Local towing helps when bad things happen
When bad things happen on the highway or in your driveway, towing companies and roadside assistance services arrive on the scene with solutions to the problem. Whether clearing an accident site or jumpstarting a car, whether summoned by you, your motorist assistance plan or law enforcement, towing companies must respond rapidly round the clock with the right equipment and personnel.
Some of these businesses operate Valley-wide with multiple locations. Others established towing operations as a service for their regular customers and see it feeding their auto repair operations. No matter if towing is a business’ central purpose or a supplemental revenue stream, all towing companies must keep current with laws on impoundment and release, and special licenses. Given the industry’s bad reputation caused by several dishonest wreckers, it’s refreshing to hear the perspective of some respected Valley towing service owners.
“Image has to be a big portion of your business plan,” said Harold Waite, owner of La Feria Wrecker Service and I-69 Wrecker Service. First off, he doesn’t tow vehicles for parking violations. “That’s an image killer. People won’t remember the one good thing you did.”
In fact, La Feria Wrecker has evolved since 1991 when Waite bought the business which had opened in the 1950s as Pinky’s. He found roadside assistance calls too time-consuming and not cost-effective for his trucks and drivers.
“We’ve just progressed into heavy duty work. We do a lot of accidents, including 18-wheelers, RVs and busses. We’re the ones who have the most equipment and the right-size equipment to handle it.” His tow trucks cover four different weight classes to handle appropriate wrecking challenges.
In order to work accidents, a wrecker company needs an incident management license along with the drivers being licensed for tow trucks. At an accident site, DPS, or city or county law enforcement refer to a rotation system for the next wrecker company to be called. “The rotation for heavy duty wreckers is shorter because few have the equipment to do it right.” Waite and his crews have even responded to a FedEx widebody jet that rolled off a runway last year, winching it back to solid ground.
“I have relationships with large companies, like H-E-B, Mission Petroleum and Valley Transit that call us 24 hours a day when they have an accident or a problem. They tell police they want La Feria Wrecker. A lot of companies have been ripped off by rotation wreckers,” he said. “My business has grown because of the companies that request us now.”
In fact, any motorist involved in a situation requiring towing can request the wrecker service of their choosing. The only caveat is that the towing company must arrive on the scene in a specified time slot, sometimes 20 minutes, but longer if the vehicles are not impeding traffic.
Even while answering questions about his businesses, Waite takes calls on Bluetooth. “What kind of vehicle is it? Is he going to be there with the keys?” The 24-hour nature of the business means that one driver sleeps in the office every night and at least four others are on call. Additional locations in Lyford and Edinburg make it easier for La Feria Wrecker and I-69 to respond.
The towing businesses are a family affair with Waite’s son Kenneth driving a tow truck and his daughter Samantha working as office manager.
American Eagle, owned by Rodney and Belle Meyers, shares offices with La Feria Wrecker and I-69. The roadside assistance company’s van tends to motorists who need fuel delivered, doors unlocked, tires changed, jump starts and similar services. “We are contractors for some insurance companies and motor clubs. Others call us when there’s a need,” Meyers said. Most dealerships and motor clubs funnel calls to a central assistance center which requests a company like his to step in. American Eagle’s reach extends as far as the King Ranch. “Nobody else delivers like we do,” he added.
The fourth company on the premises is a storage facility for wrecked and impounded vehicles, because Texas law states that storage lots for those vehicles cannot belong to a wrecker service. The wrecker service gets paid for accident recovery. The storage facility has to deal with strict regulations involving the release of a vehicle and paying the tow company.
In Edinburg, where Jesus Sanchez opened South Highway Garage in 1960, his sons Roy and Billy view towing services as a sideline. “Our main concern is auto mechanics. If towing brings in business, fine. If it doesn’t, fine,” said Roy Sanchez. “We work accidents, DWIs and stolen vehicles. I deal with law enforcement and customers who are broken down.”
“If it’s a customer of mine, I will attempt to take care of them 100%,” said Sanchez, who began working with his father as a kid and learned how to drive when he was 7 years old. Some insurance companies and motorist associations call him when they can’t find their Valley contact people. Experience has taught the Sanchezes to get credit card payments up front before heading up 281 to provide assistance because too often a broken-down vehicle was already gone.
“Today, me and my brother run the business. My dad is still the owner. The three of us get together, he asks for our opinion and makes a decision.”
Sanchez himself takes overnight calls three times a week. Different city ordinances limit what wreckers can go to accident sites and what vehicles are going to require towing when a stopped driver has no insurance or driver’s license. “Towers need to know the laws.” Less than half the vehicles towed by one of the garage’s three trucks need garage services.
Tommy Graham’s Paint & Body Shop has offered 24-hour wrecker service since 1978, according to owner Mark Magouirk. “Our business is a repair facility, so it goes hand in hand with towing. Mainly we have our wrecker to pick up our customers’ vehicles wherever they are in the Valley and bring them in for repair. If they’re in a wreck, they know Graham’s does repairs.” When the Harlingen garage tows in the vehicle, it saves customers storage fees and a second towing fee.
“We work hand in hand with the police. We help clear the roadways,” he said. Many rotation calls are from police when they need to have a vehicle towed after a DWI stop.
Magouirk views towing as a way to impress potential customers. “It’s your one time to shine and hopefully win over new customers for your services.”
February 2017 cover story by Eileen Mattei