Which type of towtruck is harder on a car: flatbed or hook?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Aug 01, 2005

Dear Tom and Ray:

Of these types of tow trucks, flatbed versus the traditional "hook" model, which one is worse for a car? A while back, my starter failed, and my car was towed on a flatbed truck. After the starter replacement, I noticed that the rear wheels angled inward at the bottom, and those tires had begun to wear unevenly. The mechanic replaced the rear tires and said the rear struts also needed replacing. Since neither of these issues was apparent prior to the towing, I'm curious whether the manner in which the car was strapped or removed from the truck could result in damage? Next time I need a tow truck, should I request one type or the other? -- Gail

RAY: Well, a flatbed is best, Gail -- provided the tow-truck driver actually remembers to chain your car to the bed.

TOM: Sounds like you might have a case of F.O.T. That's "fell off truck." Because there's no other way, on a flatbed tow truck, to change the camber angle of the rear wheels.

RAY: Did you hear a loud bang just after the tow truck went around the corner? Followed by a two-word phrase that starts with "Oh"?

TOM: Generally speaking, flatbed towing is by far the best option. In fact, for four-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive vehicles, it's the only option. We always request flatbed trucks when we have cars towed to us.

RAY: Or, more accurately, towed BACK to us!

TOM: Have you ever noticed that luxury-car dealers use nothing but flatbeds? You never see a Mercedes bouncing around at the end of a hook.

RAY: So in terms of your car, Gail, it's possible that it was damaged when it came off the tow truck, but by no means is that the only possibility.

TOM: Right. You don't say what kind of car you have, but when you put a car with independent rear suspension up on a lift, the wheels do angle in as the car hangs there -- suspended underneath by the frame.

RAY: And when you put the car back on the ground, the wheels still angle in at first, until the car is driven around and the suspension geometry has a chance to sort itself out. So if you saw the car just after it came down from the lift, you might have thought it was damaged.

TOM: And when you were busy inspecting your rear wheels and wondering what that knucklehead tow-truck driver did to your car, you might have then noticed the uneven tire wear.

RAY: The tire wear might have had absolutely nothing at all to do with the tow. Your mechanic has since told you that your rear shocks are worn out. And worn shocks can cause what? Uneven tire wear.

TOM: So, assuming the rear suspension geometry has since straightened itself out, and the wheels are no longer cambered in, I'd replace the rear shocks and see if the uneven wear continues after a few thousand miles. If not, then you just needed new shocks, and you owe the tow-truck driver an apology for thinking such evil thoughts about him. And so do we!

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