Towing has become a critical requirement in the lives of motorists. Studies by the AAA show that every day a car breakdown is experienced by one of every five drivers. While many of the rescue operations are routine, others involve unique circumstances.
If tow trucks could only tell stories, we'd get tons of knowledge about cars and their drivers. The history of tow trucks began back in 1916 when a driver of a Ford Model T swerved off the road and into a creek in Tennessee. A mechanic, Earnest Holmes, who lived nearby, gathered several men and tools consisting of wood, rope, and bricks to help pull the car out of the creek. The task proved to be very difficult, requiring several hours to complete.
The event inspired Holmes to develop a better method, so he created the first wrecker prototype. Although the prototype failed, Holmes built an improved model with supported outriggers for stability that successfully helped remove a car from a water trap.
Through the years, the tow truck has evolved, and manufacturers have developed several types of towing systems to meet different needs. The Hook and Chain system wraps a chain around the car’s axle or frame and a boom winch lifts it. The Wheel Lift fits a yoke under the car’s wheels and lifts part of the car off the ground. The Boom system lifts the vehicle with a winch. Meanwhile, the Flatbed truck supports the entire vehicle above the ground.
Here are 20 tow trucks that were left behind to rust and some fascinating stories they might have told if they could talk.
20 1970s Ford F-350 Tow Truck
This sixth-generation (1973-1979) Ford F-350 tow truck is covered in rust and sinks into the ground in eastern North Carolina.
A man drives home from work one day only to find an empty taxicab parked in his condominium parking place. He had not ordered a cab, so he calls the taxicab company and waits on the phone while they search their records. After what seemed like an hour, he hangs up the phone upset and calls a local towing company to remove the taxi.
He says, “Hello, there’s a yellow taxi in my driveway and I need it towed away.” The towing company responds: “Ha ha ha! No, we can’t tow a taxi cab! That’s private property! Call their company!” Other cars that are parked and towed are not private property?
19 Abandoned Studebaker Tow Truck
A man’s car suddenly quits with no warning and he pulls over to the side of the road. He calls AAA and requests a tow. In the pouring rain, he waits for the tow truck seated in his car for an hour and a half. When the tow truck arrives, he recognizes the driver as the same who rescued him several times in the past year.
The two truck technician said, “Man, if I’d known it was you sitting here waiting, I would’ve told the last lady to call a different tow service!” The man, surprised, replies, “Why? What was wrong with her car?” The driver explained, “She called it in as multiple flat tires, and when I got there, they were just entirely bald, and she was afraid to drive it in this rain! She had me tow her home!”
Man: “Let me guess. Luxury car.” Driver: “You got it!”
18 Abandoned at the Troublemaker Film Studio in Austin, Texas
Troublemaker Studios based in Austin, Texas is a film production company founded and owned by filmmaker Robert Rodriguez and producer Elizabeth Avellán. Located at the former site of the Robert Mueller Municipal Airport, the company shares space with Austin Studios, managed by the Austin Film Society. Production offices, sound stages, and the largest green screen in Texas are located on the property. Robert Rodriguez’ film credits include Spy Kids, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Sin City, and numerous others.
The International tow truck from the 1950s found on the lot of Troublemaker Film Studio is one of many 1950-era trucks used as props in the film studio's movies.
17 Post-World War II Chevrolet Wrecker and Route 66
The TV series Route 66 featured Tod Stiles (played by Martin Milner) and Buz Murdock (George Maharis) drifting from town to town in search of adventure along the famous U.S. highway Route 66—with a 1960 Chevrolet Corvette C1 convertible. The program aired on CBS from 1960 to 1964 and became the inspiration for at least two generations to travel the real Main Street of the U.S. or the Will Rogers Highway.
Although the TV series used several vehicles for filming and the crew was ready with a spare in the event of a breakdown, the average traveler was not so fortunate. Some may have broken down on the famous highway and used the towing services of Bulger Motor Company and maybe even the tow truck shown here.
16 Early 1960s Corvair Tow Truck?
In the first chapter of Ralph Nader's book, Unsafe at Any Speed, the famous and often outspoken political activist criticizes the United States automobile industry highlighted by the famous phrase about the Corvair. The car’s rear engine placement caused a weight imbalance that resulted in poor handling. Several safety features were absent but the most significant risk was an over-steering issue caused by the lack of an anti-sway bar.
Ironically, this Chevrolet tow truck discovered in Mayer, Arizona, looks like an early 1960s Corvair truck. Imagine the surprise when the owner of a Corvair breaks down on the highway and a Corvair tow truck shows up for the rescue.
15 1939 Smith Bros. Chevrolet Tow Truck
The 1939 model year was one of the last in which Chevrolet trucks and medium-duty vehicles shared an appearance with Chevy passenger coupes and sedans. However, the cab was re-engineered and restyled including an attractive and functional instrument panel.
This 1939 Chevrolet tow truck was found abandoned in a field but still working as an advertising sign for a body shop in Starke, Florida. You have to wonder about the effectiveness of advertising a body shop on the side of an old, rusted tow truck. Wouldn’t the observer be more impressed reading the ad on the side of a completely restored vehicle with a pristine body covered in a paint job that looks brand new?
14 Studebaker Tow Truck and Safety in Numbers
One tow-truck experience can change the course of life. One car owner had his car towed twice in one year. He admitted the first time was his fault because he parked his car on the street by his house, not realizing it was a snow plow route. Signs were posted on one side of the street, so he assumed it was safe to park on the other.
The second towing of the year occurred when the city towed over 200 cars where they claimed a “temporary no parking” sign had warned drivers—but admitted later that no signs had been posted. The owner missed a job interview when he spent the day at the tow lot. Had he gone to the interview and taken a new job, perhaps his life afterward would have been entirely different.
13 Abandoned Mammoth Mine Tow Truck
This rusting old tow truck sits on the grounds of the abandoned Mammoth Mine in the Arizona gold-rush town of Goldfield. Founded in 1893 after gold was discovered in the nearby Superstition Mountains, the town was abandoned twice by its residents after the mine veins faulted.
A private investor purchased the land where the town is located and created a tourist attraction. The historic site features Goldfield's Superstition Narrow Gauge Railroad, the only three-foot, narrow-gauge railroad still operating in Arizona. Tourists flock to the town to watch re-enactments of western scenes on Main Street—and perhaps marvel at this old tow truck.
12 Rusty Old 1948 One Ton Ford Tow Truck for Sale
A driver tells why he no longer eats hamburgers and fries from Jack in the Box. Several years ago, he drove to a restaurant to pick up a work colleague but when he arrived, there was no available parking. So, he parked in the adjacent Jack in the Box lot for about 10 minutes while he entered the restaurant and looked for his fellow worker.
No signs were posted warning non-customers their cars would be towed away. However, when the driver came out of the restaurant with his associate, a towing company had already taken the car. “I had to take a cab and pay $170 to get it out of hock. Needless to say, I do not eat at any Jack in the Box!”
11 Dodge 500 Wrecker Dixie Motor Company
The weather in Miami is classified as a tropical monsoon climate, characterized by hot, humid summers and short, warm, and drier winters. Its proximity to the Gulf Stream, position just above the Tropic of Cancer, coastal location, and sea-level elevation shape its climate.
During a typical rain shower, a Miami resident entered a parking lot with large areas of standing water and parked her car between the white parking space lines (at least, where she believed the lines were). When she returned to the lot, the flooded areas were gone and so was her car. The traffic ticket and towing fee cost her $600.
10 Greg’s Restorations Tow Truck
Although Greg’s Restorations tow truck is covered entirely in rust except for some remaining blue paint on the cab, the vehicle shows signs that it’s not abandoned. All six tires have tread and are fully inflated. The semi-shiny metal of the muffler and exhaust pipe suggests they are not original. The headlight lenses are not broken, and the windshield glass is intact.
The body is complete and shows no dents, cracks or missing pieces that are typical of abandoned vehicles. The company name, Greg’s Restorations, has been recently painted on the door. Perhaps most telling is the ground under the truck, where no weeds are growing and no dirt is consuming the tires. While this truck may no longer be used for hauling vehicles, no doubt the engine still starts and it can be driven away.
9 Tow Truck Mater from the Movie Cars
This Mater wrecker lookalike from Northern Kansas roamed the same territory as the animated version in the film Cars and its sequels, Cars 2, Cars 3, and Cars Toons. In the films, Radiator Springs is a fictional town inspired by "Peach Springs" in Arizona and created as a composite of multiple real locations on the historic U.S. Route 66 that ran from Kansas to Arizona.
The main character, Lightning McQueen, gets along well with Tow Mater, the friendly tow truck responsible for the pound where McQueen is held. Although this tow truck was dressed up to imitate the Mater character, it is not the real wrecker from Peach Springs that inspired the movie character.
8 1942 Ford Pickup Tow Truck and Dummies
A man’s car broke down on the freeway in the desert. He called a towing company for help but knew it would take some time to arrive. While he waited, he thought, “I know a little about engines. I read the do-it-yourself book on auto mechanics." He popped open the hood but realized there was nothing there that looked like the photos in his book.
When the man tried to get back into the car, he realized he had made a big mistake, not only because he couldn’t fix his problem, but he left his keys in the ignition, locked himself out, and would have to wait for the tow truck in 100-degree heat.
7 Vintage Power Wagon Tow Truck
A tow truck removed an illegally parked car in London. The owner went to the car lot to retrieve it and began chatting with the young girl that worked behind the counter. After just a few minutes, she burst into tears. When he asked her why she was crying, she responded, “I have been in the job for nearly six months, and you are the first person to be polite with me.”
No one is happy when their car is unexpectedly towed, they get a ticket for illegally parking, they pay the expensive towing fee, and they waste most of the day waiting at the tow lot to recover their car. It's a tough job but someone's got to do it.
6 Abandoned Tow Truck Near Mountain Building
Off-road rescue can be a challenge even for the best-equipped tow trucks. Pulling a stuck 4×4 out of a gully, ditch, or from a pool of deep mud requires specialized vehicles and experienced off-road professionals that can do the job correctly and safely. Only experienced drivers understand the power required, the correct angles, and the necessary cables and accessories to put vehicles upright.
During its operational years, this rusted old tow truck probably rescued hundreds of weekend off-roaders who either made bad decisions about their chosen route or encountered mountain-climbing challenges beyond their capability. It is also a reminder that newer tow vehicles with the latest technology make the driver’s job a lot easier.
5 Ford N600 Wrecker and Outrageous Fees
The rules governing the towing and impounding of vehicles varies with each state, but they have many regulations in common. In the state of Michigan, as an example, when a vehicle is towed, the expense to the owner can be much more than just the towing and storage fees.
If the vehicle is deemed “abandoned” or wrongfully parked, the owner must pay a fine. Even worse, leaving a car on the side of the road is now also considered littering, which can incur a fine of up to $5,000 plus miscellaneous costs, penalties, and state assessments. These fines may be assessed regardless of whether the vehicle is redeemed or the owner lets it go to auction.
4 Taylor’s Recovery Tow Truck Out to Pasture
While a tow truck business can be a profitable venture, it requires a significant initial investment and operating cash. To start a towing business can require capital ranging from $150,000 to $2,000,000. Typical monthly expenses for an operation with only one tow truck include fuel at $1,282 (averaging 220 calls at 20 miles, 13 mpg with $3.79 per gallon of diesel), insurance at $300 (high deductible), repair costs at $500 (depends on age of truck and other factors), advertising at $500, phone at $100, and miscellaneous expenses at $400-$1,000.
Tow trucks are required to pull heavy loads and work under adverse conditions, so they have a shorter lifespan than most trucks. When the time has come to replace one, old tow trucks sometimes gets put out to pasture like this Taylor’s Recovery vehicle.
3 Rusty License Plate Tow Truck
Many tow truck drivers that repossess cars feel little sympathy for the car owners. They failed to make the payments they committed to when they purchased the vehicle, so taking it back seems justified.
However, one driver fell some compassion for a debtor who didn’t make the last payment. He commented, “Some banks will have the unit repo'd even if it is the very last payment that is late. I let one guy slide, I told him to block his truck in and pay the bank because my coworkers [would] be driving by his house later on. He was around $300 away from owning the vehicle. Some lenders see people as dollar signs rather than people.”
2 Ford Tow Truck and Common Roadside Emergencies
The most common roadside emergencies include many hazards. While many drivers know how to change a flat tire on their own, it won’t matter if they don’t carry an inflated spare tire and the necessary tools to change it. Some drivers can free their vehicle from a snow bank or mud on their own while others need the help of a tow truck. When an engine overheats, it needs to cool, which can take some time.
When the battery loses charge, jumper cables and another car are needed to restart the engine, or a towing service can help. Damaged vehicles often must be towed to a car repair shop to assess the damage and make repairs.
1 A Rusted 1966 Chevrolet Tow Truck in Ontario
Bill is a tow truck driver that started his career over 36 years ago with AAA in California but now works in Toronto. “The best part about my job is that every day is different,” said Bill. “You never know who you’ll meet or where you’ll end up.”
He added, “My job requires me to be part tow truck driver and part psychologist. When I arrive on the scene, drivers are feeling down and out because their car has broken down or they’ve accidentally locked their keys inside. I listen, try to make them laugh and hopefully help them get through what seems to be a bad day.”
Sources: Guy's Towing Service, Holts Auto, GEICO, and CNN.