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Mystifying Things that Go On in Tow Trucks

Jun 28th, 2013 | By | Category: Nick Kemper's Blog

Every day I get calls from tow company owners and managers who are mystified about what their employees are doing. Just yesterday a gentleman from South Carolina called for a quote on a crossbar, this web pivot pin and wheel grids for his Jerr-Dan carrier. His question to me: “How is it possible to lose all of that and not hear it fall off?” I had to agree — mystifying. That was what his former driver had told him — he drove from point A to point B, and when he got there, they were all gone. I didn’t have the heart to suggest to him that the driver just took it all to the metal recycler for cash. We get a lot of calls for pricing on replacement parts that have been stolen, and wheel grids and L-arms are commonly stolen items. These recyclers who will take anything are like guys who buy stolen cars or stolen car parts. If you can drive in with a civic light post or a section of highway divider and walk out with cash, they obviously are not doing their part to discourage crime.

Speaking from experience, every day and night, all kinds of things go on in tow trucks that company owners and managers have no idea about. Some of it they wouldn’t want to know about. I’m not speaking from my experience as a manager — I’m speaking from experience as a driver. First of all, there’s the general category of victimless misuse of a company vehicle, which is widespread across industries. I touched on this in a previous blog about towing a family member’s vehicle for free without collecting even enough to replace the fuel burnt in the activity. If you’re driving a tow truck, you’re using that vehicle as your general run-around vehicle a great deal of the time. Runs to the market, picking up your kids, an overnight fishing trip at the lake — it’s just easier to take the truck. If you’re on-call, you can kind of justify it. Spouses figure it out early on — you’re mobile, you’re easy to contact, you’ll be able to squeeze a few errands in. Today with GPS, you can’t hide your behavior as well, but bosses are generally too busy to monitor what you’re doing unless you give them a reason.

Worse than all of that, however, is when your drivers are engaging in unscrupulous activity while on-duty or not taking responsibility for mistakes they see as anonymous. I’ll admit it — I’ve been there on both accounts. I’m old enough to know now that I was wrong then, and I’m old enough to have the bulk of history that makes all things more possible. A general rule: if you know of erratic, unscrupulous or foolhardy activity being committed by one of your drivers when he or she is off-duty, at some point they are participating in something similar while on-duty. Do you think anyone who behaves like that can just shut it off like a water spigot? Wake up. Without getting into particulars, I engaged in some risky and sometimes dangerous activity when I was in my teens and 20s (like many of you, I suspect). Often it was harmless, but even harmless fun sometimes morphs into terror. Sometimes it morphed while I was working. Fortunately, I skirted disaster virtually all of the time and my employers only found out about a handful of incidents. The message: look at what your drivers do in their personal life and at least acknowledge that a watered-down version is taking place in their professional life.

Not taking responsibility is a separate issue, one that involves trust. I remember early in my career being called out one hot summer evening to impound vehicles for the city. There were three cars in a no parking zone and I was the only driver on-call. It was one of my first solo forays in impound towing. We had two sling trucks and an Eagle wheel-lift. I had trained a little in the Eagle, but most of my training was in the sling truck. One of the drivers from our sister company was going to come help with the tows when he cleared. My first mistake was to panic and think that we absolutely had to get these three cars towed right away. I went for the Eagle, because I knew you could hook up cars quicker with it. When I got to the location there were no officers there because meter maids had called in the tows. Right then I should have relaxed. Instead, I stayed in panic mode. I hooked up to a Honda and the brake was on, so I fought the door lock for 10 minutes rather than just throw dollies (see: Cut Your Losses). I finally left as the other driver arrived for vehicle number two. When I got to the lot, I dropped my car, and I was doing my paperwork when the other driver arrived with his car. He had another call to go to, so he dropped his car in the street and took off. He figured since I had the Eagle, I could just swoop down and shuffle it into the lot. Well, I tried swooping, but one of the claws hit a tire, so when I lifted with the in-cab controls, it slid off and tore the plastic piece from under the bumper.

Now I was in the real you-know-what. With no flashlight, and stone tools, I got the piece reattached. There had been tearing and displacement, but you couldn’t really tell from 5 feet 8 inches above the ground, so I never told anyone. Later, the owner came and got his car. He didn’t say anything, and I never was asked about it, so I’m guessing he didn’t notice the slight alteration I had made on his vehicle. My boss never knew what happened either. Some will say it’s all good. I feel like I had a fairly successful run at that company as a driver and that I certainly contributed positively to the company’s bottom line, but if all of my activity had been known to my bosses, I’m not sure my tenure there would have lasted as long as it did. Some will say the ends justify the means. I’m inclined, now, to disagree, but it’s only an inclination. It’s not clear enough to make a firm stand.

Sometimes you will simply be mystified.

Have a safe and profitable week.

Nick Kemper