We all vaguely know what a tow truck is, but are you aware there are different kinds of tow trucks? In this article, we’ll cover the five main types of tow trucks and what purposes they serve.

5 types of tow trucks:  If your car breaks down and you need to get it repaired, you will most likely use a wheel lift tow truck whereas if you need to move your car out of a dangerous situation, a boom tow truck, which has a hydraulic arm, is beneficial. Those that have their car repossessed will see an integrated tow truck, as the driver can safely sit in the cab and manipulate the hook from there. A flatbed tow truck is useful to securely carry a car without damaging it. Finally, if you have a car destined for the junkyard, a hook and chain tow truck is useful.

What is a Tow Truck?

Essentially, a tow truck is a type of truck that can tow other things. Most often, a tow truck is used to tow a broken car or vehicle, but it can also have the capacity to tow a trailer or other objects.

Tow trucks need to be powerful enough to haul whatever they are towing. If the weight is too high, the tow truck can break down, leaving you stranded.

What is the purpose of towing?

For the most part, the purpose of towing is if you need to pull something that doesn’t have the capability of moving on its own. For example, a basic tow truck that hauls broken down cars is essential as that car no longer has the ability to move on its own.

Cars that need to be repaired are too heavy to push or lift, so the durability and power of a tow truck are used to move them from point A to point B.

5 Different Types of Tow Trucks

Integrated Tow Truck

Integrated Tow Truck

An integrated tow truck is all about more power. Its design is extra strong. This type of tow truck is usually used for buses and even big rig trucks.

Another benefit of an integrated tow truck is that it is easy to clamp onto a vehicle. Thus, if you’ve ever had your car towed for illegal parking, or even repossession, then an integrated tow truck was most likely used.

The design of an integrated tow truck features a wheel lift and a boom. These are combined into a single unit, hence the name.

An integrated tow truck will also feature an extra axle, which helps when there is extra pressure during transportation.

Finally, instead of having to get out of their truck to hook everything together, the driver of an integrated tow truck can stay in the cab. From there, they can easily operate the mechanics.

This benefit is especially important if the driver needs to repossess a vehicle. Owners can get angry, so it is safer if the driver can remain in their secured cab during the process.

Operators of this type of Tow Truck are usually the highest paid. Check out our article about Tow Truck driver wages here.

Hook And Chain

Hook And Chain

This type of tow truck is effective but has a very specific purpose. A hook and chain tow truck is only used when the vehicle it is towing is wrecked. There should be no need to fix it.

A hook and chain tow truck works by using a very large hook, which is attached to the wrecked vehicle. It needs to be solidly attached or else the part it is hooked onto will simply fall off. For example, instead of attaching the hook to the front bumper of a car, it should be hooked onto a large part of the car’s frame.

Once the hook is attached, the large chain will then pull the car up slightly. Then, only the two back wheels are on the ground. If these aren’t working, the tow truck can also pick the car up from the other side.

Everything needs to be secured. Then, the hook and chain tow truck will start to move with the car on its two wheels rolling behind it.

As you can see, considerable damage might be done to the car during this method, which is why it is only used with vehicles that can’t be fixed. Wrecked cars destined for the scrap heap are ideal targets, as are any vehicles that have a rougher exterior that can withstand bumps and scratches.

While hook and chain trucks used to be the most popular, there are now better, more efficient methods, so they are not often used, except for towing to the scrap heap.

Wheel Lift

Wheel Lift

While a wheel lift tow truck is similar to a hook and chain truck it offers more secure transportation and won’t damage the vehicle it is towing as much. Therefore, it is an updated version that is more versatile.

Similar to a hook and chain tow truck, a wheel lift truck positions the vehicle it is towing behind it so that it moves on the back wheels only. The difference is that a wheel lift has an extra metal yoke that is placed under the vehicle’s wheels.

Instead of using chains to position the vehicle, this metal yoke is used to secure the car. The extra support means there will be less damage to the towed car.

The purpose of a wheel lift tow truck is to move a damaged car to a repair shop. The car should still be salvageable and, because of the construction of hauling it, the car won’t suffer extra damages while in motion.

Wheel lift tow trucks are more common than hook and chain trucks. While they can still be used to tow wrecked cars where it doesn’t matter if they suffer damage, they can also be used to tow salvageable cars.

Boom Trucks

Boom Trucks

Kids might especially like the sight of a boom truck in action. This type of tow truck comes with a hydraulic arm that picks the car up from the top, which is pretty cool to see.

The boom refers to the hydraulic arm, which is attached to the truck but can be moved in different directions. At the end of the boom, a chain wraps around the car and then lifts it off the ground.

This current method, of attaching the chain around the entire car, is preferable to the older method. This involved only moving the front part of the car off the ground and dragging the car by its rear wheels. Unfortunately, this method can cause a lot of damage, which is why the construction was changed.

A boom truck can indeed tow cars but it is also useful if you need to move a car out of a dangerous situation. For example, if the car has to be lifted out of a tight space, the boom truck can simply move it vertically and then put it down in a different, safer area.



A flatbed truck will have a large base at the back of the truck for a vehicle to sit on. Then, the truck can transport that vehicle to where it needs to go.

For a flatbed truck to work properly, a series of hydraulics will lower the flatbed area so that it is level with the ground. If the car can still work, it can be driven onto this base.

However, if it is too broken to move, then a system of chains is attached to the car. Then, a winch will pull the car up onto the flatbed.

The car will need to be secured as the flatbed is most likely open on either side. The chains will hold the car in place so that it doesn’t slide around when the truck is moving.

This is a very easy form of a tow truck and is quite common. Towing companies regularly use flatbed trucks.

As all of the pressure is put on the flatbed, it is a good way to move a vehicle around. It won’t cause extra stress by pulling or dragging the car.

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

Depending on where you live, the two terms, tow truck, and wrecker, might be interchangeable. While they do have different meanings, in common terms, they are often used to mean the same thing.

However, if you want to be more precise with your words, there is a difference.

A tow truck is used to tow another vehicle. This is usually a broken-down car that can’t adequately drive itself.

A wrecker, on the other hand, is a type of tow truck but is mainly used to recover a vehicle. If you are in an accident and your car slides down a hill, a wrecker is used to retrieve it.

A wrecker has a similar construction to a tow truck and will tow vehicles. However, the goal is to remove the vehicle and thus is not as concerned about potential damage.


Tow trucks are fascinating, heavy-duty vehicles that have an important function. We’ve covered the five main types of tow trucks to show how they work and what purpose they serve.