6 Strategies Experienced Towmen Know and Practice

Anyone who thinks car hauling and towing is easy work has never done it for a living. Working as a tow operator is one of the most dangerous jobs in America thanks to the combination of weather, other drivers, and the generally hazardous nature of trying to recover vehicles that may not necessarily be in the safest locations.

The best tow operators, also known as towmen in the industry, know that they are only as safe as the equipment and strategies they employ on the job. Here at Mytee Products, we have the tools tow operators need. From auto hauling straps to chains and winches, we can properly equip any truck for just about any job.

What we cannot to do is equip operators with the knowledge they need to do their jobs safely. That knowledge comes from seasoned operators who teach their younger counterparts on the job. For example, your average veteran will know all about the following six strategies for safe vehicle recovery:

1. Position the Truck as Close and Straight as Possible

Whether a towman is using a flatbed wrecker or traditional tow truck, it is a good idea to position the truck as close to the vehicle as possible. The less pulling over open space required, the safer things are for both the tow operator and the vehicle being recovered. Along those same lines, getting the truck perpendicular to the vehicle is ideal. A perpendicular position reduces stress on winches and cables.

2. Use a Spotter When Possible

Your average towman works alone except on especially complicated recoveries. It is up to him or her to properly load the vehicle, strap it down, and get back on the road safely. Having said that, experienced operators know it is always wise to use a spotter when one is available. A spotter keeps an eye on the recovered vehicle as it’s being loaded onto the back of the wrecker or hoisted by the hook. Obviously, the spotter should be an experienced operator is well.

3. Use Properly Rated Straps and Chains

The next tip is a matter of both law and safety. According to federal and state laws, tow operators must use properly rated straps and chains to secure vehicles to tow trucks. That means operators have to know a little bit of math to do what they do. The general rule is to use straps rated at 2 to 3 times the weight of the vehicle being recovered. The stronger the straps, the more secure the vehicle will be when accelerating and braking.

4. Make Use of the Factory Tow Hook

When loading a recovered vehicle onto the back of the wrecker, the experienced operator will make use of the factory tow hook for both winching and tying down. The tow hook is the strongest point on a car for these sorts of operations. Not using it is ignoring something designers put in place specifically for recovery operations.

5. Utilize Four Points of Contact

Wrecker operators should always utilize four points of contact at a bare minimum. Chains and straps should be deployed at 45° angles in order to reduce both parallel and perpendicular movement. Four points of contact will keep the recovered vehicle in place better than three, and a lot better than two.

It takes time to learn all the tricks of the towman’s trade. We cannot offer you either the time or the on-the-job training you need to be the best in your industry, but we do have a full selection of towing supplies and tools to keep your truck fully equipped.


Cargo Control and Physics: Beware of the Force

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) revised its long-standing cargo control regulations for commercial motor vehicles back in 2004. Since then, the rules have remained largely unchanged. They account for all types of trucks including flatbeds, refers, tankers, and even dry goods vans.

In short, truck drivers are required to properly secure their cargo prior to transport. Nothing can be allowed to move, let alone become dislodged and fall off a trailer. Dry van and reefer operators have less of a challenge given that their cargo is enclosed on all sides. Flatbed operators do not have that luxury. They have to secure their cargo by tying it down to the trailer bed.

In light of that, truckers with the best cargo control skills are the ones that understand physics. They understand the four forces that cargo is subject to during transport. They account for each of those forces by blocking and tying down cargo in specific ways.

The four forces are:

Forward force – experienced during braking
Rearward force – experienced during acceleration
Sideways force – experienced when making turns
Upward force – experienced when hitting bumps or on rough road.

The biggest of these four forces is forward force. This goes without saying. It is the greatest force because it is exerted as a result of cargo continuing to want to move forward even as the vehicle is decelerating. Forward force is a combination of kinetic energy, the weight of the cargo, and the vehicle’s rate of deceleration.

Tools for Overcoming Force

The revamping of FMCSA rules included some new rules for tie-downs, blocks, and other cargo control equipment. Though we will not go through the details here, it is sufficient to say that the government made it clear that they expect truck drivers to use the right kinds of tools to keep cargo in place. The rules specifically mention:

Bulkheads – Bulkheads are sometimes referred to as headboards or front-end structures. They are generally attached to the front of a flatbed trailer and used to block cargo from moving forward. Bulkheads are not required by law.

Webbing Straps – Webbing straps are used to tie down cargo when heavier chains are not required. They are made with synthetic materials that offer maximum control with a low weight cost.

Other Equipment – The rules go on to address chains, wire rope, steel straps, blocks, shackles, winches, and more. Fortunately for truck drivers, the rules do not stipulate how each of these different things have to be used to secure cargo. The rules only talk about the cumulative effect of choosing the right equipment.

It is interesting to note that the rules also draw a distinction between securing devices and tie-downs. Obviously, a chain qualifies as both. But while all tie-downs are also securing devices, not all securing devices qualify as tie-downs. Therefore, truckers have to make the distinction in their own minds as well.

There are very specific rules relating to the number of tie-downs necessary based on the length and weight of a load. The number of tie-downs is independent of other cargo control equipment, save the bulkhead. Why? Drivers can use fewer tie-downs if a bulkhead prevents cargo from moving forward. On the other hand, blocks do not reduce the number of required tie-downs.

It is All about Physics

We have said multiple times in the past that cargo control is all about physics. If you understand the physics involved, you should understand the four forces that are working hard to dislodge cargo. Keep those forces in check and your cargo will stay in place.


Heavy Vehicle Loads: Tips for Loading Ramps and Step Decks

Loading heavy vehicles onto a step-deck trailer is one of the most dangerous jobs in flatbed trucking. Both truck drivers and yard workers have to be especially careful during the loading process. They also have to make sure that they have the right tools for the task, especially heavy-duty loading ramps capable of safely handling the load.

Loading ramps come in multiple configurations based on manufactured design and driver need. Yet they all have a couple of things in common. Knowing the basics of how loading ramps work sets a driver up for safely loading heavy vehicles. We are talking front loaders, cranes, and other pieces of heavy machinery here.

Below are a few tips for loading heavy vehicles onto a step deck trailer. If you have any questions about using your loading ramps, please consult the documentation supplied by the manufacturer as well as federal guidelines from both OSHA and the FMCSA.

Use Two Ramps If Necessary

Light-duty vehicles can often be loaded onto a step-deck with just a single ramp under each axle. Heavy vehicles may require two ramps to spread the weight across a longer loading area. This is where ramp stands and pins come in handy. Start with a level loading area, then attach the first ramp on either side of the trailer extending out to ramp stands. Using adjustable ramp stands will be discussed in just a moment.

Next, extend each of the two secondary ramps from the stands down to the ground. Using a second ramp under each wheel extends the surface area of the load by two times. This will make for easier loading at less of an angle.

Introduce Camber for Low Center Vehicles

Vehicles with a low center of gravity may be more difficult to move the farther up the ramps they go. One way to facilitate a safer and more efficient process is to introduce camber to the loading ramps. This is done using adjustable ramp stands. If your ramp stands have multiple positions secured by pins, they are ideal for this purpose.

Under normal conditions, both ramps on either side of a single stand would be at the same angle. By raising the stand one or two notches, you create a scenario in which the upper ramp is at a lower angle while the lower ramp is at a higher angle. This camber should make it easier to move low center vehicles even as they approach the top of the ramp.

Use Blocks at the Back of the Trailer

Heavy vehicles can cause the back of a trailer to bottom out on loading. Not only is this bad for truck and trailer, it presents a dangerous situation that could send the load toppling off the ramps. The way to avoid this is to put blocks underneath the trailer’s rear bumper structure. This will keep the trailer stable throughout the loading process. Make sure the loading surface is hard enough to prevent the blocks from sinking under the weight of the load.

Using Ramps as Levelers

Some step-deck arrangements require drivers to use their loading ramps as levelers once the load is on the trailer. This is not something we can describe in detail as every load is different. The one thing we can say is to be safe while you are doing this. If you do not know how to use ramps as levelers, talk with somebody who does. Their knowledge and experience could save you from serious injury, or even worse, as a result of misusing loading ramps.


How to Fit Truck Tarps Perfectly

You see a lot of interesting things traveling down the interstate. For example, flatbed trailers carrying all kinds of loads are commonplace. Some of those trailers looked to be carrying pretty impressive cargo, though you might never know what it is hidden under all those tarps. That leads to the following question: how do truck drivers get those tarps fitted so tight?

Covering a load with truck tarps is not as easy as it sounds. Anyone can throw a couple of tarps over the top of a load and secure them with bungee straps, but that does not mean the cargo underneath is safe from all that could potentially harm it. That’s why truck drivers go to such great lengths to guarantee their tarps are tightly secured. They do not want their tarps flapping in the breeze at 60 mph.

So, how do they do it? It is a combination of a number of things.

1. Years of Experience

First and foremost, there is no substitute for experience. Every truck driver learns on the job regardless of how much training he or she received in CDL school. Simply put, learning the best ways to deploy truck tarps for any given load is a matter of book knowledge, time, and plenty of time actually doing it.

Imagine hauling an oddly shaped load consisting of industrial machinery and supplies. You might get it wrong the first time out, failing to get your tarps tight and secure. Rest assured you would hear about it on delivery. Whatever mistakes you made that first time are unlikely to be repeated the next time. You will find a better way to do it on the next run. Load after load, you’ll get better at tarping.

2. Daily Observations

The laws of physics are a wonderful thing in that they can be learned through simple observation. A truck driver may not have taken high school or college physics prior to beginning his or her career but watching how loads and tarps respond during travel can make any truck driver a physics expert in no time at all.

Truck drivers with the best tarping skills are the same drivers who pay attention to the smallest of details. They pay close attention to how each load is tarped and then, during transport, how the load and its tarps respond. They pay attention to tarp movement at highway speeds; they pay attention to how tarps handle bad weather; they pay attention to how temperature extremes affect their tarps.

3. Advice from Others

Finally, the smart truck driver doesn’t turn away any advice offered by others. No trucker lives on an island, and no trucker knows everything about tarping. So receiving and offering sound advice is in the truck driver’s best interests. Drivers get advice from other truckers, from shippers, and even from police officers and DOT inspectors.

Imagine being at a roadside inspection when a state trooper notices one of your tarps isn’t as tight as it could be. If that trooper offers a word of advice based on his past observations, how would you respond? Smart truckers take the advice for what it is. If it is usable, great. If not, it is dismissed. No harm, no foul.

Next time you drive down the interstate and see a flatbed trailer with a tightly tarped load, don’t assume that the deploying of the tarps was an easy task. Truck drivers put a lot of work into securing their loads prior to departure. If you observe an exceptionally good tarping job, be confident that driver knows what he or she is doing.


Parachutes: Not Just for Jumping out of Airplanes

Jumping out of an airplane with nothing but a parachute to get you safely to the ground requires quite a bit of trust in the material and mechanics of that parachute. Common sense dictates that you would want a parachute material capable of withstanding the stresses of skydiving. Well, guess what? The same kinds of forces that put stress on parachutes also put stress on truck tarps. So why not use parachute material to make a better truck tarp?

We have good news in this regard: parachutes are not just for jumping out of airplanes. Manufacturers are now beginning to utilize parachute cloth for making stronger, lighter truck tarps capable of withstanding the punishment of the open road. Mytee Products has just introduced our own selection of parachute/airbag tarps.

We know, the industry has been using vinyl for what seems like an eternity. But as great a tarp material as vinyl is, parachute cloth is better. We encourage you to at least consider parachute cloth tarps when it comes time to replace your vinyl and canvas.

Basics of Parachute Cloth

Parachute cloth is as a ripstop nylon material. It doesn’t really have to be nylon, but most parachute cloth is. The ‘ripstop’ designation refers to the fact that the cloth is exceptionally resistant to rips and tears thanks to a special kind of weave.

Normal weaves go in just two directions. The warp goes in one direction, the weft in a perpendicular direction. Parachute cloth is different. Parachute cloth manufacturers employ a special technique that involves interweaving reinforcement threads throughout the fabric in a crosshatch pattern.

If you have ever seen a baseball diamond just prior to the first pitch, you should have a good understanding of what a crosshatch pattern is. The outfield displays a crisscross pattern left by a mower being run across it earlier in the day. If you were to take that mower and go across the infield one more time, perpendicular to the intersections of the crisscross pattern, you would wind up with a crosshatch pattern.

The extra weave essentially creates an extra woven ‘joint’, as it were, at every intersection of the warp and weft. This is what gives parachute cloth its exceptional strength. The mass of the extra thread provides additional reinforcement throughout the entire weave.

Lighter Is Better

Now that you understand the basics of parachute cloth, let us discuss why it is a better alternative for truck tarps. The benefits of parachute cloth can be encapsulated in a single word: weight. Simply put, lighter is better for most applications.

As a truck driver, you know that the point of tarps is not cargo securement. Your loads are secured by way of chains and straps. You deploy tarps to protect cargo from weather and road debris. As such, you need tarps strong enough to withstand highway speeds, rough weather, and temperature extremes. If you can get away with a lightweight material without compromising tarp integrity, that’s good for you and your physical health.

Let face it; vinyl tarps are heavy. They are unwieldy under windy conditions. A parachute tarp that is up to 40% lighter is a lot easier to deploy in any weather. It is easier on your back and arms, too. And don’t forget speed; a lighter tarp can be deployed faster because it requires less physical effort on your part.

Yes indeed, parachutes are not just for jumping out of planes anymore. Now you can use the same material skydivers trust their lives with to protect the cargo on the back of your trailer. It is a beautiful thing.