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Really want a rotator

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Hey all, really looking at getting a 35t to start off. But I want to hear from the pros on what you think. I must be honest here and say that the very first tow truck I bought was a new one and I had zero work lined up for it when I purchased it. I’ve done it that way the last 23 years. But now I’m scared to do this with a rotator. I’m definitely going used this time. I’m a small shop trying to play in a big world and I figure a 35 ton would be doable for regular towing

and the occasional recovery. Plus all the commercial work of various lifting jobs. I much rather have a 50 ton with a three stage for commercial lifting, more work I could get. But as for police work I know the 50 ton would not necessarily qualify me for bigger wrecks due to not having other large equipment to back the rotator up.

so that’s why I’m thinking 35 ton to start and then see what happens.

I would like to hear what you all think and maybe I could learn something along the way. Tell me what your every day working rotators do besides wrecks and general towing.

thank you all and I hope to join you soon. If anyone is attending the Florida show this year let me know and I would like to meet you and talk over a beer or two.


Edited by Jones Auto & Towing
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These are some of the tough questions every business owner has asked...at least to themselves. In my opinion, there are some fundamental necessities that have to be understood before a capital purchase such as this.


First off, buying a used unit isn't necessarily the right choice. Due to the rapid increases of new equipment, it has drug the used market up substantially. Guys selling their 5 year old rotators are getting dam near what they paid for it new...which is great if you're the seller...not so much for the buyer. Financing will be more difficult for a used machine just because that's how it is in the world of finance & collateral. Then like any truck, you need to look at each one individually...and CAREFULLY...because there are a lot of uneducated operators out there doing stupid stuff to their trucks. It also scares me because I know of many trucks that had failures but were kept quiet to not diminish their resale value - which was the owners very next concern.


Second, buying a smaller rotator surprisingly doesn't lower the end cost of the equipment very much. Buying a 30 or 35 ton, then outfitting a wheel lift that works, and your in the same park as a 50 ton. Between the basic principles of the platform being very similar, and the diminished savings in the FET taxes compared to a 50, 60 or 75...the spread is pretty small. Then add that finding a smaller tator used is much more difficult just because of their lower production.


Now the most important....how are you going to pay for it? Unless you have a huge chunk to put down, you can pretty much assume it will cost around $10,000 a month to operate it. Insurance is a big factor, especially if you intend to do non automotive related work with it. Now I know numerous guys that don't make the necessary revenue to cover them but instead subsidize the cost with other aspects of their company or life. That is a bad business decision but I guess as long as you understand it...to each his own. If your rotator takes away 50% of the normal work that you were doing with a stick truck, well then you can't give all of the credit to your new piece of equipment. Actually you didn't mention if you have other heavy equipment? Who will operate it? If you're the lone gunman, can you keep busy in a truck like this (pretty much a necessity) and still run the rest of your business? Being "Captain" of the ship wears many hats but don't loose sight of your big picture while trying to piss in the tall grass. Know your target audience for the truck...The "build it and they will come" philosophy is great for the movies but very risky in real life. If 90% of the HD business in your area is towing box trucks for Ryder & Penske, then how will you justify it? If you are using this to compliment other HD pieces that you already own then know if you will be able to work this new piece to a higher elevation. Can You Bill It?...cause otherwise your wasting your time. Can you sustain 6 months or more of the cost while not generating income? If a new venture, I would be prepared for that...or more.


To show that I'm not just being the "Disappointed Dad"...there are plus sides to rotators. You will never get paid more for a stick truck...no matter what the circumstances of the job are. There is a accepted perceivement that rotators cost more (which is true) and most will accept paying more. But then you still have plenty of folks out there that will try to diminish your efforts by stating how they could of done it faster/cheaper/with less... Is this bringing something new to your area? If so, there is a lot of "Status" that comes with a rotator and can generate work as advertising. But if the area is saturated with them then it holds much less value....then you find yourself in the "Oh yours is ONLY a 35 or 50 ton....So&So has a 75 or 100 tonner..." Again this goes back to can your market sustain a truck like this? The last thing you need is trying to match a price point to make revenue with such a capital expense. Running cheap just prolongs your demise...


Now before anyone else jumps on me...I know there are exceptions to the rule. I know guys out there running 75 ton rotators for $200 hr, and billing all day long. Yes they have found a "nitch" in their market but trust me...they are few and far between. They wouldn't work if not in their heavily populated areas. Others may say that they bought a much cheaper brand of unit to offset the difference. That might work for some but the bottom line is your buying a truck that may be worth more then the home you live in...don't go cheap and loose quality or integrity. At least I wouldn't...but it works for some. In my opinion, you need to have non consensual police work to offset the daily grind. That's the bottom line...work where you can get the $1200-1500 hr with minimums. That's where these trucks really shine. I think working the unit on smaller margins will be much more difficult to justify it. This truck won't make $500,000 a year but needs to generate that kind of revenue to cover a $120,000 a year cost factor. This is where subsidizing with other parts of you business comes in...Or is there someone to dump large quantities of money in to your future while looking for minimal returns? These are the questions you need to ask yourself. Good luck with your decision. 

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