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American Towman Magazine Presents the Week in TowingApril 24 - April 30, 2019

Don’t Forget to Duck

Maxinum-Clearance-Sign 1e542By Randall C. Resch

Towers who operate unaware of their vehicle's height are bound to inflict extensive damages to the tow truck's roof, lighting and windshield. It's embarrassing to call and tell the boss that you've smashed his wrecker into the ceiling of a concrete parking structure because you've failed to acknowledge the building's height restrictions.

Building standards and height restrictions vary state to state. I'd like to say that 6'9" is standard; however, some structures hang as low as 6'2". That's 74", pavement to rooftop, vs. the tallest item on a low-profile wrecker; a smidge higher with little to no room to spare.

Underground garage entry signs typically identify what the lowest clearance is for that level. Tow operators should be aware and observe posted height restrictions before attempting entry. Keep in mind some structures are tapered: the roofline gets lower deeper into the structure.

You must also consider if the structure can bear the weight of a low-profile tow truck weighing 15,000 lbs. If the structure is old and your gut feeling is the floor won't hold, perhaps Plan B is a wiser choice. Is there another tow company you know you could call for assistance? If you have to obtain special equipment beyond your resources, pay for their services and charge the customer accordingly.

Fold 'em down

Urban tow companies typically have one wrecker dedicated to restricted-height entries or rooftops. Is your wrecker equipped with a fold-down lightbar capable of folding lower than the lowest ceiling height?

A pair of metal, fold-down brackets can be bolted to the top side of the wrecker's headache rack or other flat surface holding any full-size lightbar. Cam locks twist and release, allowing lightbars to fold back, over and down to provide critical clearance before entering low-clearance areas. Fold-down brackets are available from equipment suppliers for around $270 and are a welcome addition to any wrecker.

Carriers are oftentimes too tall to fit, and companies with height-restricted wreckers will lose business. For companies providing services to law enforcement, some RFPs or bid solicitations require tow companies to have wreckers that are underground capable. Read RFPs carefully to see if the underground wrecker must be a primary wrecker or if it's considered special equipment.

Get 'er done

Wreckers with dollies are convenient in extracting vehicles from underground or under-level structures; but, multi-floor structures are problematic when their driving paths require hard-left or -right turns.

Whenever possible, dispatchers and call takers should arrange with customers to bring keys to the tow location. Because most underground scenarios are problematic, it's recommended that responding tow operators have an assistant on these types of calls. Competent tow operator skills are necessary, especially when underground recoveries involve stolen vehicles with no tires and wheels.

Because most tow companies don't have matching tires and wheels lying around, the best recovery solution may be to load the stolen casualty onto a wrecker with dollies. Keep in mind the overall height of a vehicle loaded onto dollies, as ground height changes exponentially when dollies are lifted.

Items such as jacks, jack stands, skates, lumber, Go-Jaks, and more may be necessary in extracting SUV-height vehicles from underground. If a vehicle must be transported over a long distance, a wise choice would be to use a wrecker to extract the casualty first; then load it onto a carrier that's outside and beyond low ceilings.

Be sure to document what it takes to get a vehicle out from underground areas and charge accordingly. Take photos to document your work, including use of equipment and accessories.

Towing from underground structures isn't rocket science, but you're always dealing with minimal clearance. It's to the towman's advantage to carry a measuring tape for these situations. It's also smart to compare a tow truck's roof to the parking structure's roof, and get an accurate feel for overhead clearances. It's better to be safe than sorry before implanting your wrecker into an overhead structure. Remember GOAL: Get Out and Look.

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, is a member of the International Towing & Recovery Hall of Fame, and, a recipient of the 2017 Dave Jones Leadership Award.
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