Tow Truck Operator
Tow truck operators drive and operate trucks to tow vehicles that have broken down, been damaged or illegally parked.
Tow truck drivers with one to two years' experience usually earn
$19-$25 per hour
Experienced tow truck operators usually earn
$25-$35 per hour
Source: ACE Towing, Auto Salvage, and Careers Directorate – Tertiary Education Commission research, 2018.
Pay for tow truck operators varies depending on experience.
- Tow truck operators with less than two years' experience usually earn between $19 and $25 an hour.
- Experienced tow truck operators and/or those with extra licences, such as heavy haulage, may earn up to $35 an hour.
Most towing companies pay an hourly rate, but some pay a flat rate for each call-out.
Some tow truck operators have their own trucks, and contract their services to a towing company. They are usually paid a fee for each vehicle they tow, and can earn $100,000 or more a year (before tax and truck costs).
Source: ACE Towing, 2018; Auto Salvage, 2018; and Careers Directorate – Tertiary Education Commission research, 2018.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our pay information)
What you will do
Tow truck operators may do some or all of the following:
- tow vehicles, such as those that are stolen, broken down or illegally parked, to places such as the towing company yard
- remove vehicles from crash sites for the police
- unlock vehicles (without keys)
- jumpstart vehicles
- keep records of vehicles that have been towed
- deal with customers and take payments
- maintain their tow truck.
Skills and knowledge
Tow truck operators need to have:
- the ability to operate a tow truck safely and tow vehicles without damaging them
- an understanding of the locking mechanisms of different types of vehicles
- basic mechanical skills to fix minor mechanical problems or release handbrakes
- knowledge of their local area.
If tow truck operators tow heavy vehicles, they need to know about the New Zealand Transport Agency's overweight and over-dimension vehicle policies and permits.
Tow truck operators:
- usually do shift work, including nights or weekends, and are not allowed to work for more than 13 hours in one day or 70 hours in one week
- work from their truck and depot, and outside on roadsides and in parking lots
- work in conditions that can be dangerous, such as accident scenes and busy roads.
What's the job really like?
Tow Truck Operator
Can you describe your most unusual call-out?
"A guy took his wife’s Porsche for a drive, but he went flying off into the water at Shelly Bay. He was wearing heavy work boots and got his foot stuck because the pedals were so close together."
Police divers attached hooks to the wreck and Pete Hansen and a workmate winched the car to shore. "It was written off, but fortunately he was alright…"
What sort of jobs do you typically attend?
"We mainly do breakdowns, but we also get call-outs to attend crashes. Nine times out of 10 you’ll know straight away what to do. Other times you’ve got to take a bit more in; such as, if the car’s gone into a house, you have to think 'If I pull it out, is a wall going to fall down?' "
Can dealing with irate people be difficult?
"If you encounter someone who looks like they’re headed for a confrontation, you try to steer them from it. I used to work at the airport as a parking warden, so I learned a few skills there about how to calm people down. If you can help them out, they calm down and you end up best of friends."
To become a tow truck operator you need to have held a Class 1 (full) licence for two years before getting a vehicle recovery (V) endorsement.
Depending on the size of the tow truck you are driving and the vehicles you are towing, you may need a heavy vehicle licence.
If you want to set up your own tow truck business, you'll need a vehicle recovery service licence.
- New Zealand Transport Agency website - information on driving a tow truck
- New Zealand Transport Agency website - information on heavy vehicle licences
- New Zealand Transport Agency website - information on running a tow truck business
There are no specific secondary education requirements for tow truck operators, but English may be useful.
Tow truck operators need to be:
- honest and reliable
- calm, helpful and diplomatic when dealing with customers
- good at record-keeping
- efficient and able to work well under pressure.
Useful experience for tow truck operators includes:
- any work with vehicles
- work as a truck driver or other driving experience
- work with cranes or forklifts
- mechanical work
- customer service experience.
Tow truck operators need to be reasonably fit, as the job involves stretching, bending, lifting and climbing, especially in difficult salvage situations.
Tow truck operators must pass a medical test every five years.
Find out more about training
- New Zealand Transport Authority
- 0800 822 422 - www.nzta.govt.nz
What are the chances of getting a job?
Strong demand for tow truck drivers
Opportunities for tow truck drivers are good because:
- people tend to stay in the job for a short time only, so vacancies are common
- New Zealand's growing population means more cars and drivers are on the roads, resulting in more work for tow truck operators.
Your chances of securing a job are best if you can work weekend and evening shifts.
According to the Census, 315 tow truck operators worked in New Zealand in 2018.
Tow truck operators work for small businesses
Most tow truck companies are small businesses employing between five and 15 operators. Some large companies – particularly those in Auckland – employ over 60 staff.
- Bartle, C, owner, ACE Towing, Careers Directorate – Tertiary Education Commission interview, March 2018.
- Goodsir, G, director, Auto Salvage, Careers Directorate – Tertiary Education Commission interview, March 2018.
- Stats NZ, '2018 Census Data', 2019.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our job opportunities information)
Progression and specialisations
Tow truck operators may progress into management roles or set up their own tow truck business.
They may also move into other transport-related jobs, such as heavy truck driving.
Last updated 13 November 2020