification can help save precious on-duty/driving hours by logging off-duty. But always check your local and provincial regulations and laws. Keeping your log book up to date will give you something to do during the wait and can help reduce some break down anxiety.

Next we’ll cover the steps when the tow truck arrives and billing…

Michael King is a service advisor with a Freightliner and Western Star dealer in Ontario. His experience includes over 5 years of certified heavy wrecker operation and logistics in both the military and private sector.

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