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All Roadside Assistance Tow Trucks Should Have Back Seats For Stranded Passengers

Why don’t all tow trucks from AAA and other roadside assistance providers have back seats to help transport stranded motorists? In this story, we offer our opinion on the subject.
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As manufacturers continue to roll out new vehicles without spare tires, towing is becoming the backup plan for many vehicle owners who have no spare tire and who may damage a tire beyond a simple puncture. As we learned firsthand this past year, many roadside assistance providers are no longer transporting stranded motorists. This trend, combined with rideshare providers like Uber being unreliable during the past year in some places, leads to a stranded motorist.

Related Story: Need A Tow? New Changes Drivers Who Rely On AAA and Other Roadside Assistance Services Should Know About

Our recent stories highlighting this issue drew strong opinions from readers. Some feel that a ride in an emergency should be part of the service that roadside assistance provides. For example, reader Kathrine M wrote, "Giving your customer a ride is part of the duties of towing, I think. People stranded on the freeway, in a bad neighborhood, or in a remote location could get hurt." Others had a different view. For us, the option to ride in the recovery vehicle to our destination, our home, or as a last resort a place of safety off the highway, is a slam dunk.

Related Story: Shopping Guide 2021 – Why You Should Demand A Spare Tire With Your New Vehicle

One reason this is not the standard practice is that in the past many towing and recovery vehicles only had one row of seats. However, the companies that provide the basic vehicle from which a tow truck is then built upon offer two-row cabs. So why don’t all tow trucks have a second row with three seats across and a front bench seat that can seat two beside the driver in an emergency? Every top-20-selling vehicle model in America is a five-passenger vehicle. Such a configuration would allow a tow or recovery responder to transport the vast majority of those who need assistance.

During COVID, it was understandable that some roadside assistance operators may have objected to being in an enclosed truck cab with passengers who may be contagious. This despite the fact that taxi and rideshare divers did it all day every day on their shifts. However, every adult in America is now eligible for vaccination, including every roadside assistance driver. At some point, either today or in the near future, riding in a vehicle with a stranger will again be considered safe and reasonable.

We highlight the lack of spare tires in new models every time we test one. We feel that a spare tire is a safety feature that should be standard on all but the most unique sports cars. Setting aside tire failures, breakdowns and minor crashes that require unharmed vehicle occupants to be transported make up a meaningful percentage of roadside assistance dispatches.

We hope this story will be one of many that might emerge to highlight the shortcomings of present-day roadside assistance. Adding in the safe transportation of those with car trouble by the roadside assistance responder seems logical and overdue.

What is your opinion? Should we continue to leave passengers stranded or at the mercy of unreliable ride-share providers? Or should the roadside assistance companies to which we subscribe step up and always come prepared to move stranded motorists to a better, or at least safer, location? Tell us in the comments below.

John Goreham is a long-time New England Motor Press Association member and recovering engineer. Following his engineering program, John also completed a marketing program at Northeastern University and worked with automotive component manufacturers. In addition to Torque News, John's work has appeared in print in dozens of American newspapers and he provides reviews to many vehicle shopping sites. You can follow John on Twitter, and view his credentials at Linkedin


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Comments

I have worked in the towing industry for ten plus years and can share some prospective on the topic. There are 3 main reasons most tow trucks are single cab vehicles. First of all cost. Towing is a super low profit margin industry, especially the roadside service portion where most companies only break even to keep their drivers busy. Extended cab options can add 10-20k to the cost of a truck that can already range from 90-150k. The next major reason is length. Adding another 4 feet to a vehicle that is already 30+ feet long adds a noticeable difference when you are in and out of tight spots all day long. The last and most important one is weight. In order to keep most tow trucks under 26,000 lbs gvw and therefore only needing a chauffeurs license you don’t want to lose any payload capacity to a back seat. Most tow trucks only have a capacity of 6-8000 lbs to begin with which is normally less than the equipment is rated for. Its very easy to go over that number with a truck or suv. Also the extracab space pushes the bed farther back on the chassis which takes weight off your front axle and adds weight to your rear axle which could put you overweight on your rear end or rear tires.
If transporting passengers is a requirement, the equipment needs to be paid for. A second row of seats costs money that needs to be paid for, either by the motorist or the motor club. The costs of tows will go up, so don't try to negotiate a rate that doesn't allow the owner a way to recoup the costs.
The towing industry runs a nationwide average profit margin of only 5-8%. Roadside assistance is mostly thought of as the least profitable work a tow company can perform. With that said, the added cost of a back seat would wipe out what little profit they are currently making. Even if you were able to charge an Uber-like fee of let's say $30 to transport additional vehicle occupants that would only occur in a small percentage of their tows which would require them to eat the cost and use a less maneuverable truck on the majority of their tows.
As a person that is in the towing field, being required to purchase a rollback or a tow truck with an extended cab is NOT an option for our company. We have towed for AAA for 41 years, and in the area that we tow in, it is not a common practice for companies in general to have additional seating due to several areas. First, is that we are not in a hugely populated area, where it is necessary to transport more then 1 or 2 persons generally. Second, the repair shops and service centers where the customers want towed to usually do not have the room for an extended cab vehicle to safely unload the disabled vehicle in. Third, roadside clubs DO NOT pay well enough for tow truck owners to afford the expense of purchasing a truck that has an extended cab. If you check into the current rates that towers receive from auto clubs, you will see that the rates have not risen very much in the last 20 years to keep pace with the rise of cost in fuel, repairs, licensing, and other operating expenses that accumulate very quickly. So, in my opinion, before people react to a towing company NOT having an extended cab to accommodate them, perhaps they should think outside their box and realize that tow truck operators are hard working first responders who are always putting strangers first, even in front of their family events, and functions, and that the tow operators also have issues they have to deal with when it comes to truck sizes, etc. Just my opinion, for what it is worth.
Mate, run some figures on what it costs us to put a truck on the road with a driver and then run some figures on what motorclubs pay us on average per tow if anything. I'll wait
I do not taxi people and the taxi company has agreed to not tow cars. Now let's take a look at the liability exposure aspect. If the cab of the tow truck is not cleaned and sanitized in between each run you may be unknowingly exposing passengers to pathogens left behind by other passengers. How could you defend yourself in court when a customer alleges that they contracted covid-19 while in the cab of your tow truck? Next let's take a look at the liability exposure in the event of a collision. It would bankrupt most companies just to defend themselves in that lawsuit. I cannot imagine what the insurance costs would be for carrying passengers. Just because somebody has been vaccinated does not mean that they are immune to the virus. There have been several reported cases of vaccinated people testing positive. How would you go about trying to properly social distance yourself from others in the cab of any tow truck?
Ahh, Taxis. I remember them from my youth. They were the resistant-to-change transportation providers that rideshare companies put out to pasture with a more flexible and better-managed business model.