The Week's Features
Seven of the industry’s finest to be inducted to Hall, October 12
Herring Motor Company keeps classic line alive
Recovery management and technology services now one
Delivers Class 6 capability in a Class 5 Super Duty package
Recovery “dance” lifts overturned truck
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American Towman Magazine Presents the Week in TowingMay 15 - May 21, 2019

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The Art of the Argument

art of arguing f347eBy DON ARCHER

A victim of icy conditions and inattentive driving, the 1996 Lexus ES300's owner wasn't coming back. What once was a luxurious means of travel and a joy to its owner now sat abandoned in our yard.

As is required by law, notifications to all with an interest in the forgotten car were mailed early on, but yielded no fruit. So with the hopes of getting a clear title, I sent them out again. One produced a surprised response.

An angry caller said, "We sold that car two years ago." It was the previous owner.

After I explained why she was receiving the formal notifications, which included the dollar amount owed and what would happen if no action were taken, the previous owner relaxed and promised to make a call to the new owner.

A few hours later I received a call from Ben. I'd spoken with him a few times before, explained his options, got promises ... but nothing happened. This time was different; the previous owner must have laid down the law because he assured me that the title would be in the mail that day.

The car had a steering problem and some light body damage and upon further digging, the reality of fixing it for resale looked brighter. We pulled it into the shop and pulled off the wheel and found that the strut and the tie-rod needed to be replaced.

We called a couple of junk dealers for the parts. The total to get it road-worthy, minus a mirror and an alignment, came to $150. We ordered the parts and tore into it, figuring we'd have it done that day. But there was a snag (there's always a snag). While removing the damaged tie-rod, we noticed that the rack-and-pinion bar was bent as well. But there was no turning back.

Already fully invested in the project, we forged ahead and ordered it, bringing the parts total to $300.

But we were still doing OK. At 140,000 miles and minor body damage with a clear, non-salvage title, the finished product should bring $1,500 cash ... still better than crushing it.

The Lexus sat waiting for its part to arrive and I'd all but forgotten about it until Carol walked in the door.

Carol was a friendly, well-spoken, middle-aged woman who was looking to talk with me about a car we had. A friend of her son owned it. It took me only about two minutes to get that the person she was talking about was Ben and the car was the one, in pieces, sitting in the middle of my shop. My heart started to beat a little faster.

I knew I'd done nothing wrong; we were operating well within the law as 30 days had passed and I could either sell the car for scrap or apply for, and receive, a salvage title. In short, the car was already mine. But she didn't know that and, through past experience, I figured it would be extremely hard for her to put aside the emotion that usually surrounds these difficult situations and understand my side of the story. So I readied myself for a fight.

Carol told me that, due to a run of bad luck, Ben was now living in her house, and that on her way to the post office the previous day, she'd noticed a letter addressed to my wrecker business. It was from Ben and she called to question him about it. Ben told her the deal, but she insisted on talking to me first and took the title back home.

To say that I wasn't annoyed at her interjection into the matter would be a lie. But I didn't toss her out of my office. Instead, I proceeded to explain exactly what had happened, the entire timeline, from the accident 60 days prior to the repeated notifications and the phone calls.

I explained that we needed to be compensated for our services and that Ben had been given ample time to do so. I explained the reason the laws were put in place, to enable us to continue to provide services. I laid out a pretty good case, but her impression of me and my business still hadn't changed. Before she even walked in my door, she'd convinced herself that I'd taken advantage of Ben's misfortune and was determined to shame me into relinquishing the car to her without reimbursement.

I proceeded to explain that Ben's misfortune was in no way a result of the services my company provided. I continued by offering reasoning that revealed how the exact opposite type of a relationship was in place. Because of his actions, his misfortune, we were called upon to provide services for which just compensation was due. And since he hadn't held up his end of the bargain, we were forced to take actions to remedy the problem.

I don't think she comprehended how Ben's actions had negatively impacted my company, because she told the same story about his bad luck. So I took her out to the shop and let her see what we were doing. She witnessed my devious plan, to fix it and sell the Lexus for a profit. She learned about our misfortune, the added difficulty and costs of the unforeseen rack-and-pinion. And then I made her an offer.

I offered to give Ben back his car if she would pay only part of what was owed: Towing, half the storage fees, and the cost of the parts minus the labor. A very generous offer, but she declined. She said she didn't have any money and was hoping that I'd give him the car and accept monthly payments (this after admitting he didn't even have a job).

I politely declined and she left.

I was under no obligation to speak to Carol about someone else's property. I could have asked her to leave right off the bat, but it gave me an opportunity to hone my chops. I was able to lay out in detail why I am justified in my actions. Of course my words may not have sunk into Carol's brain, but it helped me and that's what mattered.

Don Archer lives and works in Jefferson City, Mo., where he and his wife, Brenda, own and operate Broadway Wrecker, a 12-truck operation that's been in business since the 1950s. Email him at

Spotters for Rotators, Heavy Wreckers

image7 6a8f2By Randall C. Resch

I taught a California Highway Patrol Operator's safety course recently that included tow operators of all ages and experience levels. At the start of every class, I hold a safety briefing to remind all hands to have their heads on a swivel; especially when tow trucks, carriers and forklifts are on the move during techniques and scenarios.

About mid-way through one class, a young tower wasn't paying attention as a carrier was backing up across the yard. When I saw his actions, I immediately stopped the class. His naïve, but unintentional, movement seemed like the perfect segue to have a discussion regarding the safety and dangers of backing up.

Too Often

Many years ago as a budding tow driver, my dad gave us his version of on-scene, in-the-yard, backing safety. It was simple and to the point, "Don't put your wrecker in any location where you have to back up unnecessarily."

In our line of work, it's not always possible to avoid backing.

At the San Diego Police Department, their own policy says, "If there are two officers in a police vehicle, the passenger officer will exit (the) vehicle and provide a visual, 'second set of eyes' to the backing movement."

If a two-officer police car had an incident while backing, both the vehicle's driver and the second officer would be held accountable. Officers working alone were required to make a full walkaround of their car before travel.

How many of you take a walkaround of your tow trucks and carriers to see if there are any obstacles or other persons before you drive off?

Who's to Help?

Enlisting a spotter is a perfect-world situation if there are others around to become your spotter. Many of the world's tow companies are mom-and-pop operations and spotter availability is not always possible. Still, the truck's operator must be aware of their surroundings at all time.

The same applies when you're on the road. Due to the sheer size, bulk and blind spots, every backing movement can be potentially deadly. A solid set of hand signals is the best way to communicate between the tow truck's driver and the spotter that's behind them.

In this litigious time for accidents and injury, not having written narrative in your company's employee handbook could weigh heavy on the outcome of the lawsuit. When these situations occur, an injured plaintiff or representative of the deceased will assuredly attack your tow operator's driving record, their background and your company's training.

If your company's employee handbook makes no mention of safe-backing protocol, the total price of a lawsuit could be monumentally increased. It may not be not fair, but failing to make any attempt to prevent a backing incident plants the seed of incompetency. It makes perfect sense to include a spotter when big rigs are backing up. Like other dangerous tow-related situations, get people out of harm's way.

Randall Resch is American Towman's and Tow Industry Week's Operations Editor, a former California police officer, tow business owner and retired civilian off-road instructor for Navy Special Warfare. Randall is an approved instructor for towers serving the California Highway Patrol's rotation contract. His course is approved by the California law enforcement community. He has written over 500 industry-related articles for print and on-line, is a member of the International Towing & Recovery Hall of Fame, and, a recipient of the 2017 Dave Jones Leadership Award.
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