Issues Archives: Volume 3 – Issue 1

Volume 3 – Issue 1

GPS Solutions Deliver Tangible Benefits

TOM TOM Web Fleet Pro
By Matt Gunzenhaeuser, TomTom Business Solutions

Labor and fuel are the two biggest line items on a tow operator’s operating budget. If you could cut fuel costs by 15 percent or more, it would have a major impact on your business. What about maintenance costs? Insurance? Liability?

Technology has undoubtedly changed the tow industry – in some cases, making things more challenging, but, in many cases, making it easier than ever before to get a handle on your business, save costs, and improve performance. One development that is delivering value to towers is the integration of GPS/fleet management systems with traditional dispatch and management software. The right commercial GPS solution can help you determine which is the best vehicle to dispatch to a given job, and give your drivers the best tools to perform their job safely and effectively.

Reducing Mileage and Idling

Integrating GPS into your dispatching and back office operations can have a measurable impact on your business. Smart dispatching and traffic avoidance do much more than simply provide turn-by-turn directions. They can actually reduce time and mileage driven for the current workload.  With the average tower spending close to $2,000 per month per truck on fuel, saving 15 percent can really add up.

We all know that reducing miles driven and minimizing idling are the best ways to reduce fuel consumption. Idling continues to be a problem across the industry. After deploying a GPS solution with engine idle monitoring, one tower found that some of his trucks were idling as much as four or five hours a day. With this information, he was able to set a company standard – and ensure that his drivers were following the rules.

And GPS solutions can clearly impact miles driven by providing smart route planning and turn-by-turn directions that get vehicles to the job in the most efficient fashion.

Route planning, smart dispatch and traffic avoidance can also increase revenue opportunities. What if you gained 30 minutes of time per driver per day? That’s two and a half hours per week per truck. For a small operator running 10 trucks, that represents 25 additional work hours per week freed up for more jobs and more revenue.

Improving Driver Performance

Imagine sitting in the passenger seat next to every driver, every day. Can you imagine what their driving habits would look like? If they knew you were watching, you’d suddenly have a fleet of vehicles that never sped, where hard braking and hard steering were unheard of, and idling was just not an option.

Today, technology allows you to virtually ride along with every driver. With active visibility into how your drivers behave, you can move to a model where each employee treats your vehicles as well as they treat their own, and that leads directly to significant reductions in maintenance costs.  In addition, the ability to monitor PTO and after-hours driving can eliminate side jobs and non-revenue generating driving.

Having the latest technology is important – but combining that with the right business practices is what really makes the difference.  Setting policies, and then deploying the right technology to help measure compliance is the best way to make a real impact.  After all, you can’t manage what you can’t measure.

Maintenance can also represent a significant cost. In this case, prevention is better than the cure. GPS solutions that offer “active driver feedback” engage drivers by providing them with data about their behavior while they drive, making them more invested in better driving habits, while also helping the tow operator to monitor what they are doing.  Towers who manage performance and bonuses through driver scores have seen significant changes driving habits, resulting in lower maintenance costs.

Liability is also a larger concern than ever before. State and federal authorities can hold you responsible if a driver is in an accident while using a mobile device. Still, the use of cellphones is still way too common in the tow industry. GPS solutions deliver all of the dispatch and driving information a driver needs to the vehicle, can be voice-enabled, and allows one-touch and hands-free calling if the driver does need to call the office.  Demonstrating that you’ve deployed the right technology is your best defense in a liability situation.

Increasing Visibility

By monitoring who’s doing the right thing, tow operators have greater visibility into their businesses than ever before.  With real data, they can focus on improving performance by tackling some of their biggest problems – like idling and driving behaviors. For any business owner, it is impossible to be everywhere. But with the right in-vehicle technology, towers can provide drivers with powerful tools and then monitor and manage their performance.

Matt Gunzenhaeuser is Director of Sales & Marketing at TomTom Business Solutions.  Learn more at

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Credit Card Processing: What’s It Costing You?

Beacon Credit Card Swipe

Credit card processing is convenient, but it may be costing you more than you think. Most merchants these days have some form of mobile or in-field credit processing options. You can even get some store-bought units with little effort. All you need is a smartphone, but who pays for the convenience? What interest rate are you getting? Are you paying a monthly fee? Do you have a minimum monthly amount to preserve your interest rate? Here are a few points to keep in mind when deciding what’s right for you.

Your major “store-bought” swipe brands like Square, Paypal Here Reader, or Intuit GoPayment Reader are very similar. You get your swipes for free, but are paying 2.7 to 2.75 per swipe. A per-transaction fee is also common. Some processors will have options for interest-free transactions for a larger monthly fee and a high monthly minimum for total transactions.

Most of your standard merchant services will also offer mobile swipes in addition to the common “Point Of Sale” swipes you may have at your counter. Unlike the store-bought processors, you apply for services with these companies. Interest rates will be based on many factors. One factor is your processing method. Are you getting a “card present rate?”  The average processing cost for a retail business where cards are present is 1.3% – 2%. The average cost for card-not-present businesses is 2.30% – 2.75%. Average ticket size is another factor. This relates to the total amount of the sale. The benefit here is a lower swipe rate per charge with no per transaction fee. Monthly fees are usually lower, as well. Beacon uses Card Present processing, so you get the best rate!

At the end of the day, you really need to think about what benefits you the most. Over-the-counter swipes are easy to acquire, but have a higher per transaction cost. If your volume is low, the ease of use may be worthwhile. If your credit card payments are in the thousands, tens of thousands, or higher, you may want to steer clear of the store-bought swipes. It’s probably time to seek out a better option, and keep your money in your pocket.

Mike Haney
National Sales Director
Beacon Software Company
(440) 237-6653 x107 – Direct
(866) 437-6653 – Sales
(440) 435-2855 – Fax

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Efficient Fleets Start With Quality Software

Get Rid of the Grease Board and Scratch Pads

Managing a Fleet Efficiently with Software

Managing a Fleet Efficiently with Software

By Jeffrey Godwin

In the towing industry, we often overlook the fundamentals of operating a solid fleet. Though it is true we are typically more mechanically skilled and rarely cannot haul our own equipment when it is down, there is no reason to settle for reactive maintenance where we just fix what breaks. With simple fleet maintenance solutions, we can gather information in realtime from the drivers in our vehicles and then make decisions that can reduce downtime and repair costs. This is not a hypothetical case; fleet maintenance software saves companies money by reducing downtime, providing insight into expenses and through interactive preventative maintenance and vehicle inspection.

It seems many companies with small fleets often ignore tracking of fleet maintenance. This may be common practice and may even be acceptable in industries where the vehicle is not actually performing the work, but, in towing, we have too much at stake to not know what is happening in our fleets. Simple fleet maintenance software packages are available that can track all of your fleet costs and report back to you with real information to validate your gut feelings. Most packages are capable of managing and monitoring everything in your fleet from the heaviest rotator down to your personal truck, skid steers, trailers, or even generators and compressors. If it needs maintenance, many packages can track it. If it has wheels, fleet maintenance software is a must.

The benefits of quality software in this area of your business are significant. Using these tools, a company can expect to track its vehicles, manage parts inventory, identify over or underutilized fleet components, schedule maintenance, track costs, monitor warranties, receive alerts such as upcoming needs forecasting, and capture data from the field including fuel, inspections, accidents and more. There are dozens of high quality, meaningful reports available from most systems, and these will help in your continuing efforts to understand your fleet costs, predict your needs, and reduce labor costs and downtime. There is no worse event in a fleet based operation than to have a vehicle down for an extended period of time due to unplanned maintenance. The vehicle is not earning for the company, and its driver is not earning either. Fleet maintenance software can help.

It is really a simple process. The system is set up with your trucks and drivers. You set when you want things to occur like oil changes or checking tire pressures. Your drivers use mobile apps or paper inspection forms to check with vehicles either before or after their shifts. Any issues are automatically reported to the person responsible for maintenance, and you have full visibility to items being reported, what is being addressed, what is being ignored, what you are spending and what you can expect to spend in the future. The system will make sure you do not forget to renew license plates, change the spark plugs, or simply inspect the appearance of your fleet. Mobile tools allow your drivers to record all fuel purchases, all inspection activity, special tire reports, appearance inspections complete with photos, guided accident reporting and more. Back in the office, the shop tools allow for work order management to deal with shop tickets for repairs and other issues. The office system allows for reporting on all of the costs and downtimes, as well as many other valuable tools such as fuel reconciliation, state mileage and/or fuel reports, and forecasts related to potential upcoming maintenance needs and their associated costs.

Efficiency with Software

Efficiency with Software

The fleet related software packages available today are easy to use, low cost and include significant functionality to help across all of your fleet maintenance and management needs. One of the most basic features is the ability for you to setup PM thresholds for a variety of maintenance work you perform on your vehicles. Using simple mileage or time related triggers, these software packages can track when services are due and notify you in advance so you can plan and forecast downtime (or avoid it altogether). These systems allow you to set these thresholds by vehicle type or even specific to each vehicle in your fleet. They don’t just track PMs; they track every aspect of your vehicles and things that need to be monitored, inspected, replaced, renewed, etc. From tire wear and pressure to greasing bed rails, and from PM service to simple truck washes, these software systems can tell you what to expect soon, what is needed now and what is overdue.

When coupled with mobile tools for pre-trip inspection, or at least regular odometer reporting from mobile apps or GPS systems, the fleet software can accurately predict the needs for fleet maintenance, as well as alert you to other reported issues across your fleet, including safety hazards or simple repairs.  The systems can track the work performed and then start all over again at monitoring to ensure you know when services are due. These are the most simple of the features available today, and with full featured fleet management packages available for a yearly cost of less than a single oil change, there is no reason not to use these powerful systems to improve fleet performance and your knowledge about the status of all items in your fleet. Let the software keep track of the fleet needs. One more headache solved.

Fleet maintenance software can be used to manage maintenance in your own shop or the maintenance you outsource to other facilities. It can even be used in an external fleet management capacity as another business for your shop. Good systems will allow you to track maintenance for your customer’s vehicles as well as to perform or manage the performance of the actual maintenance work. The customer gets visibility into their fleet, while you manage the work and the associated information and provide the customer wise direction supported by quality data built over the course of a variety of inspections and maintenance events.

Quality packages will provide you with a list of upcoming service needs based on your own custom criteria. This prediction of necessary maintenance needs is then coupled with the data being provided by drivers across the fleet who are entering pre- and post-trip inspection data, submitting vehicle appearance information, fuel purchase data, GPS driving data, accident reports, and more. From the day a vehicle is put into service until it is sold or otherwise disposed of, a complete day-to-day history is being built and the details of a fleet can be reported quickly and easily. This continuing stream of information allows for greater insight into the needs of the fleet or a specific vehicle and is combined with high end features like driver qualification file tracking and systems that support monitoring of licensing, permits and certifications for both vehicles and those who operate the vehicles.

Most fleet maintenance software can be integrated with dispatching systems to provide even greater efficiencies where appropriate. These external interactions can be with dispatch or load building software that may need to take vehicle status into account or may need to pair trucks with trailers or other asset groupings. Reports handle some of the external interactions as well when systems can submit accident reports, complete with photos and audio or video details, gathered on the scene and submitted in a standardized manner acceptable to the insurance industry.

There are fleet maintenance software packages that can be installed on your office PC for simple tracking or even in your shop for detailed maintenance and repair tracking. The best systems are operated as Software as a Service (SaaS) systems and allow access from anywhere with an Internet connection. Maybe you use a computer in your office to run reports, but the shop technician uses a rugged tablet so data can be entered while working on the vehicle. Drivers use a combination of iPhones and Android devices to enter inspection data daily and at home you check in on your dashboard with your iPad. From the field, a manager can find the nearest vehicles or run mobile apps that can be customized to allow for everything from simple fuel or odometer entry for drivers to complex management reporting from these portable devices.

Checking the motor oil in a big rig

It always seems difficult to make a change, and the move to fleet maintenance software can be a scary one where concerns about making the process more of a burden are warranted. The key is to not get too bogged down in the heavy details but to instead begin by getting your vehicles into a system and then allowing your employees to interact with that system. Simple daily trip inspections, recording of fuel usage, and documentation of all work performed on a vehicle will yield incredible dividends over time as you build the data. You can provide better time management to your employees and better record keeping with fleet maintenance and management software. The efficiencies you create will be rewarding for everyone. There are hundreds of reasons to use fleet maintenance software, but resistance to change prevents many companies from taking the time to implement a quality solution. Take some time and research systems. Pick one that you want to try and then put the effort into getting it solidly in place in your operation. Users will be more productive, and your fleet will have reduced operating costs and downtime. That is a win-win.

Jeffrey Godwin has 20 years of experience in the towing industry with most of those years in Information Technology. He currently serves as Chief Operating Officer of FTI Groups (towPartners, sureFleet) and as Vice President of TXI Systems (TOPS, BudgetGPS). He can be reached at

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Automatic Transmission Fluid

By Dan Watson

Automatic Transmission Fluids (ATF) are the most complex fluids used in today’s vehicles. These complexly designed fluids perform multiple functions including:

  • Lubrication
  • Wear protection
  • Heat dissipation
  • Foam prevention
  • Shift quality optimization
  • Hydraulics
  • Material compatibility
Exterior 2011 Allison Transmission

The exterior of the 2011 Allison transmission hides a very complex assembly of various types of gears, O-rings, clutch faces, gaskets, seals and more.

To make ATF formulation even more complex, companies that produce automatic transmission fluid must align their products with all the different-from-each-other requirements specified by vehicle manufacturers. The following list is only a sample of the wide variations in the market place.

  • General Motors: Dexron III to Dexron VI
  • Chrysler: ATF-plus to ATF-4plus
  • Ford: Mercon, Mercon V, Mercon SP and Mercon LV
  • Allison Transmissions: C-4, C-5 and TES-389
  • Toyota: TO-4 and WS
  • Honda: Z-1 and CVT
  • Nissan: Nissan Matic-D, J and K

This is only a fraction of all the manufacturers’ specifications – and the list grows more and more ever year. As a vehicle owner, you must insure that the proper ATF is used in your vehicle by paying attention to your owner’s manual. Proper ATF in your automatic transmission is the key to the proper operation and life of your transmission. Simply put, using the wrong ATF may cause it to shift improperly and incompatible material may begin to deteriorate.

Understanding Your Automatic Transmission

If we take a more in-depth look at the functions listed above and how these are critical to proper transmission performance and life, it should be clear that using the specified ATF is imperative.

ATF Lubrication
Automatic transmissions contain hundreds of moving parts, including bearings, gears and sliding mechanisms. Multiple lubrication regimes (see “Intro to Lubrication“) and a fluid that lubricates over a wide range is required. The bearings require light weight oils that are designed for high speed applications in which the gears require oils capable of protecting the gears at the gear tooth interface.

ATF Wear
Proper lubrication is the key to reducing wear. Wear protection is established by the correct anti-wear additives, as well as the strength and stability of the oil used as the base stock. Again, what makes this challenging is the wide range of lubrication regimes that occur inside an automatic transmission.

Heat Dissipation
Heat is the No. 1 factor in transmission failures in modern vehicles. High pressure fluid and heat produced by the interaction of transmission gears causes automatic transmissions to build up heat; this is especially true under heavy loads. The ATF fluid is the major medium of heat transfer to remove the heat from the transmission. Air flow over the transmission will provide additional heat removal, but the modern aerodynamics of vehicles limits the airflow and so increases the heat load on the fluid.

Automatic transmissions use hydraulic actuation to move gears into different ratios, resulting in different vehicle speeds. Clutches are engaged and disengaged using hydraulic pressure, as well. Without hydraulics might be nearly impossible to construct the modern automatic transmission.

It is always counterproductive for lubricating oils to foam, since foamy oil does not establish a working oil film for protection. For hydraulic oils, it is fundamental for proper operation; foam is compressible and defeats the principle of pressurized oil performing work. Simply, foaming will limit or stop hydraulic actuation.

Material Compatibility
Various materials are used in automatic transmissions components: O-rings, clutch faces, gaskets and seals. Automatic transmission fluids must be compatible with all of these component materials or damage will cause operational problems that will lead to transmission failures.

A look inside the GM Six-Speed Hydramatic Transmission

A look inside the GM Six-Speed Hydramatic Transmission

Shift Quality
As if all the specifications required to satisfy the complex lubrication and functional aspects of automatic transmission fluid were not enough, each manufacturer requires different shifting characteristics – some manufacturers require a soft shift and others a hard shift – along with vastly different load bearing requirements. Some transmissions are four-speeds and many now are six-, seven- or eight-speed; each of these configurations creates varying geometric arrangements that affect component size and stress. So, there really is a legitimate reason why the different manufacturers develop tailored specifications for their transmissions; the transmissions are different and designed specifically for their line of vehicles.

Choosing the Right Automatic Transmission Fluid (ATF)

So, with all this information on the complexity of automatic transmission fluid, what should the consumer look for when buying ATF the next time the transmission needs serviced? The best approach is to systematically match your vehicle’s needs to the correct ATF and then find the best quality ATF for your application. Here are some steps to follow:

Step One: Check your owner’s manual to see what is specified for your vehicle. This is the most critical step in the selection process. Get this wrong and you could damage your transmission and incur expensive transmission repairs. Be especially attentive to the manufacturers’ specifications (eg: Dexron VI, Mercon V, Chrysler ATF+4 etc.). If you are having the service done at a service center, ask questions about the ATF. Some change centers seem to think ATF is ATF and they put the same fluid in every car.

Step Two: Acquire the necessary gaskets and filters required to change the transmission oil. If you are having the service done at a service center, ask questions about the changing of filters; some change centers do not change filters unless you direct them to do so. Internal transmission filters should be changed at least at 100,000 miles (I personally recommend every time the transmission fluid is changed).

Step Three: Choose between a complete transmission exchange or the traditional drop-the-pan and method. I do not like the idea of leaving used fluid in the transmission and mixing new, clean fluid with the old, dirty fluid. Certainly, it costs more for the exchange, but transmission repairs are the most expensive repair that will be done in the life of the vehicle and doing anything that will extend the life of the transmission just makes good sense.

Synthetic Vs Petroleum ATF

Should you use synthetic or petroleum automatic transmission fluid? This really is a straightforward analysis and the facts will lead to a correct decision. The easiest and most sensible approach is to compare the use of synthetic vs. petroleum for each of the stated functions of ATF.

Lubrication: Proper lubrication depends on both the base stock and additives to provide lubrication throughout the complete operating range of the transmission. Transmissions operate from cold to very hot, and the thermal properties of synthetics vs. petroleum results in a clear advantage for synthetics. Synthetic base stocks offer very wide temperature ranges with little effect on viscosity, while petroleum base stocks are not thermally stable, thinning at high temperature and thickening at low temperature.
Advantage: Synthetic

Wear Protection: Wear is directly related to additives and oil viscosity. As previously explained, synthetic oils maintain viscosity over wide temperature ranges, where petroleum oils change viscosity significantly over the same temperature range. Assuming the anti-wear additives are equal, the superior thermal stability of synthetic oils results in a far superior anti-wear performance for synthetic automatic transmission fluids.
Advantage: Synthetic

Heat Dissipation: In liquid state, the heat transfer quality for the synthetic ATF and the petroleum ATF is nearly equal. Synthetic oils will remain liquid at very high temperatures, where petroleum oils will thin and begin to flash to vapor at high temperatures. When the petroleum oils reach the point of flashing to vapor or being a mixed vapor liquid combination, heat dissipation is severely reduced.
Advantage: Synthetic

Foam Prevention: When lubricants foam, their ability to lubricate properly and prevent wear is significantly reduced. Additionally, foaming of fluids used in hydraulics prevents proper hydraulic action. Air is compressible and oil is not, so any amount of air in the hydraulic system will cause erratic operation. With proper additives, antifoaming of synthetic and petroleum based is virtually equal. Poor anti-foaming additives will allow for foaming regardless of the base stocks employed.
Advantage: None

Hydraulics: The movement of gears and engagement of clutches in the transmission is accomplished by hydraulics. Hydraulic systems use compressed oil to move pistons, and this, in turn, moves components to establish various gear ratios. When oil is operating at very high temperatures, flashing to vapor occurs. Vapor is compressible, and, for hydraulics to work, the medium (oil) cannot be compressible. Synthetic oils will tolerate much higher temperatures than petroleum oils before losing viscosity and flashing to vapor. The higher temperature range gives synthetic oils a superior hydraulic function at high temperatures. At very low temperatures, petroleum oils are similar to pudding, where synthetics are less viscous.
Advantage: Synthetic

GM Vortex Transmission Flex Gear

GM Vortex Transmission Flex Gear

Shift Quality: The engagement of the clutches and the gears in the automatic transmission is dependent on design and friction additives in the oil. Original equipment manufacturers will design the transmission for the shift of their choice, from very soft to very hard. Friction modifiers are the main elements controlling the shift quality. Synthetic or petroleum, the shift is a function of design and additives.
Advantage: None

Material Compatibility: Gaskets, O-Rings and clutch material must be compatible with the automatic transmission fluid including the additives. Modern materials are compatible with both petroleum and synthetic fluids with little difference.
Advantage: None

And the Winner is…

Looking at the functions established for automatic transmission fluids, synthetic fluids are superior in four of the seven functions, while petroleum fluids are superior in none. For three of the seven functions, there is no advantage of one fluid type over the other. This analysis results in a clear advantage for synthetic automatic transmission fluid.

When purchasing ATF for your vehicle, be sure to meet the specific requirements stipulated by your vehicle’s manufacturer. Today’s transmissions are incredibly complex mechanisms and, correspondingly, the automatic transmission fluid that they require can be very specific. Misapplication can cause expensive repairs. Synthetic transmission fluids will provide superior performance over a wide range of applications and extend the life of your transmission.

For questions and/or comments, contact me via my website,, or by email at

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Your Attitude is Everything

DJ Harrington - Fuel for Thought

DJ Harrington – Fuel for Thought

By D.J. Harrington

Attitude is the way you view your life, your experiences in the towing business and your experiences outside the towing business. Attitude is how you deal with your opportunities, your problems and choices and then your responses to the results.

Losers always see thunderstorms. Winners always see rainbows. Losers see all mishaps of icy streets while winners put on their ice skates. Losers are always putting down and winners are always lifting up. Losers let life happen to them. Winners make life happen for them and others. Winning and losing are all about attitude. Let me share with you a story about a wise, little boy who wanted to change his situation.

There was a big bully down the street who was always bothering this little boy. The little boy was trying to get his nerve up to stand up to the bully, but he was still too afraid.

Well one day, his father bought him a new telescope hoping to divert his son’s thoughts. His son was out in the front yard, playing with it, but he was looking through the wrong end. Instead, he was looking through the big side.

His father stepped outside and said, “NO, son. You’re doing it backward. Turn it around and it will make everything bigger like it was meant to do.”

The little boy said, “I know that Dad, but right now I’m looking at this bully. When I look at him this way it makes him so small that I’m not afraid of him anymore.”

You may need to turn your telescope around. You’ve magnified that problem long enough. You’ve thought about how impossible it is, and how it’s never going to work out. But if you’ll turn it around, you will see from the right perspective.

“Change the way you look at things and the things you look at will change.”

It goes back to Dr. Wayne Dwyer’s saying, “Change the way you look at things and the things you look at will change.”

Attitude begins as harmless thoughts. Then, with practice, they become layered by habit into unbroken chains to shackle OR strengthen our lives. We are scarcely aware they exist. Just like a comfortable bed, they are easy to fall into, but difficult to get out of.

First, we make our attitude and then our attitude makes us. There is little difference between common people and those who are uncommonly successful. Both common and uncommon people have a passion. The slight difference is in their attitude. What makes this little difference HUGE is whether the attitude is positive or negative. Things will always happen to us. We are not responsible for what happens out here or what others do or think. We are responsible only for how we choose to feel or behave.

My final thought is some of us in towing need to turn our telescope backwards and start seeing some of our challenges in a better and proper perspective. After that exercise we’ll have a better attitude.

See you next time.

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Know the Lighting Requirements for Your Tow Trucks

Safety Lighting Requirements

Safety Lighting Requirements

By Tom Bray

Before we get into the discussion of the lighting requirements that are specific to tow trucks, let’s look at the general lighting requirements in the federal regulations. These requirements are found in two places:

  1. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 108,  also known as FMVSS 108 or Section 571.108 (since it is located in Part 571), and
  2. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations at Section 393.11.

The NHTSA regulations apply to new vehicles and the FMCSA regulations apply to vehicles that are presently in service. The two are tied together more closely than one might think. The FMCSA regulations (and most states) require that the vehicle, for the entire time it is in service, continues to meet the FMVSS requirements that were in place when the vehicle was built.

The basic light package that is required includes:

  • Headlights
  • Taillights
  • Brake lights
  • Front and rear turn signals
  • Front and rear side markers (lights that are visible from the side to indicate the length of the vehicle)
  • Front and rear clearance lights (lights that indicate the overall width of the vehicle)
  • Backup lights (activated when the vehicle is in reverse)

Flat bed wrecker loading a van
The vehicle must also have reflectors at the “corners,” visible from the side and rear.

Lights are allowed to serve multiple purposes, such as the vehicle’s “front parking lights” serving as both the front side marker light and the front clearance light, and having a reflective lens cover so it can serve as the front side reflector as well.

Extra lights may be required

If the vehicle is over certain dimensions, then additional lights will be required. If the vehicle is over 30 feet long, it must have an intermediate side marker light (and reflector) mounted at roughly the middle of the vehicle’s length. If the vehicle is over 80 inches wide, it must have a set of “identification markers” on the front and rear. The “ID markers” are the set of three lights mounted on top of the vehicle. They are there to identify the vehicle to other traffic as a wider-than-normal vehicle.

Light color is closely regulated

The regulations specify what color and what candlepower all of these required lights must be. In general, headlights and backup lights need to be white, rear-facing lights and the side marker lights at the rear corner of the vehicle need to be red, and all other markers and clearance lights need to be yellow. The only required lights on the vehicle that can be either red or yellow are the rear turn signals, provided they are not combined with a brake light. If the rear signal is combined with a brake light, the light must be red and the signal light must be the one that is active if the brakes and signals are active at the same time.

Be careful when making modifications

Most vehicle and body manufacturers know these rules quite well and build their vehicles to comply. Doing aftermarket modifications to the vehicle or the body is what gets vehicle owners or operators in trouble when it comes to the required lights.

Tow truck specific requirements

At the federal level, mounting “lights other than those required” and/or “auxiliary lights” are allowed, as long as they do not reduce the effectiveness of the required lights or create confusion, and as long as the type or color of light is not prohibited. Additional lights must also comply with the state’s rules related to color and placement. For example, some states restrict the use of certain color auxiliary lights to specific vehicles — such as reserving blue for law enforcement or white strobes for school buses. Also, the driver must comply with any use restrictions the state may have in place on the use of additional or auxiliary lights.

States also place additional lighting requirements on certain vehicles, such as tow trucks. To operate as a tow truck in many states, the vehicle must be equipped with oscillating, rotating, or strobe lights of a specific color. Several states require two colors, one to be used when stopped on the side of the road (such as when hooking up at an accident scene) and another for use when actually towing another vehicle.

Most states also require that, if the lights on the rear of the tow truck are not readily visible to traffic following the tow truck, basic lights be placed at the rear of the vehicle being towed. There is a liability issue here as well. If the taillights, brake lights, and rear turn signals of the tow truck are not visible to traffic following the tow truck and it leads to an accident, the operator and company could both be held liable.

How do you find out about the tow-truck specific lighting rules? If you are on the city or county “rotation,” or have a “contract” with the city or county to do towing, the tow-truck lighting requirements may be included in the paperwork. If you cannot locate the information and you are not sure what the requirements are, you may contact your state or local towing association, or a local, county, or state police officer with thorough knowledge of the state vehicle regulations.

Thomas Bray is Sr. Editor – Transportation Management for J.J. Keller & Associates, Inc. Contact him at Also be sure to check out J. J. Keller’s website at

Copyright 2014 J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc.®
PO Box 368
3003 Breezewood LaneNeenah WI  54957-0368

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DJ Harrington and Dan Messina

DJ Harrington and Dan Messina

By Dan Messina

It’s not uncommon for towers to get in a comfort zone, especially when things are going good, and they continue to do the same thing every day. The owners love to take their trucks out and tow. That’s what they are good at and that is what they know best, but in these ever-changing times, it is time for the owners to expand their horizons and look for ways to improve their businesses.

I have developed a list of things you might want to do to improve your business.

1. Know your numbers.

Cash is the lifeblood of any business. Start improving your business by understanding your cash flows. What services generate most of your profits and therefore your cash? This does not mean what services you perform the most. Some towers tow motor clubs more than any other customer and they are not making a good profit, and in some cases are losing money, yet they continue to provide this service. You can make good money with motor clubs if you know how to do it. You must develop daily, monthly and yearly accounting forecasts. Ensure your data is timely and available in real time so you can respond to changes quickly. Charting your data is one of the seven quality tools. Chart your data to look for trends and then take action on those trends.

2.  Price your products and services.

Pricing is not easy. Books are written on how to price products, but there are some simple rules of thumb. Raise prices on high quality services and lower prices on your lower quality services.  The idea is to focus on customer value not your cost of service. When I hold seminars I would tell the audience that I could come into their area and raise my prices by 10% over their price and win all the contracts. Remember, we are in a service business and the quality of service will dictate the price of that service. If your service is high quality, then say it with your price. Don’t be afraid to raise your prices on those services that your customers really like and lower prices on the services they don’t like. If you are not sure what your customers value, then ask them and they will tell you.

3. Hire the “right” people.

Focus your employee hiring process on hiring great attitudes not personalities. Great people are performers that demonstrate results. Don’t be afraid to hire people smarter than you; as a matter of fact, I recommend it. Look past skills on a resume and look for great accomplishments. Remember, good is the enemy of great, so hire great people not people that are good enough. I remember when I hired my first sales person. He demanded a lot of money, and I was a startup company. I hired him and, once I realized what his functions were, he was the most valued employee in the company.

4. Fire the “wrong” people.

If you have made a mistake, then don’t be afraid to fire someone that is not working out. Know your people. I took my managers and evaluated every employee I had. It was a great learning process for me because we identified employees that I thought were average and we determined they were good, and we identified employees I thought were good and it turned out they were bad for the company. I immediately fired the people that were hurting the company. If it’s not working out, you will know it in the first 90 days, so end it now. Don’t wait for improvement in your finances or their attitudes. Firing should be done sooner rather than later. Nobody likes to fire people, but your business is more important.

5. Develop standards.

The services you provide have requirements and so does your business. Define what “great” is for every job that is critical to your business. Start with each service you provide and create policies and procedures for each job and use them. Look at your competition and benchmark what and how they provide their services. Then, set a higher standard for yourself.

6. Implement controls.

Controls start with clearly defined objectives for every job or process that link back to your accounting system and the forecast. Good controls will tell you when things are going bad and what area needs to be addressed. Take time to understand what can go wrong and work to prevent it from happening. Develop warning flags to indicate when things are going wrong.

7. Focus.

I once was in a meeting with Ross Perot, the owner of the largest computer service company in the world. He told me to pick one thing and be the best at it than anyone else. My wife and I focused on being the biggest private property company in the U.S. When I sold my company, I was second to none. A working management strategy requires focus. Focus on the one thing that will make you great. Budget your resources to grow your best opportunities while eliminating the poor performers. Basically, get everything out of the way so all you have are good opportunities.

8. Improve your sales process.

Sales is a contact sport, so make sure you are getting out in front of your customers often. Teach every employee to be a sales person. Your dispatchers and your drivers talk to your customers every day. Teach them to sell. Build relationships with customers so they continue to use your services. If your revenues are not growing, then you are not selling.

9. Understand your marketplace.

The marketplace is not static, so expect it to change. Understand what’s changing in your marketplace and either change with it or be changed by it. As your market changes, it may allow you to add new services or delete services you no longer need.  Pay attention to what your marketplace needs and give it to them before your competition does. Your goal is to offer your customer solutions to their problems. Anytime you have a solution to a problem, you’ll have a new customer.

10. Build a strong brand.

Your brand will identify your business. A failing brand leads to a failing business. Your marketing, vision and strategy are key elements of building a strong brand. If you don’t have a marketing vision or an idea of what you want your company to look like, it will be hard to implement the nine other points. Once you have established a vision for your company, it will be easy to set a brand for your company and maintain it. It will also make the nine other points easy to implement. Don’t let your brand suffer or else your business will suffer, too.

These are 10 important keys to your business, and none of them requires a tow truck. When implemented, this list will allow you to be in control of your business and grow your company. I know you are thinking these are things I am not good at. If that’s the case, we can help. 2014 will offer new challenges, and you will have to go to outside resources for help. That’s a good thing; there are plenty of experts in these areas that you can use and actually make them part of your company.

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