A tow truck is used to transport broken down vehicles from one location to another and it could include repair shops, impound lots and other locations, hence it must be in shape at all times and regular maintenance must be carried out as at when due.

The truth is that you don’t need to be a mechanic to know the component parts of your tow truck that should be looked into to know when they are due for maintenance. If you are a tow truck driver or the owner of a tow truck, it’s important to understand preventive maintenance and the purpose it serves.

It is a well known fact that when you perform preventive maintenance on your tow truck, its lifespan will be extended. It can also play an important role in sustaining a tow truck’s value if you want to sell it after a while. This is because the average buyer would usually want to see the tow truck’s full maintenance record before making their purchase.

Beside in the United States, if you carry our regular maintenance of your tow truck, it will help you avoid paying fines to the department of Transportation violations. A tow truck driver is mandated to follow a preventive maintenance checklist prior to hitting the road for each trip. This involves checking the important elements of the truck, which include lights, tires, turn signals, hazard lights and much more.

Those completing the inspection should watch out for unusual sounds and basic warning signs that indicate the need for repair, such as fuel contamination, oil oxidation or a black exhaust problem. Having said that, here is a complete tow truck maintenance check list that you must not take for granted;

10 Maintenance Checklist to Keep your Tow Truck in Good Shape

1. In-Cab Inspection

When we talk about In-Cab, we are talking about the check that covers everything from the windshield to the foot pedals of the tow truck and some of the parts to check to be sure that they are in good working conditions are;

  1. Check seat condition, seat suspension and seat belt operation
  2. Check ignition key and start button
  3. Check warning lights and alarms
  4. Check interior lights (including dash and gauge illumination)
  5. Check dash gauges
  6. Check air gauges (and low pressure warning devices)
  7. Check horn operation
  8. Check A/C, heater and defroster controls
  9. Check dash switches and accessory operation (PTO, cruise, etc.)
  10. Check clutch pedal operation
  11. Check automatic transmission selector/wiring
  12. Check driveline parking brake operation
  13. Check steering operation
  14. Inspect sun visors
  15. Check windshield and door glass for obstruction or damage

2. Check Wiper/Washer Operation

Another key area of the tow truck that you should also check as part of the maintenance check list are the safety equipment decals, reflectors, flares and fire extinguisher to be sure they are in proper shape and they are;

  • Inspect floor mat, gearshift and gearshift boot
  • Inspect foot pedals, pads and mounting

3. Pneumatic System Check

The pneumatic system uses compressed air to transmit and control energy. Checking this system involves everything from analyzing the air system for leaks to inspecting treadle valve operation.

  1. Check air system for leaks (brakes released and applied)
  2. Record governor specs
  3. Check tractor protection valve
  4. Test air pressure build-up time
  5. Check air dryer operation (purge & cycle heater)
  6. Inspect treadle valve operation (lube pivot and roller)
  7. Inspect air compressor (leaks and air filter condition)

4. Cab and Body Inspection

When we talk about the cab and body of tow truck, we are talking about areas that covers a wide range of parts, ranging from the air compressor to the bumpers and the component parts to check here are;

  1. Check air system for leaks (brakes released and applied)
  2. Record governor specs
  3. Check tractor protection valve
  4. Test air pressure build-up time
  5. Check air dryer operation (purge cycle & heater)
  6. Inspect treadle valve operation (lube pivot and roller)
  7. Inspect air compressor (leaks and air filter condition)
  8. Inspect bumpers and license plate bracket
  9. Inspect cab body floor and door seals
  10. Inspect cab door locks, latches and hinges
  11. Inspect roof and wind deflector mounting
  12. Inspect towing/hitch device (pintle hook)
  13. Inspect mudflaps /splash guards and brackets
  14. Inspect/lube lift gate (if equipped)
  15. Inspect fuel tank(s), mountings, crossover lines and fuel caps
  16. Inspect exhaust system and mounting
  17. Check HVAC air inlet filters and ducts (service as needed)
  18. Inspect cab mountings, valve linkages and ride height (if equipped)
  19. Lubricate all cab, body and hood grease fittings

5. Tires/Wheels Inspection

Checking a tow truck’s tires is a critical step in the inspection process. This involves examining every tire to ensure it meets the requirements for tread depth and is properly inflated. This can help to avoid problems with alignment, traction, framework, braking and steering.

The heavyweight of a tow truck (plus the weight of the vehicle it’s carrying), the tires need to have a proper load rating and inflation level. Check the tires of your tow truck and make sure they’re in optimal condition. Please note that you are mandated to always have a spare tire on every trip — just in case of flat tires or blowouts.

Front

  • Check wheel bearing and lube cap
  • Inspect for irregular wear patterns
  • Inspect for cuts and sidewall damage
  • Check and record valve stem caps
  • Inspect and record tread depth
  • Check and record tire pressure (psi)
  • Inspect for loose lug nuts
  • Inspect for cracked or damaged wheels

Rear

  • Check wheel bearings and axle flange seal for leaks
  • Inspect for irregular wear patterns
  • Inspect for cuts and sidewall damage
  • Check for dual mating with square
  • Check and record tread design
  • Check and record number of valve stem caps
  • Inspect and record each tread depth
  • Check and record each tire pressure
  • Inspect for loose lug nuts
  • Inspect for cracked or damaged wheels

6. Tow Truck Engine Maintenance Checklist

If the engine of a tow truck is not properly maintained, the capacity of the engine will be greatly reduced. An engine inspection requires a closer look at everything from the power steering level to the engine cooling system. A full tow truck engine inspection checklist includes the following:

  1. Check radiator mountings for looseness or cracks
  2. Check A/C condenser mountings for looseness or cracks
  3. Check A/C compressor mounting and lines
  4. Check for excessive play in water pump shaft
  5. Check vibration damper for cracks, bulges, shifting or damage
  6. Inspect coolant hoses and pressure test cooling system
  7. Inspect coolant recovery system and pressure test radiator cap
  8. Test and record antifreeze protection
  9. Check alternator mounting and wiring
  10. Check all accessory drive belts for condition and tension
  11. Check power steering level/filter and hoses
  12. Drain fuel/water separator (if equipped)
  13. Check engine for leaks (oil, fuel and coolant)
  14. Check air intake system, CAC, piping, hoses and clamps
  15. Inspect turbocharger for leaks (visual inspection only)
  16. Check engine wire harnesses, connectors and seals for damage
  17. Obtain engine oil sample
  18. Change engine oil and oil filters
  19. Flush engine cooling system
  20. Check operation of the engine fan clutch assembly
  21. Service air filter only as needed, reset restriction indicator

7. Air Brake Inspection

Air brake inspection is only performed on tow trucks equipped with air brakes. Brakes are a critical element to inspect, especially before a long trip. A compressed air brake system is a type of friction brake in which compressed air presses on a diaphragm and applies pressure to the brake pad that stops the vehicle.

The diaphragm in the brake chamber converts air pressure into mechanical force. These types of brakes are typically found in large, heavy vehicles, like diesel tow trucks.

  1. Inspect front brake chambers and air lines
  2. Inspect and record front brake lining/pad condition and thickness
  3. Inspect and record front brake drum/rotor condition
  4. Check operation of both front automatic slack adjusters (ASA)
  5. Inspect rear brake chambers and air lines
  6. Inspect and record rear brake lining/pad condition and thickness
  7. Inspect and record rear brake drum/rotor condition
  8. Check operation of all rear automatic slack adjusters (ASA)
  9. Inspect trailer air hoses and couplers (tractors only)
  10. Replace air drier dessicant cartridge (C-level inspection only)
  11. Check operation of the hand brake valve (trolley valve)
  12. Drain air tanks and check for contamination
  13. Perform anti-lock brake system (ABS) operational self-test
  14. Check ABS brake system wire harnesses and connectors
  15. Check the automatic traction control (ATC) warning light
  16. Inspect stop light operation
  17. Lubricate all brake component grease fittings (optional)

8. Hydraulic Brake Inspection

Please note that a hydraulic brake inspection is only performed on tow trucks equipped with hydraulic brakes. Hydraulic brakes use fluid to charge the brakes. When the brake pedal is pressed, the increase in hydraulic fluid pressure forces the brake pistons to push the brake pad against the rotor or drum. This causes friction and slows the wheels to stop the vehicle.

  1. Inspect front brakes and lines
  2. Inspect master cylinder and fluid condition
  3. Inspect power brake booster/hydrovac
  4. Inspect all hydraulic lines, valves, hoses and fitting for leaks
  5. Inspect and record front brake lining/pad thickness and condition
  6. Inspect and record front brake/rotor drum condition and thickness
  7. Inspect rear brakes and lines
  8. Check driveline parking brake operation
  9. Inspect pressure differential valve and warning light
  10. Check HABS warning lamp indicator operation
  11. Check hydraulic brake malfunction indicator lamp
  12. Check proper brake pedal free travel
  13. Check operation of the brake pedal: travel, effort and feel
  14. Check operation of hydraulic brake booster system
  15. Check operation of brake booster system
  16. Check operation of brake booster back-up (reserve) system
  17. Inspect HABS wiring harnesses, connectors for proper routing

9. Installed Towing and Safety Chains

Another important component part of a tow truck that must be part of the maintenance check-lists is the installed towing and safety chains attached to the tow truck

You just have to ensure that you are using chains that can support the weight of the vehicle you want to tow. As expected, light-duty trucks use chains measuring 5/16 inches; medium-duty trucks use half-inch thick chains; heavy-duty trucks use chains that are 5/8 inches.

The bottom line is that a tow truck has to be able to withstand the heavy-duty work it is meant for and the only way to guarantee its optimal condition is by regular maintenance and repair checks on the installed towing and safety chains.

10. Check the Hitch Devices Attached to the Tow Truck

Similar to the installed towing and safety chain is the hitch device. Interestingly, the hitch of a tow truck is the part that gets damaged frequently hence the need to always check it during routine maintenance. This is because this attachment plays the most essential role in carrying the weight of the vehicle that is being towed and it is easy for the part to detach or loosen up.

This is why it is important to always make sure that you have quality hitches installed on your tow truck. Most importantly, be sure to inspect the hitches regularly and make sure the hitch ball is still attached firmly to the drawbar.

In Conclusion;

If you follow the maintenance checklist as listed above when maintaining your tow truck, it will help you keep your tow truck in good condition, which in turn protects the safety of both you and others on the road. We cannot over emphasize the fact that performing routine maintenance keeps repair costs to the barest minimum.

Ajaero Tony Martins