When your car breaks down and you can’t just make a quick fix to get rolling again, odds are, you’ll call a tow truck to bring you in.
You’ll probably be thankful for the help, and the driver will likely be smiling.
But there’s more to a towing company than just helping out stranded motorists. The trucks respond to crashes, and some companies tow illegally parked vehicles, among other jobs.
“It’s a 24-hour-a-day job, and it’s thankless at times,” said Matt Williams, who owns Nastow Towing in Prescott.
Surprisingly, Williams said, repossessions are usually no big deal.
“If your car’s up for repossession, you probably know it,” he said. “You know you haven’t been paying on it for a couple of months.
“So those people, they’re expecting it. They’re fairly nice about it.”
Drivers whose car was towed from a downtown parking spot, for example, when police are clearing the street for a parade, or if they ignored fines, aren’t usually all that nice.
“The tow-aways, I think, are about the angriest people,” Williams said.
That’s when de-escalation skills are needed. He gave as an example a year that police called him to tow a car from downtown on Acker Music Night, a very busy time in downtown Prescott.
“The gentleman was pretty angry. He was a local guy, too. He told me I should only be towing the out-of-town people’s (cars).” Fortunately, the man was not violent.
In Prescott, the choice of which company comes out to a crash scene or to a tow-away is made before the wreck happens: police dispatchers consult a rotation list, which determines who is called next.
And Williams said, if you run out and find your car about to be towed, you might be able to prevent it. If you catch the driver quickly enough, before he hooks up the car, he can let it go at no charge (except, of course, for any parking ticket you might have received), and he’ll usually be put back on top of the rotation list.
But, if the car is already in the process of being towed, you’ll have to pay the driver a “drop-fee,” to leave the car, and, again, the ticket still has to be paid.
That’s because the truck has begun the tow-away, which means it goes back to the bottom of the rotation list, and the company needs to make money for the time lost.
It’s a dangerous job, said T.J. Kiley, who owns T-n-T Towing.
“Loading up people on the side of the road, pretty much your life is at risk,” he said. “You’re on the side of Highway 69 or I-17, loading up vehicles, you have traffic going by you at 80 miles an hour.”
He added that about half the cars passing at speed follow the law and move over, but the rest just stay in their lane. “I think Arizona needs to push a lot harder on the move-over-or-slow-down law.”
Kiley said being called out to a traffic crash is stressful.
“I remember doing a roll-over, and a lady was trapped underneath the vehicle, but once it got rolled back over, a lot of her body was exposed.
“It’s a very serious and very nerve-wracking industry to be in,” Kiley said, adding that T-n-T also has a high call volume to cover.
“We work 24-hours-a-day, seven days a week,” Williams said, a schedule which he, as owner, also works, and that’s the hardest part of the job.
“You’ll have to wake up at 3 a.m. for a police call because someone got a DUI, and then you have to be in the shop at 8 o’clock to open it up.”
And, if you do call for a tow on a dark and stormy night, Kiley said, “Patience is key. We are coming and we are out there to help. We will be there as soon as possible.”