Tow truck drivers are in high demand. In today’s culture, people rely on cars for daily transportation. Yet, the thing about cars is that they’re going to break down eventually. When this happens, people rely on tow truck drivers, also known as wrecker drivers, to bring their car to a mechanic and save the day.
You may be wondering, “How do I become a wrecker driver? Is being a tow truck driver dangerous? What kind of tow truck driver training do I need?” This guide will cover all the tow truck driver requirements so you can embark on your new career.
What Do Tow Truck Drivers Do?
Why become a tow truck driver? To answer this question, you should understand that a tow truck driver’s responsibilities can cover far more than taking someone’s vehicle to the mechanic. Tow truck drivers respond to a variety of calls throughout their workday, including the following:
- Car crashes
- Parking violations
- Dead batteries
- Flat tires
- Keys locked in car
- Mechanical issues
As a tow truck driver, you never know what kind of work the day will bring. But one thing you can know for sure is that people will always need your services. Tow truck drivers are in high demand because cars break down every day. People rely on them to tow their car to the mechanic so they can get back on the road.
Steps to Becoming a Tow Truck Driver
There are many tow truck driver jobs, ranging from simple to demanding. Make sure you’re ready for any of them at a moment’s notice by taking the following steps to become a tow truck driver.
1. Meet Age and Education Requirements
You need to be at least 18 years old to be a tow truck driver, but most towing companies prefer hiring people who are at least 21 to 25 years of age. This increased age threshold ensures potential candidates have some experience on the road before hire.
What are the education requirements for becoming a tow truck driver? You need your high school diploma or General Education Development (GED) certificate to qualify for employment. Most tow truck companies won’t care if you have a college degree.
2. Have a Valid Driver’s License and a Good Driving Record
By law, you need a state-issued driver’s license to become a tow truck driver. While this is an essential step in the process, you’ll also need a driving record. Companies might not hire you if you got your driver’s license last week. Do you have a history of DUIs, speeding tickets or other transportation infractions? Is your driving record clean? Towing companies will check your driving record to make sure you’re responsible on the road.
3. Get a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL)
Next, you should get your CDL. Each state has its own rules about the need for a CDL. Many states require you to have a commercial license to tow vehicles past a certain weight limit. For this reason, it’s a good idea to go for your CDL early in your career.
Getting your CDL requires in-person training, a written exam and passing a driver’s test. Having your CDL is a great way to boost your resume. Companies will see that you’re ready for any tow truck job required of you. Go online to find out where to get a CDL near you.
4. Pass the Physical Exam
Being a tow truck driver is a physically demanding profession. You’ll need to pass a physical exam before getting on the road as a hired tow truck driver. The physical exam includes vision and hearing tests to ensure safety behind the wheel and on the roadside. You should also maintain a good level of physical fitness. Tow truck driver jobs may force you to do some heavy lifting, among other strenuous tasks. Exercise and keep yourself healthy to perform every job duty with success.
5. Undergo Drug Screening
The last thing towing companies want is to hire someone who will be drinking or doing drugs on the job or showing up to work hungover. These substances and driving heavy machinery do not mix. You could be a liability to yourself and those around you. That’s why you’ll have to take drug tests before companies will hire you. When your test comes back clean, the towing company will trust that you’ll be responsible behind the wheel.
6. Get Your Certification
The Towing and Recovery Association of America (TRAA) awards tow truck driver certifications for meeting various milestones. As you progress in your career, you’ll qualify for the next certification level to take a wider range of tow truck jobs. We’ll go over this more below.
You may also need hazardous materials certifications in the event of a spill on the roadway. While standard towing companies won’t make this a job requirement, it will look great on your resume. Towing companies that specialize in transporting hazardous materials will ask you to have hazardous materials certifications.
7. Have a Background Check
During the hiring process, you’ll have to submit to a background check. Since you’ll be transporting other people’s property, the towing company needs to make sure you’re a citizen in good standing. They want to hire people they can trust, but they understand that everyone makes mistakes. If you have anything outstanding on your record, show the tow truck company how you’ve addressed those actions and turned a new leaf.
Tow Truck Driver Skills
If you want tips for tow truck drivers, some of the best advice you can receive is knowing the characteristics you need on the job. Here are some characteristics every tow truck driver should have:
- Quick-thinking: You’ll need to think fast when you’re out towing vehicles by yourself. You won’t always have someone in the passenger seat to help with your calls. Instead, you need to make your own decisions and trust your instincts when it’s time to tow a vehicle.
- Levelheaded: You need to maintain mental clarity in any environment. This is especially true on busy highways or roads with steep inclines. People can break down or get into car crashes anywhere, so you need to have the problem-solving abilities to get the job done in any situation.
- Not afraid of the dirt and grime: Let’s face it. Being a tow truck driver can be messy. You’ll often get home after a long day’s work with your hands and clothes covered in oil, dirt and grease. But that’s what sets tow truck drivers apart from the crowd. They’re not afraid to get their hands dirty and do the hard jobs to help get someone’s day back on track.
- Personable: Personal skills are a must for every tow truck driver. You never know what’s happening in the lives of the people you’ll meet. Many of these individuals could be shaken up after a car crash. You need to give people excellent customer service to help make their day a little better.
- Thick-skinned: When someone needs their car towed, they’re probably not having the best day of their life. Mechanical issues and parking violations could put people in a sour mood. If they start directing their frustration at you, let it roll right off. Return their insults with a smile and carry on with your duty.
Should You Have Your CDL as a Tow Truck Driver?
A CDL is not required to start driving tow trucks, but you will need one depending on the weight of the tow truck and the weight of your load. You’ll need a CDL when the gross combination weight rating (GCWR) of your tow truck and the vehicle being towed exceeds a certain weight. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has broken these weight limits into the following three CDL groups:
- Group A CDL: You’ll need a Group A CDL if the GCWR of your tow truck and the towed vehicle exceeds 26,001 pounds and the towed vehicle alone weighs more than 10,000 pounds.
- Group B CDL: A Group B CDL is necessary for a couple of instances. First, you’ll need one if your tow truck exceeds 26,001 pounds with no vehicle in tow. You’ll also need one if your tow truck exceeds 26,001 pounds and the towing load is less than 10,000 pounds.
- Group C CDL: When your towing configuration doesn’t fit into the above specifications, you’ll need a Group C CDL if the vehicle you’re towing will be marked for hazardous materials and towed to a second location after the initial towing.
Types of Towing
After you have some on-the-job experience, you can pursue certifications through the TRAA’s National Driver Certification Program®. Each one represents an increasing level of experience and skill in the towing industry. Here are the three certification levels and a description of how to achieve them:
- Light duty: To qualify for a Level 1 light duty certification, you’ll need to meet all state driving requirements and have 90 total days of experience working with tow trucks within the last five years. You can take the test to get your Nationally Certified Tow Operator® designation online or take a written version at community colleges and tow truck shows.
- Medium and heavy-duty: The Master Tower® certification has a few requirements. You’ll need to have a Level 1 certification as well as a CDL. On top of that, you’ll need at least a full year of employment as a medium or heavy-duty tow truck driver. The test has oral and written sections that focus on your theoretical knowledge and see what you’d do in various real-life scenarios. You’ll also need to understand hazmat recovery procedures.
- Heavy Recovery Specialist®: If you want your Level 3 certification, you’ll need a Level 2 certification, a CDL with endorsements and two years of employed time working on tow trucks. The Heavy Recovery Specialist® test is like the Level 2 test with sections focusing on how you’d respond to real-life situations and theoretical dilemmas. Finally, you should be well-versed in hazmat recovery procedures and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guidelines.
Types of Tow Trucks
There are three main categories of tow trucks. Towing companies use each one for different situations. As you progress in your career, you may specialize in one type over the other two. You should still take some time to familiarize yourself with all three. You may have to get behind the wheel of an unfamiliar tow truck occasionally. Here are the three types of tow trucks:
- Conventional: These are the most common type of tow trucks on the road. Some people refer to them as “hook and chain trucks.” When using this tow truck, you’ll wrap chains around the axles and frame of the vehicle being towed. The truck’s arm then pulls the chain, raising one end of the car off the ground. Put the car in neutral, and you’re good to go. This method can scratch cars on account of the chaining procedure.
- Wheel lift: Wheel lift tow trucks also go by the name “full float truck.” It uses the same principle as conventional tow trucks by raising one end of the towed vehicle and putting it in neutral for transportation. However, instead of chains, it uses a metal yoke on the wheels to lift the car using hydraulics. This method is a bit easier on the towed car’s paint job.
- Flatbed: This type of tow truck uses a hydraulic system to raise and lower the bed of the truck. That way, the entire car can be loaded on the bed without suffering any damage during transit. It’s also useful for transporting cars that have suffered extreme damage after an accident and cannot be towed by conventional or wheel lift tow trucks.
Salary and Job Growth
As you consider entering this new career, there’s something else on your mind — money. Many people are familiar with the company AAA that dispatches tow truck drivers to broken-down vehicles around the country. There’s a good chance your future towing company will work with AAA, so you may be wondering, “How much money do AAA tow truck drivers make? Can I make a living wage as a tow truck driver?”
The average income for tow truck drivers is about $21 per hour, which translates to roughly $45,000 per year. If you prove yourself to be a reliable, hard worker, there are some opportunities for advancement and higher wages. A tow truck driver’s career path can take many turns, leading you to the following possible professions:
- Large truck driver
- Delivery driver
- Operation or dispatch supervisor
- Fleet manager
Strive to do your best as a tow truck driver and see what kind of opportunities arise. And remember that you can seek to get hazmat certifications to open up even more doors in your career with even higher pay.
Contact Hazmat School for Details on Tow Truck Driver Courses
Being a tow truck driver can be dangerous, and that includes coming in contact with hazardous materials. There could even be times when you’ll have to tow something that contains or has come in contact with hazardous materials. Be ready for any roadside event with Hazmat School’s DOT Hazmat Shipping Certification Training Courses.
If you need hazardous spill clean up tips for tow truck drivers, we’re the place to turn. We provide online courses to prepare you for any hazardous materials situation. With our help, you can boost your resume, advance your career and respond safely to even the most dangerous events. Contact us today for more information on how we can help you achieve your goal of becoming a certified tow truck driver.