Learning the Ropes- Ways to Make it in the Towing Business

Learning The Ropes Image

Do: Start Your Own Business

Don’t: Let Your Fear Stop You
So you’re interested in starting your own towing business? No?  Just getting a job as a tow truck driver?  But I thought…?  Anyway.

What way you choose to get in this business depends entirely on your ability to deal with adversity.  What do I mean?  I’m glad you asked.

The second definition in Webster’s Dictionary says that adversity is a “calamitous event” and every day as a tow truck employee, owner or employer is filled to the rim with calamity.  From changing a tire in traffic that won’t get over, recovering a rolled over tractor-trailer to dealing with irate customers and unscrupulous motor clubs, the towing business is rarely boring.

Where ever you are in your thinking consider the following before making a decision:

  • You could work for someone else as an employee, selling your time to them which they sell at a higher rate to the end-user.
  • You can start your own one truck business and sell directly to the end-user cutting out the employer.
  • You can become the employer and purchase time from employees selling their labor to the end-user


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Here are some of the challenges for each;

To be a tow truck operator (employee) you must be aware of everything happening around you and anticipate the worst.  I know it sounds horrible but if you don’t expect the driver of the 24 foot F-650 box truck to be texting while you’re attempting to loosen a lug nut in interstate traffic you’re going to be road kill. This type of awareness and understanding of what could happen at any given moment can cause you to become somewhat paranoid and pessimistic but don’t let that bother you you’ve got more things to worry about.

Especially if you decide to go into business for yourself (one truck business).  As a one truck owner-operator you’ll reminisce about the good ol days as a tow truck driver with fondness because your responsibilities as an owner will have increased 10 fold.  Not only will you need to worry about wayward texters you’ll now be saddled with the bills.  Ahh the joys of entrepreneurship.  Every month you’ll need to bring in enough cash to cover the fuel, the repairs, the insurance, and advertising not to mention something left over to live on and put away for that new truck.

If you are able to put enough away for a new truck you might have the right stuff to be able to hire some help (employer).  Then you’ll be in the position to gain more business.  A one-guy-one-truck operation can only do one call at a time and most customers want it now.  But be careful when you get in that position. When you hire help it becomes a whole new ball of worms.  Not only will you have to be concerned about yourself and the bills but you’ll have employees to think about.

You’ll drive yourself crazy wondering if they’re doing right by your customers: Are they treating them right? Are they handling their car properly?  Are they trashing your tow truck?  Will they do damage to your customer’s car?  Will they damage your truck?  Are they courteous drivers as they flash your name in public?  All valid concerns…

And what about your rates? You’ve got to charge more than you did when it was just you. Did you take into consideration the taxes and insurance that must be withheld and remitted regularly for these employees?  Do your rates cover all additional expenses and allow you to continue to save for that new truck?  They should or you’ll be a flash in the pan.

Sounds daunting, doesn’t it?

Yes it can be overwhelming but what isn’t the first time out?  The first time you drove a car, the first time you kissed a girl, the first time you shot a gun- all had learning curves, some more than others, but the point is fear of the unknown didn’t stop you.  You were undoubtedly apprehensive and cautious, which are natural protective measures aimed at preventing us from screwing up, but you overcame.  Think about the old guys you know and respect who own towing companies.  Can you picture them at 20 years old?  Probably geeky awkward kids with no direction trying to get a handle on anything and towing just stuck. Do you think they were scared when they started out on their own? Sure they were but they were pursuing what they wanted to do.

If you want it, it can stick with you too.

So what does it take to put it all together? You’ve got to start somewhere and the best place to start is at the bottom and work your way up.

If you have no knowledge of the business, and no money to invest in equipment and training then working for someone else is probably your best bet.  Don’t be discouraged this is the best place to learn about the industry.  Most everyone in the towing business has either worked for someone else or grew up in the business.  To your advantage, towing companies must properly train their employees in order to survive and be successful.  This means that when you get hired on you’ll be exposed to structured, professionally developed programs aimed at increasing knowledge and expertise, not to mention the on-the-job training, which is priceless.

But you will be required to put in long hours and the work isn’t easy.  You’ll have to start at the bottom and be called out at all hours of the night but if you’re eager to learn, and you better be if you’re going to take this any further, then opportunities for advancement will appear.

Compensation as an employee ranges from straight commission to a salaried plus commission position depending on the company and the amount of business.  Some motivated operators in large markets make upwards of $80,000 per year but they really go after it, being available 24/7.

If you’re coming at this business from the outside don’t worry about not knowing anything most employers would prefer someone who’s trainable rather than a know-it-all whose dad used to own a tow truck.  Most towing companies, especially the larger ones, are always looking to either increase their workforce or fill a vacancy so if you really want to be a tow truck driver don’t wait until there’s an ad in the paper.  Take the initiative and contact the hiring manager and if you have any driving experience, and look respectable they might give you a shot.

There are a few things you can do to kill your chances at being hired.  If you’ve ever seen the 1987 movie “Adventures in Babysitting” with Elizabeth Shue there’s a couple of scenes with a tow truck driver.  He’s a crazy looking guy with bad teeth, a long beard and a hook for a hand. He’s dressed in a dirty jump suit and keeps a shiny 45 revolver in the glove box of his truck which he uses to shoot at a guy caught with his wife.   This is not the image that tow company owners want for their businesses.  This and other more recent depictions of tow truck drivers like “Lizard Lick Towing” are not reality they are a fiction fabricated by Hollywood types who must grab our attention with outrageousness in order to sell advertising.  So if you really want to be a tow truck driver put these negative images out of your head.

A few do’s and don’ts when applying for a towing job.

  • Do dress nicely- I know when you’re out there crawling in the mud looking for a place to hook onto a car you’re going to get dirty but don’t be that way when you’re job hunting.  They’re probably going to let you go home and get changed before you start anyway.  The term “nicely” is subjective so a little on that.
    • Where a clean button down shirt or polo, really any shirt that doesn’t have your favorite Nascar driver’s face or an advertisement for alcohol plastered on it, and tuck it in.
    • Jeans or slacks without dirt or holes that are pulled up so that you can tuck your shirt in.
    • Boots or shoes that cover your entire foot- Sandals or flip-flops tell everyone you’re not serious.
  • Don’t bring your phone in with you.  If you start off a relationship with your potential employer by holding up a finger mid-sentence asking him to wait while you take a call or respond to a text in the middle of an interview you will not get hired.
  • Don’t have more holes in your head than what you were born with.  What I mean to say is if you have piercings take them out, let them close up and get on with your life.   Look back on that time and those decisions as your misspent wild rebellious days but please don’t come in expecting to get hired unless they’re gone. I know this may sound insensitive but you’ve got to understand that the towing business is a service based business with customers that employees must deal with on a face to face basis.  And if an employer has a choice, he will choose to have his customers interact with someone without excessive piercings.

The towing business can be a difficult field to get into:  There are no franchises available, rarely do you see a successful towing business for sale, and towing 101 is not a college elective.  Even with barriers for entry high and membership into the “fraternity” exclusive towing is a business with opportunity for growth well into the middle of the century.   The question remains how to break in?

To break into the towing business you must have all of these: The ability to learn the skills necessary, Resourcefulness, Persistence and Efficiency.  I know it sounds like the same tools needed to be a doctor or a lawyer and you’re right.  Towing is a constantly changing business and the competition will leave you in the dust if you can’t keep up.  This type of career decision should not to be taken lightly.

So if you’re serious about getting into the business that I love then you’re going to have to start somewhere and I suggest you start as an employee.  Where else can you learn about the inside dirty details of a business than by taking a position as the low man on the totem pole? As an employee you’ll learn why they don’t ask customers involved in accidents “who was at fault?” Or why asking the nice lady on the phone exactly what’s wrong with her car is something to be avoided when time is tight. But most importantly, if you pay attention, you’ll slowly learn how the whole business works.  The first step is getting the job.

Sometimes being in the right place at the right time helps but your good fortune won’t save you if you’re lazy and have poor communication skills.  If you are given an interview consider yourself lucky and communicate to the interviewer your availability and if you’re still unsure what that is just remember that you want the job and they need someone who wants to work.  So you’re available to work evenings and weekends and “when I’m trained in” you’ll say “I’ll gladly take after hours on-call duties”.

The more you understand their needs and ask questions that pertain to what the interviewer and business owner are looking for rather than self-serving matters like: “How long is lunch?”, “What benefits are offered?” and “How many sick days do I get?” the better your chances are of getting the position.

Your first few weeks are crucial when starting out so you’ll want to pick up all you can. Giving 100% and being available whenever needed is only fair since you’re essentially using them, taking their job for the express purpose of starting a business of your own.  Learn the rules and why they’re in place.

Do they require you to live within a certain radius of the business?  Why?  Are you required to work evenings and weekends?  Why?  All this information is important and should be viewed through the eyes of a future business owner not as an oppressed employee.

Within a short period you should be able to gather enough information and skill to properly perform every light duty call from jump starts, tire changes and unlocks with no problem.  You should be able to easily tow cars and trucks with either a wrecker or a rollback.  You may have the chance to respond to a few accidents but most likely you won’t be on your own unless dispatch has no one else to send.

The good news is if you’re a go-getter, you’ll catch on fast.  The bad news is you’ll never learn it all.  There are so many variables in the towing business that even a 40 year veteran comes upon something new on occasion.  Something rarely seen they’ve forgotten how to deal with or a manufacturer upgrade that renders an old trick useless.

So if you’re serious and stick with it you should be ready to go out on your own in about a year.  If you live in an area where the winters are fierce or they traffic count high and you’re able to get more experience sooner you may be ready do your own thing a little quicker.  That is if you don’t decide to chuck the whole idea after you get too big a taste.

Just remember that just because you start your own business the learning doesn’t stop.  You will continue to learn until the day you die.  And although it’s not a federal requirement that you become certified as a Tow Truck operator it’s still a good idea that you do, besides some cities, states and municipalities require some form of certification to participate in their towing contracts.

The only nationally recognized certification course for tow truck operators at this writing is the Towing & and Recovery Association of America’s (TRAA) driver certification program. It’s recommended by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

Even with all the training and experience in the world there may be something you come across that doesn’t look doable.  Don’t be afraid to tell someone no.  That is, if you don’t feel comfortable performing a recovery that you either don’t have the right equipment or training refer them to someone else rather than take a huge risk that could possibly kill someone.

But don’t let the fear of the unknown stop you from making the leap from employee to self-employed. It’s done all the time by people who are no smarter than you who put their pants on one leg at a time, just like you. They had to start somewhere and so do you.




31 thoughts on “Learning the Ropes- Ways to Make it in the Towing Business

    • The problems you’ll run into are numerous. Some motor clubs require background checks and insurance companies will need to run one as well so it will depend entirely on the policies of the companies that the towing company contracts with. There may also be stipulations that law enforcement puts in place to ensure that they’re not placing motorists at risk. The best bet is to be completely honest with the towing company you work for and if you’re starting your own thing hold nothing back. Let the chips fall where they may or you may be sorry down the road.

      • I’m a small business owner & my partner & I have a 2 acre lot in oregon that we want to use for a impound lot to start our own towing / impound business… I’m a convicted felon, my partner is not… Now here in oregon they do not allow someone to “Tow” vehicle for a police impound call, but that’s mainly what we’re going for is police impound calls for DUI’s & big rig Towing. We are not going to be doing the driving but we will be hiring people with years of experience in the field that are not felons. Will my felony stop my business from being able to get those calls for police impounds even though I’m not the person driving…

        • Your wrote: Will my felony stop my business from being able to get those calls for police impounds even though I’m not the person driving?

          Yes I believe you might have a hard time getting calls from the police. Before you went any further I’d do a little digging and find out how your area police and the state police administer impound tows. Do they use a rotation and can you get on it with your felony status. In the state of Missouri it’s up to the individual trooper to determine who to call to for anything requiring a tow. If it’s the same in your area, even though you’re not the guy driving the tow truck, and especially because you’re new- The troopers (State Police) will want to know who they’re dealing with and once they find out you’re a felon you may be out of luck.
          We’ve moved The Tow Academy

    • Hey im trying to get a towing job i live in san diego ca and ive applied for at lest ten and no call backs and the places i call back say oh our hiring manager wont be in till next week or hes on vacation so i mean i know i dont havw piercings and look like a holigan how do i get into a position out here

      • With the minimal information you’ve provided I can’t tell you why you aren’t receiving any call-backs. I can tell you this, if you walk into a place expecting to get a job believing you are OWED a chance you’ll never get one. Put yourself in the shoes of the employer. Why would they want to hire someone? If one of your answers is “To provide a service to the unemployed” you’re way off. An employer needs someone who’s going to bring something to their business. If you’re more valuable to keep around than it costs to keep you around you’ll have no problem staying employed. It seems your problem is that you can’t get a chance to prove yourself. If you were the employer– and you’d seen dozens, if not hundreds, of guys stand in front of you wanting a job and promising this or that– and seeing those promises dissipate in short course– you might need a little more convincing than “I’ll do a great job” to give a guy a chance. As an employer music to my ears is: “I know you’re looking for someone who’s dependable, and who’ll show up on time and not complain about the job when it aint easy. And I know you need someone who’ll care about those who actually pay the bills, the customers. Well that’s me.” I know this is a rare find but something like that would have my attention. Look up the word empathy and put yourself in the shoes of not only the employer but the customer and you’ll have a better shot at getting a chance.

      • Sam … let’s have a conversation regarding your experience and background. Background means criminal history. There are many hoops to jump through to get hired in San Diego. I work with the area towers here and maybe can help you make contact more than the luck you have. It’s all based on your hire-ability.

  1. I am going to do as you suggest and use this year to gain experience and build capital to step out on my own. Being totally green, I think that, since I’m a commission only employee, I will look to lease a truck of my own before I look to buy one. That is an expense that I believe that I can identify and manage my budget to save accordingly. What are some resources that I can go to to identify other expenses (permits, insurance, license fees, etc) for building a business in GA?

    • Good for you Robert. Resources for gathering the information you need? I would start with your state department of revenue. I’m not familiar with Georgia but I’d imagine that anything having to do with requiring a license or permit to operate a tow truck would involve the DOR. I just googled Georgia towing association and came up with http://www.trag.org which is the Towing And Recovery Association of Georgia, give them a call and I’ll bet you their flush with all the information you’ll need to get started. It would probably be a good idea to join them anyway.
      Good Luck and keep me posted

  2. I’ve spent 13 years in a low tier corporate position as an equipment technician for a well known, highly profitable company. Unfortunately, the company is struggling and the future of the factory I work in is questionable at best.

    I have always felt the pull towards Entrepreneurship and I’ve had some pretty neat ideas, but never pulled the trigger because the interest fizzles, the barrier to entry too high, or simply put, I didn’t really need to because I make good money as an employee. A few weeks ago my wide’s vehicle of 11 years broke down and we needed a tow home. When the rollback arrived a light bulb clicked on in my head. “Why not a two business?!” Sure, I have no experience and the competition is thick, but I do have drive and I don’t think a tow truck has ever crossed my path without grabbing my attention. After doing my job for 13 years I have to say that performing on a “team” has sapped my energy. The “politics” in a very competitive workplace is enough to drain anyone and dealing with people who have no desire to work hard is daunting. Somehow, being a tow truck operator and having my success depend solely on my work ethic and ability, while learning the ropes to start my own business is very enticing!

    Thanks for the post! Is it common for tow companies to hire part time? I’d like to work on my days off (3-4 days per week) and keep my income until I’m ready to jump ship.

    • Tommy
      It’s great that you’re thinking about getting into the towing business but I would be misleading you if I failed to mention that the towing industry does have it’s drawbacks. Besides being required to keep hours that are horrible, to say the least, you will not be able to escape the politics. The towing business is rife with politics, especially if you get involved with accident tows (which you’ll want to do). Law enforcement coupled with city, state, and other municipalities sometimes have laws, rules, and ordinances that are arbitrarily enforced at best, at worst they blatantly favor their friends, relatives and those who provide perks. Just be aware of that fact.
      Of course, if you go into the business willing to work hard, understanding that you’ll have unforeseen expenses and you’re willing to learn…You’ll be ok. Thanks for commenting

  3. I’m 18 and almost out of high school and I’ve always had a passion for towing. This honestly was a real eye opener and help, I hope that after 10 years or so of learning the ropes and getting all the experience possible to open my own business with my father and bestfriend. To whomever wrote this article, I deeply appreciate you for taking the time to write this and maybe I’ll see you on the road one day!

  4. Hello my name is Stephanie and I’m a female and I’m looking to get into the Tow truck business as well. Im here in Ga as well and want to know the best way to start up. Do I call other insurance companies for contract. Thank you so much.

    • Stephanie
      If you’re trained, equipped and ready to start I’d start by talking to each and every auto-repair shop in town. Talk to the owner and the service manager and the service writers and ask them for business. Leave your card– and an oversized card would stand out more than a regular one. But don’t just stop there. Visit them regularly and look for ways to go out of your way for them and the customers they send your way. This is the best way to build your business. If by insurance companies, you mean motor clubs, my best advice would be to steer clear. You’ll get some calls but the competition is high and return on investment is low as they want Caviar service at Lunchable prices.
      Hope this helps

  5. I am in salt lake city Utah. I am going to buy a tow truck. My son an x-felon will be running the business. He has a clean drivers record. Where do I start once the truck is purchased?

    • Julie
      You’re going to have a hard time breaking into the towing business with a felony record. I would look at first trying to see if anyone will hire you to tow, and go from there. I wish I could give you better news. Towers must do background checks and most of the time a felony disqualifies a person.

  6. I don’t have an idea about the tow business but, am tires of working for people.i worked as a home health aide and have saved about $100,000. I what to start my own business. What is ur advise for me.Alex

    • I would suggest that you save your money and not get into the towing business. Because in the towing business you’re going to be required to work for other people. Some you’ll like and some you don’t like. If what you are saying is that you want to make money for yourself rather than your employer then I completely understand. If that’s the case you’ll need to learn about this business and the fastest way to do that and shorten your learning curve is to work “as an employee” for a towing business. Of course you won’t get everything you need by doing that. You won’t have access to the “behind the curtain” activities, that’s where we come in. I suggest you get a job and get this book. “How to Make Money in the Towing Business”

  7. im trying to start up my flatbed tow truck and i woundering what i need to do start my bussiness up. What do i need like paper work books. how do i get on the police list for car reck call outs. any tips will help me alot thanks and cant wait to hear back from you i live in fremantle w.a will go anywhere to make this work

  8. Respected http://www.thetowacademy.com and others,

    I am new here, I just found this website today and I just order the book “How To Make Money In The Towing Business” on AMAZON.com, I am a small Automotive Locksmith biz owner(self employed) and before starting Locksmith I used to drive a Tow Truck for a company for 6 months, now I am planning to ADD towing services to my existing business, I already do minor road service like “Tire change and other stuff” I have one employee”we are team of TWO” but planning to hire 3rd person, I am a AAA locksmith Contractor in my area and also have contract with AGERO(CC), do you guys have any suggestions/advice for me, it would be greatly appreciate.



    • Singh
      Thanks for contacting us. Right now is a great time to get into the towing business and adding it onto an existing business is a great way to get your feet wet without going too far into debt. My suggestion about the motor clubs is to know your numbers before you agree to any contracted rates. Not only will you incur fuel, labor, and insurance expenses but you must consider the cost of repairs and replacement. Many who are new to the towing business get excited when they think about the numbers the motor clubs provide but forget that they’ll be putting a lot of stress on their trucks. Check out this short ebook “How To Price Your Towing Services And Profit” Good Luck

  9. Getting into the towing business can be a daunting task. I have two cousins that just started a business of their own. I know when they started, they were pretty hesitant. Typically, how many companies start and then go out of business?

  10. i like to start my towing business but i dont know were to start, should i go and buy a truck and start driving or get a business license a business name and insurance? who should i talk to in the state of georgia

    • Hey Alex
      If you’re interested in starting a towing business
      I can help.

      I have over 20 years experience and have helped
      many start and run successful towing businesses

      Check out my website

      Or my book on Amazon


      Don G. Archer

      The Tow Academy.com

      P.S. I also offer one-on-one coaching.

      Whether you’re just starting out or a
      seasoned vet I can help you overcome
      obstacles in you business. Whether it’s
      hiring and motivating employees, customer
      service skills, getting more customers, or
      structuring your business so you have a life.
      I can help.
      Click here to have a free one-on-one

  11. I am an entrepreneur with several businessespecially and am contemplating buying a small towing business in oregon. Its a 1 truck business with 2 employees. My ” plan” is to promote the more experienced guy (5years) as the manager and give him a taste of the profits. He doesn’t take home that much right now (24k) and the business nets about 50 selling for 110k. I don’t want to manage the day to day issues, only the accounting side . (I am also still out of state for a year and the previous owner said he would run business for me until inrelocate.) I read your book. Any advice for me? Is it unrealistic to think my plan will work?

    • Jeff
      I would love to help you but to give you accurate advice I would need to know more about the business you’re thinking of buying.
      I would be glad to get on the phone and talk to you about it.
      Go here and schedule a time to talk.

    • Don
      Are you looking for tow truck operations training or hands-on business training, so you make more profit? I can help either way just want to know which way to go. Want to talk? Click here and schedule an appointment.
      Thanks a lot

  12. Hello, I’m interested in becoming a tow driver and am wondering what the background check required by aaa for contracting companies in ca entails.
    I have felony convictions that are more that 6-7 years old and one accident on my record (not dui) . I have completely turned my life around and wonder if I will ever escape my past.
    I’ve been told aaa uses “hireright” but I can’t find any info on what would disqualify me. The info I’ve received from the girl at the front desk of the tow company I am applying for is a bit different than I see online. Online says they look back at criminal records 7 years… Front desk of company I’m applying for thought it was 5. Just want the info before I go through the process. Thanks for your time

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