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Stolen Tow Trucks: Whose Fault Is It? 6d440By Randall C. Resch

Doesn't it seem like there's been a rash of stolen tow trucks reported in industry news in the past few months?

Tow trucks are taken for obvious reasons; many being the fault of tow operators using them or where and how they're parked. Typical reasons are:

• Tow trucks repossessed by creditors.
• Vehicles left running and unattended.
• Trucks parked in the yard; keys left in the ignition.
• Disgruntled employees gone mad.
• Ex-employees who get away with keys before given their last paycheck.

Having investigated a number of stolen tow trucks in many years, I'd venture to say that more than three-quarters of stolen trucks were the end result of towers leaving keys in their tow trucks.

Because I worked the field every day too, I knew where my drivers were headed. Periodically, I'd drive by, park out of sight and watch my driver's actions to see how and what they were doing.

On one occasion, my driver off-loaded the customer's vehicle from the flatbed by driving it off. He went into the service department, leaving the carrier parked in the street, flashers on, running, completely unattended.

Three days later, I followed him to another drop-off where he did exactly the same thing. This time I parked my personal vehicle, hopped into the unattended tow truck and then drove it to my yard two miles away.

It wasn't an hour when the driver called dispatch advising his tow truck was missing. I sent a supervisor to return him to my office without delay. Long story short, I scared the beejenkies out of him and made him an example. His three-day suspension was exactly the message I wanted to spread company-wide. After that, my "No Idle, No Unattended Vehicles" policy was strictly followed.

My company's policy is clearly written. It's one thing to be busy off-loading customer vehicles, but disappearing elsewhere only to leave my $100,000 carrier open for some grab-and-go opportunist? Nope, that ain't gonna happen.

Your company's employee handbook must be specific on what's required of employees entrusted with company vehicles.

My policy firmly states:

"Excessive idling wastes fuel costing the Company thousands of dollars annually. Except for FSP operations and/or on-scene recovery and salvage operations, drivers are reminded that, when out of or away from their trucks for more than ten (10) minutes, the tow truck shall be turned off and drivers will take the keys with them. Tow trucks and carriers will not be left unoccupied and running. Drivers may leave their trucks idling when in actual process of loading and off-loading, but only to complete tasks at hand. Supervisors will monitor activities of drivers to ensure that fuel is not wasted."

A company's tow trucks are their operational bread and butter; not for some crook to jump in and go cruising. If your company's policy and procedure isn't specific regarding unattended, driverless tow trucks with keys in the ignition, then you as the boss are equally as guilty as the employee who left the truck unattended in the first place.

Randall Resch is American Towman's and Tow Industry Week's Operations Editor, a former California police officer, tow business owner and retired civilian off-road instructor for Navy Special Warfare. Randall is an approved instructor for towers serving the California Highway Patrol's rotation contract. His course is approved by the California law enforcement community. He has written over 500 industry-related articles for print and on-line. Randall was inducted into the International Towing & Recovery Hall of Fame in 2014.

Safe Towing Capacity Made Easy


American Towman's Field Editor Terry Abejuela recently wrote an informative safety article, "How to Determine Safe Towing Capacity." Terry's narrative was dead-on accurate; but, some towers can't grasp the mathematical process necessary to understand it.

I'd like to coat-tail Terry's article and share an easy way to first remember the formula, and secondly how to apply the formula's components and ease into appropriate calculations. Let's look at it from another perspective.

For us towmen with non-mathematical minds, learning to calculate the STC formula is sometimes an intimidating task where it might be easier to bypass weight calculations by simply loading or towing the vehicle. When something's too hard, it's characteristic to ignore the proper process and take a chance.

An overloaded tow truck or carrier is an accident waiting to happen and a leading cause of tow truck crashes. When tow trucks or carriers are overloaded, two systems are immediately affected where they can't brake cleanly or steer. In the event of panic stop at an intersection, tow vehicles sometimes lose their ability to stop due to disproportionate weight over the tow truck's rear-axle and limited weight on its front axle.

Combined with a lightened front steering axle, the tow truck isn't able to steer in the path it's intended to go. Combine no brakes and no steering with other bad driving behaviors like driving at a too-fast speed, existing road conditions and distracted drivers, the end result is typically uncontrollable and deadly.

Take the Call

When calls come to the dispatch office, it's the dispatcher's job to accept calls and assign it to the next available driver and appropriate truck. But--can the responding tow truck or carrier safely handle the heavier weight and configuration of the vehicle or item(s) being towed or transported?

When tow operators call their dispatchers and say, "Hey, I think this thing's too heavy for my truck," here's where tow company liability becomes paramount. Many towmen have that solid gut feeling that they know they're overloaded. The problem? Owners, managers or dispatchers simply poo-poo the tower's premonition of danger, order them to take the tow and quit whining.

If your driver calls to tell you they're overloaded, you'd best heed their warning and consider other options.

It's All Routine

Towmen are not mathematicians. Calculating STC can be confusing; but, the simplicity of knowing the formula is likened to conducting a typical tow truck inspection. By starting the inspection at the front of the truck, then moving to the center and finally to the rear of the truck. Put this little memorable ditty into your inspection routine: front, center, rear.

If you routinely inspect your truck starting at the front, to center, and then to the rear; remembering how to calculate the formula of safe towing capacity is the same. It is the same as the industry standard below:

Example: The formula, 1/2 FAW x WB divided by OH, asks:

1. (Front) What is one-half the front-axle's weight (1/2 FAW)?

2. (Center) What is the wheelbase (WB) measurement?

3. (Rear) What is the overhang (OH) measurement?

I teach this process to towers, police officers and military personnel in my challenge to make learning the formula less confusing and memorable. By routinely making tow truck inspections the same thought process as how to calculate safe tow capacity, towmen can easily and accurately determine if their load is safe and doable.

By training your mind to recognize the similarity between the two processes, determining STC becomes an easier process. For safety's sake, we're hoping that towers look to safety by calculating STC for the load or vehicle they're dispatched to handle. By chanting, "front, center, rear" repeatedly, remembering the components and process to determine STC is easy. Learn it, chant it, apply it.

And, when you're at the next tow truck inspection, you can almost put it to-a-tune as you sing it to the tow boss.

Randall Resch is American Towman's and Tow Industry Week's Operations Editor, a former California police officer, tow business owner and retired civilian off-road instructor for Navy Special Warfare. Randall is an approved instructor for towers serving the California Highway Patrol's rotation contract. His course is approved by the California law enforcement community. He has written over 500 industry-related articles for print and on-line, and is a member of the International Towing & Recovery Hall of Fame.
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