If you’ve ever found yourself in an unfortunate situation where your vehicle breaks down , you’ve probably come across the terms “tow truck” and “recovery truck”. While they both serve a similar purpose in the transportation of immobile vehicles, there are subtle differences between the two. This article aims to define each type, how they operate and outline their differences.

Tow Trucks

Definition And Types

A tow truck, also referred to as a wrecker or breakdown vehicle, is designed to relocate vehicles unable to move on their own. These could be vehicles that are improperly parked, impounded, disabled or damaged. Various types of tow trucks are available to cater to different situations:

Flatbed Tow Trucks: Are equipped with a flat surface at the back. This bed can be hydraulically manoeuvred to form an inclined ramp, enabling the vehicle to be winched or driven onto it for transport.

Integrated Tow Trucks: Reserved for more strenuous and challenging operations, these trucks have additional axles that provide increased stability and strength. Their booms are also integral to the truck structure, providing superior strength for heavy-duty applications.

Wheel-Lift Tow Trucks: Named after their unique operating mechanism, these tow trucks utilise a metal yoke that is slipped under the vehicle’s front or rear wheels. From there, a hydraulic lift or pneumatic hoist can be used to lift the car off the ground for towing

How They Work

Despite the various types of tow trucks, the fundamental operation remains consistent. In most cases, the vehicle to be towed is attached via a hook or chain or hoisted off the ground using a hydraulic lift system. Once securely fastened, the vehicle is then transported to its destination, typically a garage, repair shop or an impound yard.

Recovery Trucks

Definition And Types

Recovery trucks, a specialised type of tow truck, are specifically designed to handle cases where vehicles cannot be safely or easily driven or towed on the road. For instance, when a vehicle is stuck in a ditch or has veered off the road. Let’s look at the common types of recovery trucks:

Slide and Tilt Trucks: With a bed that can slide back and tilt to ground level, these trucks make it easy for vehicles to be loaded onto the bed.

Heavy Recovery Vehicles: These trucks are built for massive vehicles such as buses and lorries. They are equipped with robust tools including a sturdy tow bar, powerful winch and an underlift for efficient recovery operations.

How They Work

Recovery trucks possess the capability to fully lift a vehicle off the ground, especially handy when dealing with vehicles that have sustained considerable damage and shouldn’t have any wheels rolling on the road. To facilitate this, recovery trucks utilise a robust winch mechanism to hoist the vehicle onto their bed. It’s then secured and ready to be transported to the designated location.

Comparison Between Tow And Recovery Trucks


 Both tow and recovery trucks have been designed with a primary objective of moving immobile or broken-down vehicles.

They both employ the use of winches and hydraulic or pneumatic systems to lift and transport vehicles.


 Recovery trucks are crafted to handle more intricate situations than a tow truck, often dealing with vehicles that cannot be simply towed.

Recovery trucks are equipped to lift a vehicle entirely off the ground, a feature not consistently present in regular tow trucks.

Application & Use Cases

When To Use A Tow Truck

 Tow trucks are often used to remove vehicles that are parked improperly or violate parking restrictions.

They come in handy when vehicles are involved in minor road incidents and they need to be moved to allow for regular flow of traffic.

Tow trucks are the go-to option for towing broken-down vehicles to garages or repair shops.

When To Use A Recovery Truck

 Recovery trucks are invaluable when it comes to extracting vehicles stuck in tricky spots like ditches or steep gradients.

 Vehicles that have suffered significant damage in accidents and cannot have their wheels rolling on the road are best handled by recovery trucks.  Heavy recovery vehicles, a subset of recovery trucks, are specifically designed to recover larger vehicles such as lorries, buses and coaches.

If you are in Northcote and looking for a tow truck service this is the best way to visit us

Fawkner Towing Melbourne

18 Emma St, Fawkner VIC 3060

CALL US – (03) 4050 4989