6 Different Types of Tow Trucks

Tow trucks are not only used by towing companies; individuals that move heavy tons may prefer buying a tow truck – heavy-duty pickup trucks, actually – to help them move their work/construction equipment easily.

There are different types of tow trucks; each is useful in towing specific types of loads. Rollback/flatbed tow trucks, integrative tow trucks, wheel lift tow trucks, and hook and chain trucks are common tow trucks types.

This type of truck is built with sturdy components and rugged tires, so they can go through any terrain and pull as much as 50,000-pound weights or much more.

Now, let’s quickly learn more about tow truck and the different types we have!

What is a Tow Truck?

A tow truck (also called a wrecker or recovery vehicle) is a truck vehicle designed to move other motor vehicles or heavy equipment (e.g., construction plants). Tow trucks are deployed to move vehicles that broke down on the road or improperly parked cars.

Tow trucks are also used for impounding vehicles that go against road usage rules or for recovering a vehicle damaged in an accident. There are quite many scenarios where tow trucks can come in handy; each type of tow truck has specific usage requirements.

Types of Tow Trucks

1. Flatbed Trucks (Rollback Trucks)

Flatbed or Rollback trucks are a type of tow truck with a long flatbed – all the truck’ rear serves as the bed. The bed of flatbed trucks can be hydraulically inclined to specific lengths for different reasons.

This type of tow truck is used to tow long vehicles or equipment. In the United States, flatbed trucks are used to tow “badly-damaged cars.”

A flatbed tow truck can comfortably carry up to three or more small cars on its bed. The bed inclines, reclines, pulls out and pulls back swiftly with the push of a button. Aside from towing immobile cars, a flatbed tow truck can transport brand-new vehicles from the manufacturing plant to the respective dealership.

Cars placed on top of a flatbed tow truck are secured using a winch so they don’t slide either way. This is the most common type of tow truck, and you’ve probably seen it many times on the road. Some people call it a rollback truck, a wrecker, a breakdown truck, or a breakdown lorry.

2. Hook and Chain Trucks

Photo by Odysseus1479 via Wikimedia

Hook and chain tow trucks are a type of tow truck with an affixed hook and a chain for towing other vehicles that are probably badly damaged due to an accident or failed engine. Well, hook and chain tow trucks are the oldest, and they are rarely used in modern applications.

This type of tow truck is mainly used to tow junk or badly damaged cars because the hook “end” may scratch and damage the paint finish of the car being towed. When using this tow truck, the chain hooks to the faulty vehicle and lifts it up at one end so that the car moves with barely two wheels as the tow truck drags it.

Hook and chain tow trucks are majorly used by junkyard owners – the trucks are used to drag
Junk vehicles to the junkyard.

3. Boom Tow Truck

Boom tow trucks got their name from their design; this type of tow truck features a hydraulic arm called the “Boom.” This arm is adjustable and used to hook up to vehicles that need to be towed. This type of tow truck is mostly used to recover damaged or junk cars left in a ditch or over an embankment.

This type of tow truck is similar to hook and chain models, but instead of featuring a chain, it uses a boom. Boom tow trucks are often used to move heavy-duty vehicles or equipment. On some models, the booms are fixed, while on some, they are heavy-duty pivoting A-frames or hydraulic-powered telescoping tubes.

Also, some boom tow trucks have a rotating boom, which doubles the functions of the truck – such types of boom tow trucks are called mobile cranes or a “rotator” – used when the vehicle to be towed is a heavy one. Boom trucks are an upgraded version of hook and chain tow trucks.

4. Integrated Tow Truck


An integrated tow truck, also called a snatcher, repo truck, or self-loader, is a type of tow truck featuring a boom and wheel lift combined.

In other words, such tow trucks have a 2-in-one integrated boom and wheel-lift unit. The majority of the time, integrated tow trucks are used to move illegally parked or repossess vehicles for specific reasons.

All controls to move the truck’s apparatuses are available inside the cab apartment. So the driver doesn’t need to step outside to hook and tow a vehicle.

Integrated tow trucks have a few similarities with wheel-lift trucks, but they differ with the addition of a boom at its end and movable arms that easily clamps onto vehicles’ wheels – no manual work is needed.

Integrated tow trucks can be used to tow heavy-duty vehicles, thanks to the rigidly-built second axle – this tow truck type is well-balanced, stabilized, and comfortable to drive; the wheel lift system and boom are controlled from the driver’s cab.

5. Wheel Lift Tow Truck

Put simply, a wheel lift tow truck is a more advanced version of a hook and chain tow truck. It connects to towable cars and lifts the car’s front or rear, so the car stands with the remaining wheels not lifted off the ground.

This tow truck type is commonly used to tow broken-down vehicles to mechanic workshops or dealerships.

Wheel lift tow trucks use a metal yoke – unlike booms in boom tow trucks and chains in hook-and-chain trucks – to hook onto the vehicle to be towed.

This tow truck uses a pneumatic hoist or hydraulic lift to raise the vehicle to be towed. Unlike hook-and-chain tow trucks that may affect towable cars’ bumpers, wheel lift tow trucks are safer and better since they connect to the wheels/tires.

6. Lift Flatbed

This type of tow truck is not common everywhere – you’d mainly see it in Europe countries. It is a type of tow truck where a boom uses a wheel-lift frame to raise towable vehicles vertically and load them on the bed. A common application of lift flatbed tow trucks is for removing parallel-parked vehicles.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is The Most Common Tow Truck?

There is no “most common” type of tow truck. Different types of tow trucks have different application needs. It is the towing need that determines what towing truck should be used. However, you may see flatbed tow trucks most often because they are also used for transporting new vehicles to dealerships.

What is a Heavy Duty Tow Truck Called?

Tow trucks generally are also called wreckers or repo vehicles, so a heavy-duty tow truck can be called a heavy-duty wrecker. Notwithstanding, tow trucks may have other monikers in different cities.

Can Regular Trucks Be Converted To Tow Trucks?

Sure thing! You can convert your pickup truck to a tow or repo truck. The conversion starts with picking a suitable wheel lift system that fits your truck perfectly, and then the installation begins. You’d need an additional axle for the conversion – tow trucks require a secondary axle.

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