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Types of tow trucks and what they haul

Tow trucks are as diverse as the purposes they are designed for. The tow truck you choose for a particular job or business can make a big difference in how well you can get the job done. 

That’s especially because not all tow trucks can get the same job done as well let alone at all. Here are the six main types of tow trucks or hauling trucks and when you’ll want to consider using them. Read on to find the best truck for safe towing in every situation. 

What is a tow truck?

A tow truck is a vehicle that is used to transport other vehicles. This can include a wrecked car being hauled to a junkyard or a vehicle that needs to be towed to a repair shop. At the end of the day, every type of tow truck has a primary use. 

6 main types of tow trucks and what they haul

Are you ready to become in-the-know about tow trucks? Learning the types of tow trucks and their purposes can help to select the correct vehicles for each purpose. 

Flatbed or rollback 

A flatbed or rollback tow truck is different from a traditional tow truck. You may have seen this type of tow truck transporting new vehicles. A flatbed tow truck, as the name implies, has a large flat bed on which vehicles can sit.

The rollback version of the name comes from the fact that the flat bed can be tilted to the ground so that vehicles can drive directly onto the truck back. It rolls out and then it can be put back into its proper position. Vehicles are parked on the flatbed for transport and then secured with a winch. 

A flatbed truck is powered by hydraulics. One of the advantages of a flatbed truck is that the vehicles are completely off the ground. This reduces the risk of vehicle damage during transport.  

A flatbed or rollback tow truck is used to transport vehicles that have been totalled and cannot be moved on the road. They can also be used to transport new vehicles across state lines or deliver them to dealerships. 

Integrated tow truck

An integrated tow truck is an especially powerful tow truck that is used to transport large vehicles. Integrated tow trucks are commonly used to transport trucks and buses for repairs. 

Integrated tow trucks have an extra axle that is used to increase stability. Not only are they designed for large and heavy loads, but they can remove vehicles from unusual or difficult situations as well. 

That’s because the arm of an integrated tow truck is centered on the truck, which increases the truck’s stability and allows the integrated tow truck to pull loads bigger than the tow truck. Integrated tow trucks haul buses, tractor-trailers, RVs, motorhomes and various other large vehicles. 

Hook and chain

A hook and chain tow truck is probably what you think of when you imagine a tow truck. This type is the most popular, and it used to be the most common. A hook and chain tow truck has a hook at the back of the tow truck. 

That hook can be extended to attach to a car’s bumper or axle. The chain goes all the way around the frame of the car as well. From there, a boom lifts the front of the car off of the ground while the back of the vehicle stays on the ground.

If you see a car being towed down the road and it’s being pulled by a chain, it is attached to a hook and chain tow truck. The main disadvantage of a hook and chain tow truck is that the car is towed with the back end still on the ground. 

This can lead to damage to the car. The chain wrapped around the frame can also damage the vehicle. On the plus side, the winch on a hook and chain tow truck can pull vehicles out of tight situations. 

A hook and chain tow truck hauls cars and smaller vehicles. While it was the original tow truck, it has fallen out of favor because of potential vehicle damage. 

Hook and chain tow trucks are still used for totalled cars. This type of tow truck is also used to pull a car out of a ditch or help cars that are stuck in mud and snow. 

Wheel lift tow truck

A wheel lift tow truck uses a similar mechanism to the hook and chain tow truck, but there are no hooks or chains. Instead, the vehicle is lifted up by a piece, called a yoke, that goes under the front wheels of the car. 

This yoke is attached to the back of the tow truck. The yoke reduces possible vehicle damage. This is the new and improved version of a hook and chain tow truck. 

The wheel lift tow truck is simple to use. That’s why it is commonly used to take vehicles off the highway or in other situations where the vehicle needs to be moved within minutes. The wheel lift tow truck can attach to a vehicle with either the front or back wheels, providing flexibility based on the damage or the location of the breakdown.  

Wheel lift tow trucks most commonly transport cars and other passenger vehicles. They are used in situations like highway or traffic accidents where a damaged vehicle needs to be moved quickly. 

Boom trucks

A boom truck looks like a small crane. It has a hydraulic arm, called a boom, which is used to lift vehicles. The tow truck’s boom remains in a fixed position that works to increase the stability of the boom truck while it’s towing another vehicle. 

Boom trucks used to use a hook and chain to tow vehicles, much like a hook and chain tow truck. Now, many boom trucks have a belt or sling used to haul vehicles. These cause less damage than a hook and chain. 

A boom truck is useful to pull vehicles out of dangerous situations, including ditches. However, you shouldn’t use a boom tow truck to haul all wheel drive vehicles as it can do damage to the wheels on the ground. 

Boom trucks can be used to haul most passenger vehicles, as long as they are not four-wheel drive. 

Oversized towing

Oversized towing vehicles, as the name implies, specialize in towing oversized vehicles. They are also used to transport large scale operations, large boats, and vehicles. 

They are also used for moving large tractor-trailers and construction equipment. Truckers can call an oversized tow truck to help move a semi or other large vehicle. Oversized tow trucks haul large tractor trailers, boats, construction equipment, and other large or bulky vehicles. 

Tow trucks for every situation

Tow trucks offer a practical solution to deal with a breakdown, accident or serious repairs. Whether you’re moving construction equipment or getting a damaged vehicle off the highway, you’ll need different types of trucks for different reasons. 

By understanding the purposes and uses of different types of trucks for towing, you are better equipped to call for the right truck in an emergency situation to get your vehicle back on the road as soon as possible. In the long run, being aware of post accident protocols can lead to significant savings. 


What is the most common tow truck?

The most common tow truck is currently a flatbed tow truck. However, you will also see many wheel lift tow trucks on the road. 

What’s the difference between a tow truck and a wrecker?

A tow truck is designed to tow or move a vehicle while a wrecker may not have towing capabilities. A wreck truck can recover vehicles and can also be fitted as a tow truck. A tow truck cannot be a wrecker. 

What are large tow trucks called?

Large tow trucks are called oversized tow trucks or integrated tow trucks. These two specialized vehicles are equipped to transport the largest vehicles. 

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