Definition and nature of the work
Crane operators use specially equipped trucks to move damaged vehicles; have been damaged in accidents, abandoned or seized by the police; or you can’t drive for some other reason. Operators work for towing companies, service stations or car recovery companies.
A crane operator can drive one of three types of trucks. Conventional tow trucks are equipped with a hook and harness that operators use to lift one end of a disabled vehicle for towing. Wheeled or full float forklift operators use winches to lift the trucks and place the support wheels under one or both axles for towing. Flatbed trucks are used to transport more expensive cars. Operators lower the platforms of the trucks to the ground, place the disabled vehicles on the platforms, then raise them to drive. In all cases, operators can attach steering locks, chains or lights to disabled vehicles so they can move safely.
Sometimes operators diagnose and repair minor problems. They start the cars, replace the spark plugs, connect loose wires, change flat tires, and add fuel. If vehicles have been involved in accidents, operators may need to remove, fold or cut damaged parts before towing.
Many operators perform other activities when they are not towing. Petrol station workers can refuel and service vehicles, perform repairs and replace accessories and tires. Operators working for auto recovery companies can dismantle vehicles to recover reusable parts.
Education and training requirements
Employers prefer to hire candidates with a high school diploma or equivalent; however, the job has no specific educational requirements. Applicants must have a good driving record. High school courses in cars and bodywork can be useful. Many truck driving schools offer training programs for crane operators.
New workers receive on-the-job training from experienced operators, who explain business and safety procedures, customer service techniques, and paperwork.
The Towing and Recovery Association of America offers certification programs for towing and recovery of light, medium and heavy loads. Candidates are evaluated based on customer service, safety procedures, incident management and trucking equipment.
Take the job
Job seekers can go directly to towing companies, gas stations or car recovery and demolition companies. State employment services, newspaper ads or Internet job sites can provide employment contacts.
Possibility of advancement and employment prospects
Tow truck operators generally start by towing impounded or abandoned vehicles with conventional trucks or wheeled lifters. With experience they can travel on flatbed trucks. Some operators become supervisors or managers of towing companies or service stations. Others start their own gas stations, towing companies or salvage companies.
Employment of crane operators is expected to grow at the average of all professions until 2014. The industry is moving towards more specialized towing companies, so trained and experienced operators should have the most opportunities. With more vehicles on the road each year, demand for crane operators is also expected to increase.