Issues Archives: Volume 1 – Issue 4

Issue 4

Getting to Know Insurance Auto Auctions

Getting to know Auto Auctions

Getting to know Auto Auctions

Founded in 1982, IAA is driving the salvage auto auction industry, working to provide the best value to buyers and high returns to sellers. IAA’s unique business model combines in-person and on-line auctions into one platform. This well-established model allows the company to flex in ways a single, on-line only auction model cannot.

What should you expect when you work with IAA?

Insurance Auto Auctions

Insurance Auto Auctions

IAA makes it easy and convenient for towers to sell their abandoned and towed vehicles. Towers can free up valuable space on their lots and earn extra revenue.

IAA has unmatched operational expertise. You will find end-to-end solutions and standardized quality assurance practices at each of their 160 North American locations. IAA experts are on hand to assist buyers and sellers alike.

IAA has been auctioning for 30 years. It’s no surprise IAA has long standing relationships with more than 900 independent and national towing companies. In fact, IAA is more than a salvage auction company. IAA is considered a single solution for disposition of vehicles.

What exactly does IAA auction?

IAA auctions all types of vehicles in all types of conditions. IAA auctions cars, trucks, boats, motor homes, personal watercraft, snowmobiles, and travel trailers. IAA also offers salvage commercial vehicles that range from buses, trailers to trucks and heavy equipment such as cranes, emergency vehicles, farm, forestry and heavy-duty vehicles.

Although IAA does not typically purchase vehicles, they do manage the sale and disposition of vehicles for insurance companies, recovered-theft, fleet lease, rental companies, and charity organizations. IAA consistently produces some of the industry’s highest returns for vehicle providers.

IAA has found by providing an auction environment with both live and live-online bidders creates a healthy, competitive auction that drives the best value and high returns for the vehicle.  In fact last year alone IAA auctioned more than 1.3 million vehicles.  And as part of a larger global company, KAR Auction Services, (NYSE: KAR), IAA has strong financial cash flow. KAR’s business model offers services before, during and after the auction.

Who can buy at IAA auctions?

For the past 30 years, IAA has continued to develop and cultivate a mature and global customer buyer base. Buyers include automotive body shops, rebuilders, used car dealers, automotive wholesalers, exporters, dismantlers, recyclers, brokers, and where allowed, non-licensed (public) buyers.

Anywhere, anytime access and mobile technology enable IAA buyers access to bid in six languages including:  English, Spanish, Chinese, French, Polish and Russian.  An estimated 30 percent of IAA’s vehicles are sold and exported to foreign countries. Today, nearly 15 percent of customers choose a language other than English. The team at IAA believes this percentage will continue to increase.

IAA follows strict regulatory compliance at the federal and state levels and is well versed in all state titling laws as well as buyer and seller licensing.

Where can I get more information about IAA?

For more information regarding towing opportunities, please call IAA’s Transportation team at (734) 461-9365, or email If you are interested in selling vehicles to IAA, please call 262-325-1701, or email Lyndsie Erickson at Go to IAA’s website at

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Lifting-Related Back Injuries: A Common, but Avoidable Occurrence

How to Avoid Back Pain while working a job.

How to Avoid Back Pain while working a job.

Using proper posture may be the last thing on an operator’s mind when out on a call. Instead, they may be focused on avoiding oncoming traffic, figuring out the best way to hook the vehicle, navigating slippery or uneven terrain, and braving the elements.  While these are all critical, so too is putting the body in the best position to avoid sprains, strains, and other musculoskeletal injuries.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), strains and sprains are the most common type of injury/illness requiring days away from work for tow truck operators, with back injuries comprising the majority.

Why it’s a problem

Back injuries, though extremely common, are not always recognized until it’s too late. Often, the disorders develop gradually as a result of repeated small traumas to the back. Further, the conditions are often ignored until the symptoms become severe.

Tow operators may associate a back injury or sudden pain with a specific heavy lift, but often the real cause is the combined interaction of the heavy lift coupled with years of weakening musculoskeletal support due to repetitive small traumas. So, it’s critical that operators utilize proper technique at all times, even when the back is feeling good!

Even tougher problem for tow operators

For tow operators, the work environment is constantly changing and, often, the operators don’t find out what they’re dealing with until they arrive at the site. This makes it very challenging to plan ahead. Add to that the variation in temperature, site conditions and location, vehicle condition, and schedule, and it is easy to see why tow operators have a tough time combatting back injuries. That being said, there are measures operators can take to prevent these injuries.

How to identify back pain.

How to identify back pain.

Identify the problem areas

It is true that no two towing jobs are identical. But, there are similarities in many. And, there’s always one constant: the operator. If the operator can learn to identify the factors that can pose a risk for back injury, he/she can utilize effective safeguards and techniques no matter the specific environment.

Back disorders result from exceeding the capability of the muscles, tendons, discs, or the cumulative effect of several contributors. According to the OSHA Technical Manual, these contributors include:

  • Reaching while lifting
  • Poor posture—how one sits or stands
  • Stressful living and working activities—staying in one position for too long
  • Bad body mechanics—how one lifts, pushes, pulls, or carries objects
  • Poor physical condition—losing the strength and endurance to perform physical tasks without strain
  • Poor design of job or work station
  • Repetitive lifting of awkward items, equipment
  • Twisting while lifting
  • Bending while lifting
  • Maintaining bent postures
  • Heavy lifting
  • Fatigue
  • Poor footing such as slippery surfaces, or constrained posture
  • Lifting with forceful movement
  • Vibration, such as with driving a truck

Know how much is too much

No matter how great the lifting technique is, if the load is too much, then the body may break down. Operators have to recognize when a manual lift is beyond their physical limits and either use a mechanical aid, get help from another person, use two hands rather than one, move closer to the object being lifted, divide the load into multiple trips, or adjust body posture (in those limited cases where a posture shift will allow the load to be within acceptable limits of the body).

Determining an operator’s safe lifting limits is challenging because there is no across-the-board recommendation or standard; the weight a given worker can safely lift varies depending on several factors, including  condition of the worker, body posture, closeness to the load, height of the lift, twisting required, and frequency of the lift.

Operators cannot simply go by the weight of the object. The same worker who can lift a 50-pound box with ease under ideal conditions may not be able to safely lift the same box when crouched, or the same weight when it’s an oddly-shaped object rather than a box.  OSHA notes in an eTool that, generally, more weight can be safely lifted when the:

  • Load is close to the body and not too large or bulky,
  • Lift is at waist height,
  • Lift is performed in front of the body,
  • Lift is performed only occasionally,
  • Lift does not involve carrying, and
  • Load has handles.

In determining maximum safe lifts, operators may want to consider utilizing several tools. For example, OSHA often utilizes the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Lifting Equation to evaluate manual two-handed lifts during a workplace inspection. The NIOSH equation sets a fixed weight of 51 pounds as the load constant (that is generally considered the maximum load nearly all healthy workers should be able to lift with two hands under optimal conditions.)

View the NIOSH Lifting Equation and Applications Manual

An alternative lifting guide that focuses on male/female population percentages capable of performing a two-handed lift with certain characteristics, rather than on maximum weight limits, are the Liberty Mutual Material Handling tables.

While it is not practical to utilize the NIOSH equation or similar types of guides while out on a towing call, operators can utilize these before going out to a site to get a general idea of a safe weight for various types of work.

Use proper technique

We’ve all heard the saying “lift with your knees, not your back.” While that statement is a good general rule-of-thumb, there is much more to safe lifting than that.

For typical lifts, it is recommended to:

  • Size up the load—Operators need to get a good estimate of the weight of the object, how the weight is distributed, condition of the object and handholds, and where the object will be taken. (Testing the load by lifting an edge/corner can give many clues as to the characteristics of the load.)
  • Place the body close to the load—Operators should place their feet close to the object and center themselves over the load, utilizing a wide stance.
  • Maintain neutral and straight spine alignment whenever possible—OSHA has noted that usually, bending at the knees, not the waist, helps maintain proper spine alignment.
  • Get a good grip, using two hands where possible.
  • Lift straight up in a smooth manner, using the legs to push up/ lift the load rather than the back or upper body.
  • Avoid twists and turns and jerking motions. If turns must be made, operators should step to one side.
  • Keep the load in the power zone (above the knees, below the shoulders, and close to the body) where possible.

But, what about non-typical lifts, like heavier, small-sized objects? In these cases, there may be a better way to lift. In a NIOSH publication, Ergonomic Guidelines for Manual Material Handling, it is recommended that for heavier small-sized objects (such as a sack) workers:

  • Kneel in front of the object;
  • Lean the object onto the kneeling leg;
  • Slide the object up onto kneeling leg;
  • Slide the object  onto the other leg while keeping the object close to the  body; and
  • While standing up, keep the object close to the body.

Beware of heavy tools

When we think of lifting injuries, we often think of a worker trying to pick up a box, container, or similar object to move it from one location to another. While those lifts certainly pose challenges, there are other lifting-related hazards that operators need to be aware of as well, for example, picking up a heavy tool and holding it. If a tow truck operator can remember to balance tools such as impact wrenches, rather than holding them, it can reduce the risk of sprain and strain. Additionally, just as it is proper technique to not twist or turn or make jerking motions while carrying an object on a two-handed lift, operators should avoid these actions when carrying heavy tools and equipment with one hand.

Avoid bending while lifting

Tow operators often find themselves having to work in many awkward positions. When combined with lifting, awkward postures pose a great risk for injury. In particular, bending while lifting forces the back to support the weight of the upper body in addition to the weight being lifted. OSHA notes that bending while lifting places strain on the back even when lifting something as light as a screwdriver.

Bending moves the load away from the body and allows leverage to significantly increase the effective load on the back. This increases the stress on the lower spine and fatigues the muscles.

Also, keep in mind that carrying loads on one shoulder, under an arm, or in one hand, creates uneven pressure on the spine.

Place heavy items mid-level

OSHA recommends that materials that must be manually lifted should be placed at “power zone” height, about mid-thigh to mid-chest.  Operators should evaluate their trucks for optimal placement of tools and equipment, so that the heaviest and most utilized equipment can be accessed easily and within the power zone, where possible. Further, operators should remove obstructions around tools and equipment so that the body doesn’t have to bend while lifting and the load doesn’t have to be farther away from the body than need be.

Maintain equipment

Tow operators have some built-in ergonomic equipment right on the truck. It is important to take advantage of this equipment; that means keeping it maintained. Obviously, poorly maintained vehicle lift/hoist equipment can pose serious hazards if the load falls. But, beyond that, if handles don’t turn smoothly or levers stick, it can require more force from the operator—posing risk of injury to the back and other body parts.

This should extend to the operator’s cab as well. If the driver’s seat isn’t adjusted properly or is worn down, operators may not be getting proper back support. As much time as operators spend in the cab, it’s important the seat provides proper support—over time, this can lead to increased risk for back injury.

Operators should make sure their regular vehicle service program includes those items that make the job easier and safer!

Utilize tools and resources

In addition to the NIOSH Lifting Equation and similar guides, there are many great tools and resources to help operators combat back injuries. For example, the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries maintains an Ergonomics Ideas Bank that may be helpful in finding ways to address various ergonomic issues.

In addition, operators may find it helpful to review catalogues from material handling suppliers, speak with others in the tow industry, and/or work with an ergonomics professional. (Often a workers’ compensation insurance carrier will have ergonomics professionals on staff or else can recommend assistance.)

Remember, there may be a better way

Lifting safely requires constant self-reminders. Out on a job site it can be easy to forget to do this. But, if operators can get in the habit, it can save a lifetime of back pain.

Bio: Travis Rhoden is an editor with J. J. Keller and Associates, Inc. Contact him at For more information on J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc. visit
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GPS: From Tracking To Reinventing

GPS Tracking for Company Fleets

GPS Tracking for Company Fleets

There has never been a better time to assess the potential of GPS-based solutions for your towing and recovery business.

With the convergence in mobile technologies, there has been an explosion in the number and diversity of available solutions – options that can make a material difference in the performance of your business.

Before laying out the options, first some perspectives to set the stage:

  • “GPS” ain’t just what it used to be. “If past history were all there was to the game, the richest people in the world would be librarians” – Warren Buffet. GPS used to be expensive, and all about knowing where your trucks are. GPS navigation is now on your smart phone and all about operational productivity.
  • One size does not fit all. The competitor to be feared is one who never bothers you at all, but goes on making his own business better” – Henry Ford. The proliferation of GPS “bells and whistles” continues and often commands too much attention. The hard part in selecting among GPS-based offerings is looking past the sizzle to choose the right steak to make your business better. How could real-time information improve how you dynamically, better manage operations?
  • Tomorrow won’t be like today. Gretsky said it well: “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.” The right “GPS choice” for your company should solve not only the issues of today, but position your business for the competitive challenges of tomorrow.

“Tracking” used to be the big idea. This remains important, but today GPS is often a component part in a broader solution to drive significant increases in operational productivity – both in the office, and in the field. I have found it helpful to think along a spectrum of options with four levels:

Level 1 – Tracking, while the most basic capability, tracking offers for many companies the highest short-term return. It addresses key owner concerns:

  • Where are my trucks (my most expensive assets)?
  • Are my drivers staying “on task”? Are they pocketing revenue from jobs that they are doing on the side?

The more feature-rich offerings will have Input/Output connections as part of the black box to track events on the truck (e.g., engine and/or PTO “On” and “Off”), show truck travel history (“breadcrumbs”), monitor truck speed, and create “geo fences” to alert dispatchers when drivers are straying into areas where they should not be. Importantly the black boxes are attached to and are tracking trucks (not drivers). The approach centers on driver supervision.

Level 2 – Guiding builds on the basic tracking of the “black box” by adding a user interface in the truck for drivers. This could be a ruggedized device or a derivative of a consumer product – such as a Garmin or Tom Tom. The user interface assists the driver in navigating to the incident and destination addresses. The better options in this category will first locate addresses on the map of the GPS product in the office, and then transmit the GPS coordinates to the device in the truck so that drivers do not need to enter any address details. A variant of this approach is to send an email to a driver’s phone with addresses that the driver can manually enter into the Garmin. This avoids the cost of the “black box”, but delivers a lower gain in productivity. Level 2 adds capabilities that benefit drivers – assistance with logistics.

The major differentiator in getting to Level 3 – Deploying is to have a GPS solution that is fully integrated with the dispatch solution. In Level 1 and 2, dispatchers will typically be looking at one screen from one provider for truck location, and a different screen from a different provider for dispatching – sometimes on one monitor! The underlying applications are different and so the synchronization of information between the systems is inherently limited. Level 3 solutions meet two key characteristics:

  • The GPS tracking/mapping component shows not only truck location, but also truck type, and truck status/availability (provides a complete picture in one screen for dispatchers) along with a list of jobs.
  • The mapping and dispatching components are intrinsically “in sync” – they share the same information database. Given the integrated design, updates to dispatch and mapping happen simultaneously. Detailed information on calls and open jobs is available and displayed on the map.

In Level 3, the integration of GPS tracking/mapping with dispatching creates the opportunity for major improvements in dispatching – dispatchers have all the requisite information for better assignment decisions available on the map for visual dispatch. Better call assignment in turn drives improved utilization of trucks and drivers. The better Level 3 solutions will also incorporate mobile messaging in the truck to collect vehicle information (e.g., VIN, odometer) and service delivery details (e.g., Extras, dropped location in storage lot).

Level 4 – Reinventing sounds a bit pretentious. However, integration of the dispatching solution with GPS tracking/mapping enables next generation operational productivity processes that go beyond presenting better information. For example, in dispatch:

  • Recommending the most logical trucks for dispatchers to assign to a new job (automatically identifying trucks that are close by and soon to be available) to enable better deployment decisions
  • Enabling dispatchers to assign calls from the map if they choose – i.e., drag and drop a truck onto the “pin” representing an open job to improve speed/efficiency and to make assignment easier. When assigned, call details are sent automatically to the driver’s mobile device
  • Providing “dashboards” so that dispatch becomes a control tower with real-time indicators and alerts for fuel efficiency, validity of incident and destination addresses, truck speed, and call progress vs. plan

In addition, by leveraging advances in mobile technology, it is now both practical and affordable to extend the operational processes of the office to the truck. This includes forwarding account-specific pricing parameters (and GPS calculated mileage estimates) to the truck. With this, the mobile device can calculate the correct pricing, and the driver can process the customer’s credit card while on-site. Companies can move away from the ticket book and print invoices in the truck. With the convergence of mobile technology, the business process capabilities are integrated with the same device that provides GPS information – ranging from your Android smart phone or tablet, to a Wi Fi device of your choosing that connects to a mobile hot spot in the truck (that also provides GPS and monitors/reports truck events – e.g., PTO on/off).

So what does all of this mean for you? What are the levers in your business to improve operational productivity? Among the growing range and scope of mobile/GPS possibilities, which approach gives you the biggest “bang for the buck” – now, and into the future? The growing application of GPS in the industry is making it competitive “table stakes”. How should you use GPS-based solutions to keep your company among the leaders in operational productivity?

“If you are driving comfortably around the track, you are probably going too slow” (Mario Andretti).

The author – Jim Shellhaas – is the founder and president of Ranger SST (Ranger Service Solutions Technology, LLC), a towing software and mobile communications company providing dispatching, two-way mobile messaging, GPS tracking/mapping, and impound-lot management solutions for the towing and recovery industry. Towers are invited to call Jim and the Ranger team anytime for consultation at 440-498-1495.

Also, see for more information.

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