Keeping roadways safe for motorists requires the cooperation of many agencies and private businesses. Hazards such as accidents and breakdowns must be managed quickly and effectively. Tow truck drivers respond to these incidents and are part of the team making sure vehicles are loaded and transported safely. In this article, we discuss what a tow truck driver does, how to become one and several frequently asked questions about starting a career as a truck driver.
What is a tow truck driver?
Tow truck drivers are specially trained drivers who may operate several types of tow trucks and the associated equipment. These drivers typically hold a commercial driver's license (CDL) and may also hold a tow truck driving certification.
Read more: CDL License: Definition and Types
What does a tow truck driver do?
Tow truck drivers respond to calls for assistance from motorists, facilities or other entities contracted with the tow company to remove vehicles. They load, transport and unload stranded or unlawfully parked vehicles. Tow truck drivers assess the safety of a situation and determine when and how to remove a vehicle from a roadway safely.
Drivers may operate the following types of tow trucks:
Conventional tow truck
Conventional tow trucks require using large mechanical arms and chains wrapped around the axles and frame of the towed vehicle. The components work to lift two tires off the ground to pull the vehicle while it is in neutral gear. Tow truck drivers use conventional tow trucks less often because of the potential damage they can cause to towed vehicles.
Wheel lift truck
Also called a "full float truck," wheel lift trucks also work to lift one of the axles of a vehicle off the ground. However, wheel lift trucks use hydraulics rather than hooks and chains to reduce the possibility of damage. Two tires lift off the ground, and the tow truck pulled the vehicle using the remaining tires.
Flatbed trucks, also called "rollback trucks," use a flatbed raised onto a ramp to load vehicles. These trucks are used for highly valuable cars or cars without rotating tires.
Tow truck drivers respond to accidents, breakdowns and vehicle removals from private property. As a result, patience and a positive attitude will help diffuse a frustrating situation for the vehicle owners.
What does a tow truck driver make?
In the U.S., the average salary for a tow truck driver is $15.49 per hour. Tow truck driver salaries depend on several factors, including:
- Experience: More experienced drivers, especially those who help train new drivers, earn more money.
- Geographic location: Tow truck drivers in large cities earn more than those in less populated areas.
- Certifications: Obtaining certifications allows tow truck drivers to operate more complex machinery, which provides a higher salary.
- Overtime: Tow truck drivers can work all hours, so those who work overnight or on holidays earn more per hour.
How to become a tow truck driver
Follow these steps to become a tow truck driver:
1. Meet age requirements
Tow truck drivers must be at least 18 years old.
2. Hold a valid license
Tow truck drivers should have a valid state driver's license.
3. Maintain a clean driving record
Employers often check accident and ticket history.
4. Pass a background check
Many companies will conduct a background check on potential drivers.
5. Complete a drug screening
Drug screenings are a typical part of the hiring process for tow truck drivers.
6. Pass a physical ability test
Because tow truck drivers perform highly physical tasks, they must demonstrate their physical fitness.
7. Pass a vision exam
Good vision is necessary to operate a vehicle and machinery safely.
8. Obtain your commercial driver's license (CDL)
Federal law requires operators of vehicles that are over 26,000 pounds to hold a CDL. Some tow truck drivers operating smaller trucks do not need a CDL, but obtaining your CDL will allow you to operate larger trucks and help your resume stand out.
You can earn your CDL through your state Department of Motor Vehicles and choose Class A, Class B or Class C. Requirements vary by state and may include a written exam, proof of residency, medical exam, driving skills test and any applicable fees.
9. Earn a tow truck driving certification
Some states require an additional tow truck certification before you can start driving.
10. Shadow an experienced driver
Some companies may require you to shadow another driver for a certain number of hours to learn additional driving and towing techniques and company policies.
11. Earn certification through the Towing and Recovery Association of America (TRAA)
After gaining experience, you can pursue certification through the TRAA, which offers three varying levels of certification depending on your needs and experience. The levels include:
- Level 1: This certification is for light-duty towing and recovery and routine customer pickup.
- Level 2: This certification is designed for medium- or heavy-duty towing skills, including hazmat recovery and carriers, trailer and cargo loading and unloading.
- Level 3: The highest certification is for heavy recovery specialists and requires certification as a master tower, two years of experience as a recovery specialist and letters of recommendation. Applicants must pass the written and oral sections of the certification exam.
12. Apply for a job
Find available positions on job search sites, through trucking organizations and publications or through networking with friends and family.
When invited for an interview, dress professionally, bring at least five copies of your resume and be prepared to explain your experience and skills in detail. Consider researching the company so you can share what you like about their mission or practices, and prepare a few thoughtful questions to ask your interviewers to demonstrate your interest.
Frequently asked questions
Here are a few frequently asked questions about becoming a tow truck driver:
Can I become a tow truck driver if I've had an accident?
If you have an accident on your driving record, future employers will decide if the accident disqualifies you from employment. They may examine the severity of the accident and who was at fault. Minor traffic citations generally do not keep you from becoming a tow truck driver.
If you have an accident while working as a tow truck driver, your supervisors will determine if you can continue working. Any incident that results in a loss of your license or CDL disqualifies you from working as a tow truck driver.
What are the typical work hours for a truck driver?
Tow truck companies are usually open 24 hours a day, which means tow truck drivers may work long hours and nontraditional shifts. This provides many opportunities to earn extra income.
What is the job outlook for tow truck drivers?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs for heavy truck drivers and tractor-trailer drivers, which includes tow truck drivers, are expected to increase by 2% between 2019 and 2029. This is slightly slower than the national average growth rate of 4%.
What skills are important for tow truck drivers?
Tow truck drivers should possess the following skills to have success on the job:
- Communication skills: Tow truck drivers must be able to communicate effectively with call operators, customers, property owners and law enforcement.
- Organizational skills: Tow truck drivers must maintain their schedule and determine driving routes. They must organize the timely transportation and delivery of vehicles.
- Mechanical skills: Tow truck drivers work with various machinery and vehicles.
Jobs similar to tow truck drivers
If you're interested in a driving career, there are several positions that you may consider. Here is a list of 10 jobs that are similar tow truck drivers:
1. CDL driver
5. Taxi driver