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BWdiver

Buying my first heavy

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Hey all, first I have been on the forum for years but had to sign in on a new account until I can figure what is going on with the old account. (nothing sketchy I assure you)

Anyway, its been awhile since I last posted.

Okay, let's get to it. Business has been good to me over the last ten years, just chugging along not trying to hit home runs staying steady not really growing at all just steady and saving. 

I find my self after 20 plus years in this business wanting to grow into a heavy operation, of course with my mindset I will go slow until I get a solid base. Now with that said I will seek updated training of course. 

I've never purchase used tow trucks ever, even my first truck was new in Oct of 1995 and I never looked back. I work better under pressure, always have. I may have to go the barely used route this time. lol

I looked at 25 and 35 ton trucks and ruled out 20's and 25's due to cost I rather pay a little more for a 35.

I even looked at medium duty V-30 16 ton and couldn't pull the trigger on one of them either. did I make a mistake on that? I just think its so limited for 170,000 why spend on medium duty and be limited? just go heavy and haul it all. with the cost of insurance want less trucks that can do more.

like to get your thoughts on the heavy wreckers. my first choice is NRC and then Jerr-Dan or Miller I know they each have their strengths and weaknesses. what do you use and why it works for you.

It needs to tow large motor coaches since we operate in Florida they are every where.

Stay focused and be safe as you can.

G. Jones

Jones Auto & Towing

 

 

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Do you plan on doing heavy recovery at first, or simply towing and minor winching? The reason I ask, you can get a whole lot more truck for less money if you don't need the full recovery capability. Also, it usually takes at least two heavy wreckers to qualify for police work and it is always a good idea to have a second heavy as backup when you are doing recovery unless you have a real good working relationship with another local heavy tower.

 

You may want to look at a new tractor, something with a longer wheelbase and a detachable tow unit like the Zacklift, NRC or Miller DTU. The newest versions of each of these are very capable and will tow motor homes and coaches easily. You also will be lighter overall allowing more weight to scale, if you are in an area that wreckers have to scale legal on their drive axles. Plus, you can also get a Landoll type trailer and use the same truck to pull both, greatly expanding your options and offerings, especially with many motor coaches in the area.

 

If you do want the full recovery capability, or at least most of it, you can look at 20-35 ton units with only two winch options an shorter booms, this will save quite a bit of upfront costs while still maintaining good usability. You really can't go wrong with any of the major brands, although since I work with many Jerr-Dan dealers I am partial to them if you want a traditional wrecker. Jerr-Dan does not make a detach unit, although I also work with a Zacklift dealer. Whatever you buy, if towing motor homes and coaches is a primary objective make sure it has the best reach you can afford, many coaches have long setbacks on their axles and no where good to hook except the axle. They also have low ground clearance and usually require extensive modification to tow with anything that isn't specifically designed to fit under a coach. A wireless underlift controller is also a must have so you can see what you are doing under there.

 

As for your question about the 16 ton, that was always our most profitable truck in the fleet when I ran wreckers. It can easily respond to cars, light trucks and even tow bobtail tractors. It is also a great stepping stone to learn about heavier vehicles without the full commitment, and if the heavy towing doesn't work out it can still be profitable serving your light/medium duty business.

 

My personal opinion would be to buy a 16 ton first, see how you like dealing with the extra labor involved in prepping true medium duty trucks and tractors for towing, the driving of larger trucks and such before dropping upwards of $300k on a brand new 35 ton unit. Also, the 16 ton will make a good backup/support truck if you do start with only one heavy duty.

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50 minutes ago, brian991219 said:

Do you plan on doing heavy recovery at first, or simply towing and minor winching? The reason I ask, you can get a whole lot more truck for less money if you don't need the full recovery capability. Also, it usually takes at least two heavy wreckers to qualify for police work and it is always a good idea to have a second heavy as backup when you are doing recovery unless you have a real good working relationship with another local heavy tower.

 

You may want to look at a new tractor, something with a longer wheelbase and a detachable tow unit like the Zacklift, NRC or Miller DTU. The newest versions of each of these are very capable and will tow motor homes and coaches easily. You also will be lighter overall allowing more weight to scale, if you are in an area that wreckers have to scale legal on their drive axles. Plus, you can also get a Landoll type trailer and use the same truck to pull both, greatly expanding your options and offerings, especially with many motor coaches in the area.

 

If you do want the full recovery capability, or at least most of it, you can look at 20-35 ton units with only two winch options an shorter booms, this will save quite a bit of upfront costs while still maintaining good usability. You really can't go wrong with any of the major brands, although since I work with many Jerr-Dan dealers I am partial to them if you want a traditional wrecker. Jerr-Dan does not make a detach unit, although I also work with a Zacklift dealer. Whatever you buy, if towing motor homes and coaches is a primary objective make sure it has the best reach you can afford, many coaches have long setbacks on their axles and no where good to hook except the axle. They also have low ground clearance and usually require extensive modification to tow with anything that isn't specifically designed to fit under a coach. A wireless underlift controller is also a must have so you can see what you are doing under there.

 

As for your question about the 16 ton, that was always our most profitable truck in the fleet when I ran wreckers. It can easily respond to cars, light trucks and even tow bobtail tractors. It is also a great stepping stone to learn about heavier vehicles without the full commitment, and if the heavy towing doesn't work out it can still be profitable serving your light/medium duty business.

 

My personal opinion would be to buy a 16 ton first, see how you like dealing with the extra labor involved in prepping true medium duty trucks and tractors for towing, the driving of larger trucks and such before dropping upwards of $300k on a brand new 35 ton unit. Also, the 16 ton will make a good backup/support truck if you do start with only one heavy duty.

EXCELLENT,EXCELLENT advice. Heavy duty towing is a big green monster. It stays green because it eats cash.

I really like the suggestion to get a sixteen ton. I think the sixteen ton and a versatile Landoll trailer would allow you to test the waters as well as provide a very strong return on investment.

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Good advise for sure. Yes, I had big plans on getting a 16 ton V-30 and changed my mind.

I get plenty of request from AAA to haul the motor homes they cover and of course you as a owner are keeping track of these calls and thinking why not. We are non contracted for all MC’s. I thought the 16 was a little small for most jobs with a very short W/L. that being said I looked at 20 and 25’s single axels and that would be an issue at the scales and most of these motor home repair places are on the same section of road the scales are. So it was off to the 35 ton. I’ll do a little more research and I’m not against a Jerr-dan at all. We have A very capable Jerr dan dealer and repair facility. As for the motor homes they will be a small percent of the business. Class 8 will be the larger portion. And of course your commercial 5500 dodge and F550 ford work trucks. 

I think the 35 ton is a good all around truck. 

Heres the other thing. I have no ideal what to charge. I tend to be on the high side on everything (I don’t work just to get by) but really have no clue right now. My light duty ranges from 4.00 to 6.00 a mile depending on what it is.

hook ups 65-150 again depending on what it is and what I need to do. I was told right out of the gate that a 16 ton will be hard for me to to do any better than my light duty tows. And that kinda made me pass on it and on to bigger vehicles if that makes sense. Now since then I’ve been asked at least 30 times to tow MH’s for AAA and one day I said if I had a truck and I could help you I don’t know if you would pay my rate. So me and her conversed a little and she told me that it’s pretty common to see 900.00 plus tow bills for very short tows. Generally the nearest repair place. I though for a minute and told her if and when I get the truck I would let them know.

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Do not, I beg you do not, make this leap because of what is "promised", especially from AAA. You are a prudent business person to price on the high side. The heavy market is a totally different animal. These toys eat dollars, as in twenty and fifty dollar bills, not singles.

Also when things break, and they will break, you are looking at thousands of dollars rather than hundreds.

Grow slow with a landoll and a sixteen ton.

You will sleep much better, I guarantee it.

 

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Posted (edited)

A 16 ton may seem small, and it can be. That said, it is a great intermediate truck that will train you on the basics of heavy duty towing at half the cost. Like I said before, our 16 tons were the most profitable trucks out of our fleet. That fleet was 14 trucks operating out of two locations in a city with a 800k population. They are true work horses when spec'd well and operated by a trained person.

 

 

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Edited by brian991219
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I think I miscommunicated the AAA part. I would never buy a truck for them. What I meant was this, if I can run some of their calls at shop rate like I do on the light duty side every night. Then so be it. I don’t have the business for the truck right now only what I receive through my website and google, and the whole internet search engine thing. I’ve had a strong internet presence for years and it has served me well.

I think the 16 ton may deserve another look. 

You say these heavy break and I’m sure they do. Is this because of misuse and how do they fair with a owner operator?

thank you for the advise! It’s always welcomed.

 

 

Is that a 600R is it for sale..lol 

seriously is it for sale?

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The heavies breaking can be from misuse, especially with new operators. Keep in mind, the weights are sometimes 10 fold what a light duty truck deals with so when something goes wrong it goes wrong fast. Not trying to use fear as a motivator but look at all the failure videos floating around the internet, most of the catastrophic ones are heavy wreckers. Simply put, one piece of rigging fails and there may be enough force to roll the truck over or worse yet kill the operator or a bystander.

 

Same with driving skills, the smaller trucks are easier to recover from a moment of inattention or poor judgement, a heavy duty only takes a second to wind up on it's side in a ditch. Of course with training and caution these are easily overcome. Simply being unfamiliar with the transmission in your new wrecker, or large trucks in general, may result in driveline failures, damage to the towed vehicle or even a crash. Not to mention the skill needed as a mechanic to prepare a heavy vehicle for tow, it isn't as easy as hooking up a wheellift and going. Usually drivelines or axles need to be removed, fairings secured, air supplied to the chassis, service brakes plumbed into and more. RVs and coaches often require removal of accessories like generator exhausts or skirts/flaps.

 

Perhaps developing the driving skills as well as hookup skills is the primary reason I recommend a 16 ton first. It is a great intermediary to learn on that is much more forgiving.

 

The overall expense of owning and maintaining a heavy wrecker is huge, that is why the rates seem so good from the outside. Heavy duty towing still has the same profit margin as light duty, maybe even less. As a business case study you are asking the right questions, so keep researching and see if the market will support another heavy duty tower. Then decide if you are willing and able to invest upwards of a half million dollars to start a heavy tow operation and operate at 10-15% ROI, or would that same half million be better served expanding your current services, buying a Subway franchise or some other investment.

 

Lastly, does you market provide an abundance of skilled class A CDL drivers? Do you have, or are you able to get a class A CDL yourself? What is your plan for a backup truck and driver when needed? And, most important -also most costly- what will the insurance premium be on a heavy duty wrecker?

Sadly, no the 600R is not for sale. It was sold to a company in Texas several years ago. Hated to see it go, was my favorite truck out of all I have operated over 25+ years.

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Brian, nice unit as pictured. Not a fan of international, never have been and likely never will be. So, I would want another chassis manufacturer. Though I know a high percentage of medium duty units out there use the international chassis.

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52 minutes ago, TowZone said:

Brian, nice unit as pictured. Not a fan of international, never have been and likely never will be. So, I would want another chassis manufacturer. Though I know a high percentage of medium duty units out there use the international chassis.

That was the weakest part of the whole truck. Danlar was the second owner, actual found it through your board back in 2011. Came out of Ohio. If we were building one from scratch it would have been on either a Freightliner M2 or Western Star 4700 chassis with a bigger motor. This particular truck had a 300 HP MaxxForce and 6 speed Allison auto, ran well for where it was first sold but in the mountains outside Albuquerque it was a dog. We had thought about a remount, almost pulled the trigger but then I had to come back to Pennsylvania for family reasons and Danlar closed the towing operations shortly after.

 

The newer Internationals with the Cummins motor are reliable. The MaxxForce engine was their biggest weakness. Cabs are quiet and comfortable, although they do have a bit too much plastic for my taste. Below is the truck that the International with the Holmes 600R replaced. This Vulcan on the M2 chassis was tough as nails.

 

danlar truck 10 rear.jpg

danlar truck 10.jpg

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Do they make the 600 R any longer by a different name or special order?

 

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6 hours ago, BWdiver said:

Do they make the 600 R any longer by a different name or special order?

 

I am not a Miller dealer so I don't know for sure, but I think it has been discontinued for civilian use. As far as I know they still make it for their military and NATO contracts, just not distributed here anymore. I think they sold less than 100 of them to towers, mostly were sold on cabover chassis for the NATO contract.

 

They were cool, but fairly useless as a rotator. The boom only had 60 inches of extension making it difficult to pick and swing even the smallest of car unless you could get right on top of it. Great for picking one end of a load and shifting it, winching in tight areas and such. Don't get me wrong, we don't regret having ours but for the price having a boom that swung wasn't all that great. The other problem was the independent underlift was limited on lift height whereas the integrated would go as high as the boom, never short on ground clearance.

 

We bought that one second hand, only had 8,000 miles on it and the price was the same as a new V-30 at the time. The first owner paid almost as much as a 25 ton for it new.

 

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Seriously look at the rating for a 16 ton.... they can't/shouldn't be picking up the front of a semi.

Your plan of jumping to a true tandem heavy makes perfect sense to me.

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1 hour ago, BlackAutoload said:

Seriously look at the rating for a 16 ton.... they can't/shouldn't be picking up the front of a semi.

Your plan of jumping to a true tandem heavy makes perfect sense to me.

Why not? Since he has shown interest in a Vulcan V-30 here are the specs. Lift 12,000 retracted, which can be easily done with spring forks. I will give you that extended 8,500 is a stretch for axles. A typical road tractor has a 12,000 front axle weight rating and actually weights about 10-11,000 so well within the specs. That said, rear towing a tractor with a 16 ton is the better way to go, only lifting about 5k or so. The right wheelbase and front axle weight on a 16 and it can safely and legally tow at the underlift rated capacity.

 

Also, it was never suggested a 16 ton could do the work of a heavy, simply that it is a good stepping stone into that world to see if you are ready to do heavier vehicles.

 

Here is a link to the ratings for the V-30. It is quite a capable truck, are the other 16-20 ton units on the market today.

https://www.millerind.com/images/uploads/brochures/V-30-web.pdf

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Well I guess I should have mentioned that before I started my company many years ago I did in fact worked as a heavy operator. It’s been a long time that’s why I mentioned I would seek new and updated training. My experience range all through the heavy division. Started on a landol then detach’s of various weight capabilities and then the heavy wreckers. 

When I was young I did things with small wreckers that I will not do today! Lol those were some exiting and stop at nothing years!

but today I want the right equipment for the job.

 

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Brian makes good sense on the 16 ton. Bottom line. . . which one will sit in the parking lot and which one will  stay busy.

I have a friend who tried the Heavy route and lost his butt.  Truck just sat.  He finally got an old Holmes 600 and put it on a newer Ford chassis added an underlift.  Made money from day one.  It is not the best setup but he does lots of truck rental and motorhome towing. He has another used truck on order from a dealer up north.

Best of luck on whichever route you take.

 

JimB

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1 hour ago, BWdiver said:

Well I guess I should have mentioned that before I started my company many years ago I did in fact worked as a heavy operator. It’s been a long time that’s why I mentioned I would seek new and updated training. My experience range all through the heavy division. Started on a landol then detach’s of various weight capabilities and then the heavy wreckers. 

When I was young I did things with small wreckers that I will not do today! Lol those were some exiting and stop at nothing years!

but today I want the right equipment for the job.

 

You are much better prepared than most, best wishes with whichever route you take. Only you know your market and your ability to absorb risk.

 

A 35 ton is a good truck, little big for the F-550 type chassis as it is hard to grab those axles and the wheel grids for the heavy trucks don't always clear the pumpkin on the 4x4 versions. There are some nice units on the market ready to roll today, the 2019 chassis are out so you should get a good deal on a 2018 chassis. Don't be afraid to go with the autoshift either, drove one the other day in a Jerr-Dan 35 ton with a Pete chassis. Took it from the plant in PA all the way to the customer in CA, 18 speed Eaton auto with a Cummins motor and it ran well, shifted smooth.

 

One last thought on new vs. used for heavy. You will have to pay a 12% Federal Excise Tax on all new heavy trucks, if you buy one that is at least 6 months old and previously titled the FET is waived. That 12% makes a huge difference in cost! Look at it as the extra money to put all the recovery equipment and tools you want on the truck in exchange for a pre-owned unit. Heavy trucks hold value much better than light duty trucks, so it may still serve you well to buy a used heavy for your first rig.

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Thanks Brian, it will be a hard choice. Meeting a Miller Rep tomorrow concerning a few different trucks. As for the small commercial service truck customers using  box trucks and the big Fords and Dodges why not go with a 12 ton speced on a freightliner chassis. Those units are around 105k

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1 minute ago, BWdiver said:

Thanks Brian, it will be a hard choice. Meeting a Miller Rep tomorrow concerning a few different trucks. As for the small commercial service truck customers using  box trucks and the big Fords and Dodges why not go with a 12 ton speced on a freightliner chassis. Those units are around 105k

That is a great option, especially if the Freightliner is spec'd right. I would like an extra cab and air brake as this extends the wheelbase, adds steer weight so it tows better and gives you on-board air for when you get a truck to tow with air brakes. It would pay to go 33k GVWR chassis, heavier rear and better components that will last longer, plenty of braking power, although if you want your non-cdl guys to be able to winch and tow smaller vehicles then 25,999 and hydraulic brakes is the way to go. A well spec'd Freightliner can replace a F-550 in the fleet and still tow cars, so you can have the intermediate sized truck to support your heavy without taking on too much extra expense.

 

You will find those 12 tons can grab many of the smaller RVs, even the ones that look big. Many are Ford chassis with gas engines and not all that heavy on the front, just need to figure out how to fork them without grabbing a frame extension. I towed more Rvs in Albuquerque with our 16 tons than our heavies, also many shuttle buses and smaller school buses.

 

This is a market we are not representing well at Jerr-Dan any more. We still offer the Cougar, but our true medium duty line is weak. Good luckk with the Miller, they are good units as well.

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I’m gobbling this info up. I decided on a 16 ton to start. It has some upgrades to the lift cylinders and the underlift and under lift center pin. Seems like no matter what I get. I find myself in a position of being overloaded. I’m just getting my ducks in a row for full recovery. I need a big winch truck. I hope to find a used 50 ton to rebuilt or an inexpensive ready to work truck. Knowing my 16 ton will do most of my towing. 

I have air cushions, a 12 ton, a long wheel base 16 ton, a crane truck I built with sidepullers, misc equipment(skid steer, excavator, etc), clean up trailers, etc. I just need a big ass winch or winches on a good size truck. 

Training is my struggle. I’ve taken a quick tanker, and rotator course, as well as NATA, and a couple wreckmaster courses. The week long is calling my name. 

I have to agree with the 16 ton doing more for less. I get much better rates with it, then my 12 ton. More of a heavy rate then not. But single axle saves me on delivery truck jobs in residential areas, navigating tighter areas, and having it opened the door to heavy work. I already had some trucking companies asking if I could tow tractor trailers with my 12 ton. Now my 16 ton looks big and has gotten the attention of more outfits. I have hooked onto a few lightly loaded tractor trailers, pumps, and dumps, and it handled it fine, braking was good. Although my wheelbase I searched for in a used truck. 

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Grow your business slow. People, overall, are not getting smarter, more patient, or doing a better job in driving. There will always be work, you have to decide whether you want to work to put money into your pocket, or work for the bank, which is what you do when you finance equipment. Education is what will establish the future of this industry. The week long course as well as the RBU courses will greatly enhance your knowledge base as well as your profitability. Once you have completed the week long, I believe that you can host a course as well.

 

Grow your business slow. You are doing a great job,

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Just left RBU last night actually. I’ve been before but took my sister with me this time. I took their class back in 09 and saved me from sinking. 

 

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RBU what is this course? Now I have a question. I hear of towing companies doing tractor swaps and if I remember they tow them all over. If this is the case why don’t they just use a driver or are they inoperable?

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Recovery Billing Unlimited. Super great guys. Mainly if you do police and accident work. Not a class for transport. Tractor swaps are usually bringing good ones for bad ones. 

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Gotcha! Yep I do remember that course now. I think the towing company Big Wheel has a class like that.. may be the same.

 

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Take it for what it’s worth and I’m not saying it’s worth much. I was talking to a gentleman that sells wreckers and I was looking at a 35 ton and I had mentioned Big Wheels course. Oh boy!! I got a ear full of be careful in those type courses.

i ask what do you mean? He said “ that insurance companies will put folks in these courses to find out who’s taken them” spy’s if you will. I asked why and he said to create a black list! That’s it. I said well I’m sure a lot of towing companies have taken these and we’re they not going to pay tow bills from all of them or were there some other way of them (insurance company) hurting a tow company? He basically said he wasn’t sure but just be careful and be discrete while in one of these classes.

luckilly in Florida we have laws to protect towers from a insurance company abandoning vehicles and not paying, especially on Leo calls.

I know insurance companies and MC’s are starting to get more and more deliberate in there actions to tow companies that don’t play ball with them (do it for nothing) 

I can honestly say I never worked my equipment just to get by. I will leave this industry first. I stick to my rates take it or leave it. I guesse I do in fact need to go to a course like your attending to see what it’s all about and take from it it what will work for my company. Me trying to get more into commercial work, heavy work. I need to know what commercial customers are paying and for what type services. Heck I may decide that the heavy stuff ain’t worth it. It pays to be educated first that for sure.

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Thank you Brian! I will call them tomorrow, hope it’s in good working order.

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I got to have it. Only problem I see is talking TCF in financing one that old. But I’m sure they will. It seems to have a following.

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Working with them now on buying the truck. They are a little hard to deal with they want to sell as is but are reluctant to fix the small things like lights and wireless remote so I will fly up there and check it out myself.

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