Skip to Content

How to Use a Wheel Lift Tow Truck in 14 Simple Steps

When somebody is involved in a car accident or stranded somewhere may be due to an engine malfunction, a flat tire, or any other reason, they are not even considering the best towing service for their vehicle. Their major consideration is a means to be moved away fast.

However, for your towing company, it is necessary to consider the tow truck, because the type of truck you use has to be the right one to keep the car safe and without causing further damage.

Whether you operate a towing company, manage a body shop, work in repo, or roadside assistance, owning a traditional tow truck is a large expense. But owning a top-quality wheel lift that attaches directly to the underbody of a truck can help save you a lot of cash while also helping you do the jobs you want clean and effectively.

A long time ago all towing services were made by the same kind of towing system: hook and chain. This method involved wrapping some chains around the car frame, lifting one end with a crane, and dragging the vehicle, with the back wheels in contact with the road.

Even though this practice was normal and didn’t affect those big and robust cars of the ’60s and ’70s, but any attempt to use that practice on some modern vehicles, the chances are high that it would wreck the transmission among other parts. But with a wheel lift that has a hydraulic boom with a couple of crossbars at the end, these modern cars can be moved with less damage and fewer casualties.

Those bars are slipped under the front or rear wheels of a car. The vehicle is lifted and keeps two wheels on the ground. Note that the operator can lift the front or rear end, although it depends on the car’s transmission.

This wheel lift system is used to tow smaller or lighter vehicles, 2 wheel drive cars, and also for short distance and quick tows. Another benefit of this kind of truck is that it can fit into tighter spaces or low parking structures, so it is used to tow a car in a narrow road, parallel parked, inside a parking garage, or in the middle of traffic.

In addition, just like it was stated above, they can be quite cheaper than using flatbed towing, but it depends on a company’s price list. If your towing company uses a wheel lift truck, go for soft straps on the wheels. That will avoid damaging vehicle rims.

Once you understand how to effectively use a wheel lift, you can pull up to a car, truck, or van and tow it away in less than a minute. That is a huge advantage for busy tow drivers who can complete jobs faster as well as for repo professionals who need to act swiftly to avoid a confrontation.

Detailed Steps on How to Use a Wheel Lift Tow Truck

Before you start using a wheel lift tow truck for any job, remember to implement some very crucial safety tips like wearing a reflective safety vest and gloves, keeping yourself separated from traffic whenever possible, and also being aware of your surroundings. After that, you can proceed with the steps outlined below:

  1. Drive up to the scene with your lights flashing. Calmly introduce yourself to the customer or officials. Then carefully analyze the situation and casualty, including where the drive wheels are on the casualty because it is imperative you reduce the risk of damaging the casualty’s transmission by lifting it from the center at the drive wheel-end if possible.
  2. Then calculate the resistance you will have to overcome and the effort needed to successfully lift and tow the vehicle. Also take your time to explain what you’re going to do to the customer or officials on the scene, and let them know what they need to do.
  3. Carefully back your wheel lift truck into position. Remember to pay close attention to the alignment of your truck and the casualty. Only block the roadway with permission.
  4. Stabilize the casualty and your tow truck using the proper wheel chocks. Then lower the wheel lift and tilt as needed until it is about an inch above and parallel with the ground. Although it depends on the type of unit, you may be required to unlock and adjust crossbar receivers to the width of the casualty’s front tires, relocking them into position.
  5. Extend the wheel lift until the grids on the crossbar contact the front tires of the casualty where the tires meet the ground.
  6. At this point, attach or close the L – arm wheel lifting device around the tire. But make sure the L – arm is in the locked position. Check its position: the L – arm should be below center with a minimum of two fingers of space between the L – arm and tire.
  7. Install two primary straps or chains (one on each side) to secure the casualty to the wheel lift.
  8. Now is the time to carefully lift the vehicle to the recommended tow height, adjusting for clearances. Experts recommend that the bottom of the towed vehicle’s tire stay in line with the center axle of the tow truck. Also check the clearance between the oil pan and the crossbar, the rear of the casualty, and the surface of the ground.
  9. You will also need to adjust your overhang to maximize towing capacity by making sure it is the shortest distance possible from the center of the drive axel to the point of the lift, without risking contact between the back of your truck and the casualty when you make a turn. Note that to calculate your ideal depth, measure from the center pin on the crossbar of the wheel lift across to the furthest point on the casualty and add two inches. However, if the distance from the back of the tow truck to the center pin is exactly that measurement, you can feel confident that you can make any turn without the casualty making contact with the back of your tow truck.
  10. At this point, install two secondary attachment chains from the tailboard of the wrecker body crossed directly to the casualty with just enough slack to allow for turning. Remember that the secondary chains can be crossed either over or under your wheel lift. Hook them to a solid location that isn’t already being used by the primary attachments.
  11. Place the casualty’s transmission in neutral, if possible. Release the parking brake. Also, straighten and secure the steering wheel.
  12. Install tow lights. Also, be very vigilant not to damage the paint of the casualty when placing the lights and securing the cord. It is advisable you run and secure the cord under the casualty. Also, test the tow lights to make sure they are functioning properly.
  13. Check and confirm all rigging. Remove the chocks from the casualty and your truck. If you’re towing a pick-up, make sure everything in the truck bed or elsewhere on the truck is secure.
  14. Exit the scene safely. Get in your truck, disengage the PTO, put on your seat belt, and enter traffic when it is safe to do so.


Note that not all towing systems are the same, and it is pertinent to know about the most popular. Knowledge is power, so you can understand what are the advantages, disadvantages, and differences between hauling or towing services. If you are looking to use a Wheel Lift Tow Truck, follow these steps mentioned above to do it once, and do it right!