What is the difference between light-duty towing and heavy-duty towing?

When you think of your family’s passenger vehicle, “light” probably isn’t the adjective that comes to mind first. But with towing, everyday vehicles are considered light-duty. What exactly is the difference between light-duty towing and heavy-duty towing? Some of our readers weighed in on this question. Keep reading to see what they say are the biggest differences between the two towing types.

Don Archer

Don Archer

Don Archer is the founder and CEO of The Tow Academy.

Heavy-duty is for Large Commercial Vehicles

Light-duty towing is the process of towing passenger vehicles such as cars, trucks, vans, motorcycles, and SUVs. Light duty towing is performed by using either a wrecker equipped with a wheel lift or a car carrier, which is often referred to as a flatbed tow truck or a rollback wrecker.

  • Two-wheel drive vehicles can be towed using either a flatbed tow truck or a wrecker equipped with a wheel lift.
  • Four-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive vehicles are typically towed on a flatbed tow truck to guard against damage to the drive train.
  • Wheel-lift wreckers are equipped with dollies that also allow them to tow all-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive vehicles without causing damage to the drive train.
  • The disadvantages of using dollies are that they should not be used at speeds above 50 miles per hour, and running them on gravel or dirt roads can cause them to fail.

Heavy duty towing refers to towing larger commercial vehicles, such as tractor trailers, dump trucks, box trucks, and RVs. Towing these heavy vehicles not only requires larger tow trucks, but the tow truck operators must possess advanced knowledge of the air brake systems and other components included in commercial vehicles.

  • Heavy-duty tow trucks, also referred to as wreckers, have capacities of between 25 to 50 tons, while rotators can have a capacity of 75 tons.
  • While not recognized as a wrecker, heavy-duty towing can also be performed by using a Landoll or Lowboy, which are low-riding flatbeds pulled behind a power unit, that can transport up to 60 tons.
  • Regardless of the type of heavy-duty towing equipment used, tow truck operators must possess a Class A CDL license to operate a heavy-duty tow truck.
  • When towing tractor trailers and other commercial vehicles, tow truck operators must have the ability to hook up air brakes and lights, remove drive shafts, and how to cage the brakes or even remove the axles when necessary.
  • When using flatbed systems for transporting heavy equipment and vehicles, for safe transport, the operator must ensure that the load is secured to the bed of the truck using various chains and binders.

Light-duty is for Cars

Heavy-duty towing is all about towing heavy vehicles like trucks and buses, and light-duty towing is all the towing cars and everyday family vehicles. The former needs the big rigs and the kind of torque and pulling power that only the most monstrous of motors can provide, while the latter is all about tow trucks that pass you on the city streets. They are the ones that head out to greet and help you when you have to call AAA.

Chris Kowalski

Chris Kowalski

Chris Kowalski is the Content and Marketing Director of Autopadre.

Sean Chapman

Sean Chapman

Sean Chapman, Founder & Editor-in-Chief at Tools’n’Goods.

Larger Vehicles Require Larger Towing Trucks

The main thing you need to know about light duty and heavy duty towing is the difference of sizes. The rule here is pretty simple. A larger vehicle requires a larger towing truck! Heavy-duty tows are designed to tow 17,000 pounds and more. If you try to use a light-duty tow for such a load, you will simply waste time and money.

This is a crowdsourced article. Contributors' statements do not necessarily reflect the opinion of this website, other people, businesses, or other contributors.