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Everyone knows what a tow truck is, but there are actually four types of tow trucks that many people might not be aware of. They are defined not by the size or make of the truck, but by the mechanism they use to tow vehicles.

Flatbed Trucks

The simplest and safest form of tow truck, a flatbed truck is a truck with a hydraulic plate on the back for a vehicle to be placed on it in a horizontal position. The transported vehicle either drives onto the flatbed under its own power or is pulled with a winch. Flatbed tow trucks are the safest for vehicles because it is secured in a flat position instead of being pulled by a hook or chain.

Hook and chain

Two chains are looped under the while the front of the vehicle rests on rubber mats. The vehicle then moves on its back axle while it is being transported. The hook and chain is an older mechanism that is largely obsolete nowadays, as the chains can scratch and damage the bumper. The hook and chain cannot be used on 4×4 and all-wheel drives as it wrecks the drivetrain.

These days hook and chain tow trucks are mainly used for wrecked vehicles and junk cars, situations where extra damage to the bumper doesn’t matter.

Wheel Lift

An evolution of hook and chain technology, the wheel lift uses a hydraulically lifted metal yoke to pull a car by its wheels. Front-wheel drive vehicles are pulled by their front wheels and vice versa for rear-wheel drives. Wheel lifts are not as safe or secure as flatbed trucks, but they are much less expensive.


Boom tow trucks are large, specialist trucks designed for recovering vehicles that cannot be safely transported by pulling up in front like a standard tow truck. Boom tow trucks use a boom winch similar to a hook-and-chain tow truck, but the boom is much larger and has more freedom of movement. Vehicles can be secured by a simple chain or a more complex mechanism like an A-frame or a telescoping tube. Boom trucks are primarily used for recovering crashed vehicles from ditches and embankments, but are also used for specialist jobs that other tow trucks cannot do.