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Towing Industry Innovation: New Products from AW Direct

AW Direct’s goal of “helping you help them” involves providing a wide range of products that can help you get the job done faster, better and safer. Naturally, this means keeping up to date with new advances in towing product technology. Today’s towing industry, like many industries, is seeing the introduction of more and more innovative new tools. With many of today’s products, a tower can complete tasks much easier and safer than towers of previous generations could, and the better you can do your job, the better you can help those who need it. AW Direct is excited to offer an array of new items that reflect the innovation seen in the towing industry today.

Certainly, one area of increased innovation in the towing industry over the years has been lighting. Older lighting styles like rotators and strobes have essentially been replaced by the largely superior and somewhat revolutionary LED technology. Whelen’s new Mini Liberty™ II IT9 Series LED Lightbar, now available from AW Direct, is one example of how far lighting technology has come. The Mini-Liberty Lightbar is an extremely bright lightbar that features improved optics and linear LEDs for a superior light output. It also features a low profile design that is sleeker and less conspicuous when off than older style lights. Its compact size makes storing the magnetic mount option easier as well. The mini lightbar also offers 58 Scan-Lock™ flash patterns to choose from.

Often, a product can be called innovative not because it is entirely revolutionary, but because it is a basic necessity that exemplifies the gradual improvement brought on by years of hard work using the tool. B/A Products’ Super Swaged IWRC Rope with Self-Locking Swivel Hook is an example of a basic towing product that is engineered to solve or alleviate a number of difficulties that have frustrated towers using wire rope. Super Swaged Rope is designed for strength as well as compactness, as it is stronger than standard winch lines of the same diameter and has a design factor ratio of 3.55:1. The larger surface area of the outer wires also provides better resistance to wear and tear, and its compactness helps it to resist drum crushing. The swaging process used in manufacturing the rope helps it to resist abrasion, bird nesting and kinking.

Of course, increased innovations are welcome not just because they help get the job done faster and more efficiently, but because they can also help get certain jobs done safer and more carefully. An example of a product that can help towers do a dangerous job more carefully and precisely is B/A Products’ Gradual-Release Ratchet. The ratchet reduces tension one gear at a time instead of allowing a tightly bound strap to go flying the second it is released. The ratchet can also help you put greater tension on loads when securing them for transport, and it features a double locking mechanism for added safety.

Change in techniques and procedures can happen just as assuredly and naturally as changes in tools sometimes. If we allow our experiences to improve the tools we use, it makes sense that we would do the same with the methods and procedures we use on the job as well. Thankfully, the towing industry today is attempting more and more to provide training materials for towers that can help them learn from others with experience in the field. Wreckmaster has been a source of information for towers since its inception, and its newly released Recovery Handbook is a 136-page compilation of up to date towing procedures and techniques. The handbook covers topics ranging from traffic control, winching, rigging, car carrying, recovery engineering methods and more.

You can find all of these new products and more at AW Direct. We are committed to offering you as many of the best new innovative products as possible and to being a resource of information about how you can use those products effectively. We look forward to working with you in seeking to make the towing industry better and safer for those within it and for those who need its services.

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Winch Lines- The Heart of the Pull

By Paul Ederer, Technical Support-AWDirect

Wire winch lines are the heart of our recovery operations. A damaged line is a serious safety issue and a broken one removes a recovery vehicle from service. Unfortunately, winch lines are often misunderstood. In this article I will cover the basics of winch lines (commonly called wire ropes). I will discuss both what to look for during an inspection of your winch line and how to select a new winch line.

Rope Cores: Rope cores serve as the foundation for the strands. They keep the rope round and strands properly positioned. There are 3 different core types: fiber core, independent wire core (IWRC) and strand core. Fiber core offers the greatest flexibility. It is commonly made of polypropylene fibers, but natural fiber options are also available. Independent wire rope core (IWRC) is made of wire rope. It is the strongest type of core available and is 10-15% stronger than fiber core. Strand Core is made of stands of wires. It is least flexible of the three types discussed and is mostly used on utility cables.

Rope Grades: The most common rope today is extra improved plow steel (EIP or XIP). It is typically used on winch lines and is generally 15% stronger than improved plow steel grade (IPS). Extra extra improved plow steel grade (EEIP or XXIP) is also available for added strength in higher rated equipment.

Rope Types: Bright wire is un-coated and is the most commonly used winch line. Another option is galvanized wire, which improves corrosion resistance. However, galvanization can reduce a wire’s strength up to 10% compared to bright wire unless the wire is drawn again. Stainless steel wire contains chromium and nickel. It is very corrosion resistant and used primarily on yachts or as control cables.

Construction: Construction determines how the wire rope performs. For instance, a 6 x 19 rope will have 6 strands of rope that have between 19 to 26 wires. Each added wire makes for better abrasion resistance. A 6 x 37 construction has 27 to 49 wires and is more flexible, while a 19 x 7 construction is rotation resistant. 6 x 19 IWRC

Lay: There are two categories of lay, directional lay and lay orientation. Directional lay refers to what direction the strands of the rope face when you are looking down the rope, and lay orientation refers to the direction the wires within the strands are twisted. Directional lay is either right or left. Lay orientation is either regular or lang. In regular lay, the wires are twisted in one direction while the strands are twisted in the opposite direction. In lang lay, the wires are laid in the same direction as the strand in the rope. Regular lay ropes are less likely to untwist. They are also less likely to fail because of crushing and distortion; however, they are less flexible than lang lay ropes. Wire winch lines use right regular lay construction.

Design Factors: Design factors are safety factors required by government and industry organizations for wire rope. While they vary depending on application, typical towing winch lines have a 3:1 design factor, while lifting wire ropes have a 5:1 factor.

During a winch line’s “useful life” all wire rope will gradually lose strength due to surface wear and metal fatigue. Metal fatigue is caused by normal use of the winch line, but is made worse by excessive bending, which can be caused by a sheave that is too small. Inspecting your winch lines periodically for damage can save you many headaches on the road. Unfortunately, I suspect many can relate to having a winch line break that’s connected to a car with its owner watching. It’s never a pleasant or inexpensive experience! Below is mechanical damage to look for when inspecting your winch line and determining whether to remove it from service.

  • Hook damage: Look for any cracks or deformation of hooks. If the throat opening has been enlarged by 15% or twisted out of plane by 10%, it needs replacing.
  • Broken Wires: Pulling winch lines across edges, fatigue or overload can all break individual wires. If you find five or more broken wires in a single strand or 10 or more in one lay, the wire should be replaced.
  • Wear: Dragging a winch line on the ground or loading over the winch line will cause flat areas on individual wires of the cable. If these wires have lost 1/3 or more of the original diameter the line needs to be taken out of service.
  • Corrosion/Heat Damage: Any discoloration from rust or lack of lubrication promotes fatigue. If the wire rope is severely pitted or individual wires rusted through, replace the line. Fiber core slings need to stay below 180°F and steel core below 400°F. Exceeding these heats greatly reduce wire rope strength.
  • Kinking: Shock loading or forcing the line against an edge causes bent strands. This prevents the rope from rotating properly and greatly reduces its strength, making it necessary to replace the rope. Use load pads to protect the line and prevent this.
  • Crushing: A load set on top of a winch line can flatten the cable. This has the same effect as kinking, making it necessary to remove the line from service.

When you are inspecting your winch line and have not found any damage that would require replacement, it is an ideal opportunity to lubricate the line to get the maximum service life possible. Be sure to use a lubricant especially made for wire rope. Proper lubrication reduces internal friction within the wires and strands of the wire rope. In addition, it protects the rope from oxidation and corrosion.

When selecting a new winch line it should be based on the diameter, length and type recommended by the winch manufacturer for the model of winch you own. This information can be found on the winch nameplate, otherwise you can contact the winch manufacturer or local supplier. Beyond making sure your rope is compatible with your winch, there are a few other things you may want to consider. First,swivel hooks will help relieve rotational tension as the rope moves, so you may want to invest in them. Also, keep in mind that imported ropes can provide substantial cost savings without sacrificing quality. To reduce damage to whatever winch line you choose, use roller guides and tension plates. These aid in the proper winding of wire rope on the winch drum.

Periodic inspections and lubrication of your winch line will save your business money, but more importantly, keep your employees safe and your customers happy. That is the heart of our industry.

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High-Visibility Clothing: Protection from Traffic, Harsh Weather and More

By Don Kubly, Technical Support – AW Direct

Tow truck operators work in an environment where personal protective clothing is a must to be safe on the job. Wearing high-visibility clothing when on a roadway and around or near moving traffic makes the operator more visible. Protective clothing is available for when an operator is working near low- and high-speed traffic, in warm or cold weather, where insulation and waterproofing are required, and for when an operator is performing light-duty or heavy-duty work.

The first step in choosing appropriate work clothing is to make sure it complies with ANSI/ISEA standards. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) accredited a standard developed in 1999 by the International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA) regarding workwear. This standard, ANSI/ISEA 107, High-Visibility Safety Apparel and Headwear, requires a variety of work clothing to meet certain standards of visibility according to various work situations. Numerous federal and state authorities have mandated this standard. Most importantly, the Federal Highway Administration requires compliance from nearly all highway workers. Different classes specify the different requirements for particular work situations, and these classes are as follows:

Class 1 garments need to be conspicuous but are intended for workers where traffic does not exceed 25 mph and there is separation from traffic.

Class 2 garments have higher visibility than Class 1 clothing, but not as much as Class 3. They are intended for work near roadways where traffic exceeds 25 mph and when inclement weather conditions limit visibility.

Class 3 garments offer the highest level of visibility. They are designed for road personnel with high task loads in a wide variety of weather conditions where traffic exceeds 50 mph. Garments for these workers should provide enhanced visibility to more of the body, such as the arms and legs.

There are many workwear options that comply with these standards, and a discussion of what
is available may help you in choosing the best option that complies with visibility standards and
suits your own work needs and preferences.

Vests are available with a number of features and in a variety of styles, such as with or without sleeves, mesh or solid material construction and zipper or loop closure. To prevent danger from snagging or mechanical entanglement, breakaway vests are available that are easily torn away. Some vests have a variety of pocket features like five outside pockets, two lower inside pockets and an outside radio/phone pocket. Vests come in men’s, women’s and unisex fits.

A large variety of rainwear is available in water resistant and waterproof materials with or without liners. When dealing with fire or the potential of fire, flame-resistant rainwear is also available. Rainwear can be made of polyester fabric in order to be lightweight, breathable and water resistant for warmer weather and light-duty applications. For heavy-duty applications,
rainwear made with .35mm PVC coated polyester for snag resistance and greater cut resistance is available. When choosing rainwear, most operators prefer bibs or elastic waist pants and snap-on hoods.

Jackets, coats, pants, bibs, parkas and jumpsuits are available in lightweight, medium weight and heavyweight material and can be insulated and non-insulated. Some jackets have the added benefit of removable liners for use in various weather conditions.

Jackets generally have a knit wristband for a snug fit, while coats are usually about two or more inches longer without a waistband so they will hang below the waistline. Parkas are typically insulated and designed for cold weather; some have a draw cord to tighten up the parka around the bottom. Jackets are available in both men’s and women’s fits.

While not directly included in the ANSI/ISEA standards, high-visibility accessory clothing items such as gloves, gaiters, etc. also increase contrast and increase the likelihood of being seen. Gloves are available with good dexterity and grip, with or without lining, with or without insulation, waterproofing, abrasion resistance, long-wear leather palms and cut and impact
protection for extrication or rescue work. Many gloves are now available with high-visibility and reflective stripes by the knuckle area. A basic work glove with a nylon back and knuckle area provides ease of movement and great dexterity, and a loop closure makes it easy to take the glove on and off.

Gloves made with pigskin leather have excellent durability and abrasion resistance. They work great for tough jobs such as handling chains or blocks. Pigskin gloves are available with several options including with or without lining, waterproofing and safety or elastic cuffs.

Hats are available for all seasons and weather types. They are available in light and heavy weights and a variety of high-visibility color options. Regular knit hats are available with and without brims for cold weather protection. Also available are baseball caps, wide brim bucket hats with mesh panels and Outback hats for summer sun protection.

High-visibility accessories like arm and ankle bands and colored retroreflective sew-on fabric tape are available to help add visibility to your uniform.

***Please Note: Reflective clothing does wear out over time. Clothing that is dirty from use does not provide the same visual contrast of a new garment. Each washing also gradually reduces the color intensity in the background material and reflectivity of the striping. Some manufacturers do limit the number of washings to maintain the product’s effectiveness and once this limit is reached the items need to be taken out of service.

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Choosing the Right Light: Advantages and Disadvantages of LEDs, Strobes and Halogen Bulbs

By Leslie Emmel, Technical Support, AW Direct
Given all the available warning light choices, how do you decide which one is right for you? The various
styles include, but are not limited to, body warning lights, beacons, mini-lightbars and full-size lightbars. Then there are the various lighting technologies, including LED, strobe or halogen bulb. Each kind of light and light technology has its own advantages and disadvantages. The first thing to be considered, however, is the SAE rating.

SAE stands for Society of Automotive Engineers. There are two class ratings that outline the minimum
warning device for particular vehicles when they are on the roadway/highway. Class 1 is the minimum
primary warning device for authorized emergency vehicles (police and fire vehicles). However, a growing
number of states require class 1 lights on tow trucks as well, so be sure to check your state’s regulations.

In many cases, Class 2 is the minimum primary warning device for authorized maintenance and service
vehicles such as tow trucks. After making sure that the lights you are considering comply with the SAE
standards, you then have to choose between LED, strobe and halogen bulb lighting options. In order to
help you make an informed decision, let’s compare the various technologies.

LED lights by definition are light emitting diodes, and they are the newest in lighting technology. They
have a higher initial cost, but are the most durable and dependable and usually come with longer
manufacturer warranties. LEDs generate heat and draw the least amount of power from the vehicle’s
electrical system. They are exceptionally bright and can be seen from greater distances than strobe and
regular bulb lights. Also, their brightness is not affected by age – they do not “burn-down” as they age
like halogen bulbs and strobes do. Over time you will realize the cost savings from not having to replace
strobe tubes, power supplies and bulbs. Another benefit is the increased number of flash patterns that
are available with most LEDs

Strobe lights are “tube-style” lighting and have been around a long time. They are very bright by nature and require a power supply to operate. Strobes are less expensive than LEDs, though costs tend to add up when replacing the tubes and power supplies. Strobe tubes only have about a six-month lifespan while power supplies typically last two years. Strobe tubes generate more heat than LEDs and are
usually limited in the number of available flash patterns and/or flashes per minute depending on the
power supply. Strobes also draw more power from the vehicle than LEDs, but less than halogen bulbs.
As they age, their brightness decreases or “burns-down”. Considering all of this, strobe tube technology
is gradually being phased out by most manufacturers in all styles.

Halogen bulb lights are the oldest style of the various lighting technologies and were, at one time, the only choice available. Halogen bulb lights are also the most affordable and have long been thought of as an industry staple. Halogen bulb lights use rotator motors and a mirror to output their light (thus their being commonly referred to as “rotators”). Halogen bulb lights also generate more heat than LEDs. While an increase in heat generation indicates that they are less energy efficient than LEDs, more heat can also be an advantage for certain climates. Towers in northern states like the heat as it helps melt off the snow and ice. Halogen bulb lights are susceptible to vibration damage due to the construction of the bulbs, rotator motors and gears. Though the replacement parts costs are normally less expensive than
that of the strobes, they can add up. Halogen bulb lights also require the biggest power draw on a
vehicle’s electrical system compared to LEDs and strobes. Another drawback to this technology is that as
bulbs age, their brightness “burns-down” like strobes.

So, with all of this considered, the lighting technology and style that are best for you is very much an
individual choice. It will depend on your budget, amount of use and just plain old personal preference.
However, LEDs seem to be the best choice for dependability, longevity and aesthetics. Whatever lighting
style you choose, safety and visibility are the most important factors. Remember to check your lighting
before each call, or at least daily, and activate lighting well before pulling over, not afterwards, to alert other motorists of your intentions. Pull as far over to the right as possible and do not turn your back to traffic if you can avoid it. Stay safe out there.

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The Winter Season is Coming—Are You Ready?

By Paul Ederer, Technical Support for AW Direct

Cold, ice and snow create problems for all of us, but when your business is counted on to bring people to safety, being fully prepared is the only way you can be on the road when it counts. Fall is the time to really get everything in order for the upcoming winter season. You need to inspect the truck itself, towing tools, get supplies on hand, and look at your and your drivers’ winter clothing.

Although much has been written on vehicle maintenance, tow trucks have special needs that cannot be neglected. First, you can’t go anywhere unless the truck starts. Extreme cold temperatures can turn a battery with a few years of use into a liability. Test your battery, connections and charging system to determine if it’s in top condition and replace the battery if it’s weak. Battery protectors are available to ensure your battery does not fully discharge if something is unintentionally left on.

Inspect your hydraulic system for any minor issues that can turn into major ones when the temperature drops. Check for any cracking or chaffing of hydraulic lines, leaks at connections, even a new filter and fluid, if a change is overdue. Switch to a manufacturer recommended cold weather grade of hydraulic fluid if your winters are severe. The pneumatic system air dryers need to be working at their peak to avoid frozen moisture in the lines, as well. Drain the system and repair if you do find moisture. Engine anti-freeze needs to be tested to ensure protection as the temperature drops.

When the snow and ice fall, having good traction is a must to get around, as well as to perform recovery operations. Inspect tire tread and replace tires if needed. Check tire chains for wear and proper fit. Look for worn, bent, gouged or stretched chain links. If you do not have tire chains, consider purchasing them now before the snow flies so you can properly size and test fit them when the weather is warmer. It is much easier than ordering them in a blizzard and hoping delivery companies will be able to actually deliver them when you need them.

While checking your wrecker’s battery, you should also inspect the tools you need to help your customers’ batteries. Verify jumpstart sets have working plugs and hand clamps. A battery tester to determine the status of customer batteries is a very useful tool. Replace weak jumpstart pack batteries or worn out units so you can quickly move from call to call.

While also part of a routine maintenance program, preparing for winter is also a good reminder to lubricate your winch lines to protect them from winter moisture. Dollies should have the bearings re-packed, all fittings greased and tire condition checked. Some items need to be stocked up on to be used throughout the winter season: windshield washer fluid, diesel fuel additive, lock deicer, batteries for flashlights, ice melter, snow shovels and even disposable hand warmers.

Finally, keep yourself and your operators warm, safe and dry out on the road. Make sure winter clothing fits properly and is not overly tight. We all can change sizes from the prior season. Decreased light during the winter season and limited visibility during snowstorms require having hi-vis clothing to be as bright as possible. Inspect clothing for fading from multiple washings. Most garment manufacturers have a limit to how many washings can be done before the item must be taken out of service. Many permanent stains on a garment will also reduce the color intensity and are grounds for replacement. New garments must meet the requirements of ANSI 107-2010 Class 2 and Class 3.

In addition to a jacket or coverall, protecting the extremities is also important. We lose much heat through our heads and wearing a simple winter hat keeps us warmer. Working in snowy conditions with our hands, cotton work gloves of summer do not protect the hands from the elements. Waterproof, insulated gloves are needed to keep hands warm and dry. Footwear plays a dual role to keep our feet warm and dry but also to provide traction. Steel toe, insulated, waterproof work boots are ideal especially when worn with thermal wicking socks. In icy conditions, work boot traction can be improved further by using ice spikes. And, at the end of the day, placing your work boots on a boot dryer ensures they will be dry for the next day.

The winter season is the towing industry’s busiest season, and, with the proper preparation, you can keep your crew safe and your businesses thriving.

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