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Vehicles break down, are left stranded and are illegally parked every day. A tow truck business transports these vehicles to repair shops, impound lots and other locations as directed. Some tow truck businesses also offer emergency roadside assistance.
Who is this business right for?
Anyone who is mechanically inclined may be well-suited to start up a tow truck business. Towing vehicles is usually straightforward. Sometimes, however, hooking a damaged car up to a tow truck or extricating a car from a tight place can be challenging. A mechanically inclined mind can help in these situations.
What happens during a typical day at a towing company ?
A tow truck business owner spends most of his/her day driving to broken-down, stranded and improperly parked vehicles, hooking them up to the tow truck, transporting them to another location, and unhooking them from the tow truck. This work is almost entirely done outside, and the work must be done regardless of the weather.
What is the target market?
Tow truck businesses receive calls from multiple outlets. Police departments, other municipal departments, individuals, motor clubs, repair shops, auto auction companies and property owners may all call a tow truck to move vehicles.
How does a towing company make money?
A tow truck business makes money by charging customers for tows. A typical charge will include a flat fee for the tow, a mileage fee, and a storage fee.
What is the growth potential for a towing company ?
Most tow truck businesses serve a single geographic region. In large metropolitan areas, they may only serve the city -- or even just part of the city. In less-populated areas, they may cover more territory, but they’re usually still limited to one region.
A few companies advertise nationwide towing services. These companies, however, usually accept calls for tows but contract with local towing companies to actually tow vehicles. They effectively provide a referral service, for a fee.
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful towing company ?
A tow truck business owner must know how to -- and be legally licensed to -- operate a tow truck. In most states, tow truck drivers need a Class B license. A Class B license usually allows drivers to operate a vehicle weigh more than 26,000 pounds or a vehicle that is towing another vehicle that weighs 10,000 pounds or less.
What are the costs involved in opening a towing company ?
The startup costs associated with opening a tow truck business are substantial, mainly because business owners must purchase a tow truck. Truck Paper lists tow trucks that are for sale, and they often sell for between $10,000 and $50,000.
Licensing fees are another major startup expense. In addition to paying for a Class B license, business owners often also need to obtain a permit from their state, and they may need other permits from local municipalities or highway departments. Business owners should check with their state and local city or county clerk office to find out what specific permits they need and how much they cost. They frequently are at least a few hundred dollars, and they can be much more.
A business must also purchase insurance. The first month’s premium may be a few hundred dollars.
What are the steps to start a towing company ?
Once you're ready to start your towing company , follow these steps to ensure that your business is legally compliant and avoid wasting time and money as your business grows:
- Plan your business. A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. A few important topics to consider are your initial costs, your target market, and how long it will take you to break even.
- Form a legal entity. Establishing a legal business entity prevents you from being personally liable if your towing company is sued.
- Register for taxes. You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
- Open a business bank account. A dedicated checking account for your towing company keeps your finances organized and makes your business appear more professional to your customers.
- Set up business accounting. Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
- Obtain necessary permits and licenses. Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
- Get business insurance. Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.
- Define your brand. Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
- Establish a web presence. A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers. Save 15% when you create a business website with Weebly.
Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.
Where can I find a business mentor?
One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.
Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.
How to promote & market a towing company
Every tow truck business should have an online presence so that individuals who need a tow can find the business. Tow truck companies shouldn’t completely ignore marketing channels like social media, but they’re usually wiser to direct most resources towards local search engine optimization (SEO). Individuals are more likely to use a search engine to find a nearby towing service when they need one than they are to engage with one on Facebook or Twitter.
Many tow truck businesses also seek out contracts with cities and towns, repair shops, apartment complexes and similar businesses. These contracts provide a more stable income stream than marketing towards individuals do.
Lots of companies also contract with automotive clubs, such as AAA. These clubs provide lots of business, but they often pay very little per tow. Businesses often start out relying on these contracts for calls, but successful businesses also look for other contracts that are more lucrative. WikiHow has a tutorial on how to become an AAA-contracted towing operator.
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How to keep customers coming back
A tow truck can compete with other towing services by having fast response times. Individuals often want their vehicles towed quickly when they break down, and property owners want improperly parked cars removed from their property as quickly as possible. Providing speedy service keeps these customers happy.
When contracting with municipalities and police departments, speed of service can be the difference between getting a call and not. Many government agencies contract with multiple towing services -- and they’ll notify each company when a vehicle has to be moved. The company that gets to the vehicle first typically gets to tow it, and the others don’t receive any work from the call.
How and when to build a team
While it’s not absolutely necessary to have employees, most tow truck businesses have employees so that they can provide towing services around the clock. Without providing 24/7 towing, it’s difficult to get contracts with repair shops and government organizations. Additionally, the more hours a tow truck is used to tow vehicles, the faster the investment in the truck can be recouped.
For these reasons, many tow truck businesses hire at least additional drivers as soon as possible. Some owner-operators, however, elect to not hire employees despite the benefits that having additional drivers can provide.
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
Licensing is normally required to operate a towing service. Most states require tow trucks to have three types of permits
- indictment management, which is required for a tow truck to perform a non-consent tow initiated by a law enforcement officer.
- private property, which is required for a tow truck is used to perform a non-consent tow authorized by a parking facility owner.
- consent tows, which is required for a tow truck used to perform a consent tow authorized by the owner.
Certain local licensing or regulatory requirements may also apply. For more information about local licenses and permits:
- Check with your town, city or county clerk’s office
- Get assistance from one of the local associations listed in US Small Business Associations directory of local business resources.
Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, read our article, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.
Maintain Personal Asset Protection
Don’t think that just forming an LLC, or any other type of business, will save your personal assets in case of a lawsuit or other matter by itself.
When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your LLC is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.
Two of the simplest steps that will protect your business, and yourself, are to:
Open a business bank account
- This separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
- It also makes accounting and tax filing easier.
Get a business credit card
- This helps you separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
- It also builds your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money and investment later on.
Oversize Vehicle Permits
Some states, including Michigan, require a towing businesses to obtain an oversize/overweight vehicle permit for its tow trucks, sometimes also referred to as “wreckers.” More information about state weight load permitting can be found here.
Class B Driver Licensing Requirements
In most states, licences are issued by classes, operating according to the weight of the vehicle being driven. Drivers of standard cars and trucks require a class A commercial driver’s license (CDL), while operators of heavier vehicles, including most tow trucks, require a Class B CDL to operate. More information can be found here.
Certificate of Occupancy
A tow truck business is always run out of a physical location. Businesses operating out of a physical location typically require a Certificate of Occupancy (CO). A CO confirms that all building codes, zoning laws and government regulations have been met.
- If you plan to lease a location:
- It is generally the landlord’s responsibility to obtain a CO.
- Before leasing, confirm that your landlord has or can obtain a valid CO that is applicable to an tow truck business.
- After a major renovation, a new CO often needs to be issued. If your place of business will be renovated before opening, it is recommended to include language in your lease agreement stating that lease payments will not commence until a valid CO is issued.
- If you plan to purchase or build a location:
- You will be responsible for obtaining a valid CO from a local government authority.
- Review all building codes and zoning requirements for you business’ location to ensure your tow truck business will be in compliance and able to obtain a CO.
How much can you charge customers?
Tow truck businesses charge an average of $120 per tow (including both a flat fee and mileage charge). It’s also standard practice to charge a daily storage fee for any vehicles that are stored on the company’s property. The average storage fee is $20 per day.
What are the ongoing expenses for a towing company ?
The fixed ongoing expenses for a tow truck business include any licensing fees that must be renewed and insurance premiums. Variable costs include employee salaries, truck depreciation and repairs, and fuel.
How much profit can a towing company make?
The average tow truck business owner makes between $30,000 and $40,000 annually. The exact amount varies depending on the region that a business is in.
How can you make your business more profitable?
A tow truck business can diversify and increase its revenue by offering emergency roadside assistance. This usually includes providing emergency fuel deliveries, changing flat tires, offering jumpstarts and similar services.