Many of us probably don't think about the tow truck business that often. We're grateful when one randomly stops on the road when we're broken down (if they ever stop at all). We may think about them when we buy a new car or change our car insurance in determining whether or not we want roadside assistance, but for the most part our paths don't cross too often.

    AOL Autos wanted to find out a little more about the extreme ins and outs of the tow truck business, so we caught up with a former tow truck driver in Virginia. He asked us to keep his name anonymous, so we will call him Dan, and in return he introduced us to the world of repossession and impound towing -- one that you hopefully won't have to visit too often.

    The Repossession and Impound Business

    Dan worked as a part-time driver for five years and gave us some insight into how the repossession business works. The first step is simply getting the address of the car. It doesn't matter how they find out where the person lives, they just need to have that address. Dan said that some finance companies give them an address, but if it's the wrong one, "They might have someone call the guy and tell him something stupid like he's won tickets to something and they want to know where to send them -- anything sneaky so they get the guy's address," he said. "Some people are so dumb that that they give their address and their car is just sitting there."

    He said some people know it's a possibility their car will be repossessed so they park the car a few houses down thinking that the tow truck drivers won't be able to find it ... that doesn't work. We asked Dan what the best time to take a car was and he said, "Take them whenever! Whenever they least expect it."

    Dan not only worked in repossessions, but also impounded vehicles for private companies. Sometimes he'd patrol apartment complexes and businesses that had hired Dan's company to tow away illegally parked vehicles. He told us many people ignore the "No Parking" and "24 Hour Towing" signs, and they pay the price. "It might be parked there all night, it might be parked there for 30 seconds; it's just parked there at the wrong time if the tow truck gets it."

    When it comes to patrolling for illegally parked cars, Dan told us that this is where competition between the tow truck drivers kicks in. He said most tow truck drivers try to work it out, but he had a few issues. "I know I always had problems with other drivers because I only worked part time." Other drivers would claim certain properties belonged solely to them, but Dan still patrolled them. "It's not my fault they haven't been going and checking for cars," he told us. "They thought no one else would be at that property and little did they know I just rolled up and took all their cars."

    Taking all the cars from a specific lot is referred to in this business as "burning up the property." Early one morning Dan and a co-worker found another driver from their company sleeping in his truck, waiting to pick up a few cars. "We caught him sleeping in the shopping center right around the corner from one of the communities, so we figured there had to be cars and we went over and towed four cars. He woke up at 6 a.m. thinking he could get cars and he rolled in and there weren't any."

    Normally, these drivers won't grab all the cars from a lot because they don't want people to think there's a strict policy. "It's kind of like fishing, you want to keep some bait out there," Dan said. "But when the money's tight, people take every car they can."

    Selling the Cars

    Dan told us that most people would come and pay for their cars at the impound lot, unless the cars were in really bad condition. "Sometimes you'd have a fairly new car and under weird circumstances the people didn't come to claim the actual nice cars," he added. "But it's pretty rare that the cars were nice."

    He told us that when the smart tow truck companies impound a car, they write down the VIN and the license plate number, then call the DMV and put a lien on that owner for the amount of money it costs to store the car. "Other tow truck companies might just sell the car off or just apply for the title and sell it off and get what money they can for it," he said.

    We asked him what the company he worked for did in these cases. "If someone offered them cash for the car they just kind of unloaded it off to them." He said they didn't get in trouble for that because, "They had a connection up at the DMV, a lady was making titles for them."

    By law, the towing companies are supposed to wait 45 days before they apply for the title at the DMV. "But you know, it varies," Dan said.

    The Dangers of the Job

    No one likes having their car towed, especially when you're actually there to see it happen. Some of Dan's co-workers have been shot at, one of his friends had his face slashed with a J-hook and Dan himself had an instance where a group of guys got a little more than angry at him for towing a car.

    He and his co-worker were patrolling an apartment community and got out to determine what cars needed to be towed. "We kind of walked into a group of people who saw that we had our company tow truck shirts on and a friend got into a little bit of an altercation with them." Dan tried to stop the situation from escalating, but it didn't work out the way he wanted it to. "I was trying to tell everyone to not worry about it and go home, but when I wasn't looking I got a baseball bat to my face."

    The guys who attacked Dan knocked out several of his teeth and then ran into an apartment building. "At first I was a in a little bit of a shock because my teeth were busted out," he said. "But then I think the adrenaline kind of kicked in and they obviously realized they had made a mistake and ran into an apartment." Dan then pinned their car in with his tow truck so they couldn't leave and waited for the police to show up. We asked Dan if he quit after a day like that, but he said he worked there for another two years.

    Just Part of the Job

    Even with all the angry people and potentially dangerous encounters, Dan said that there can be good money in towing cars. Drivers are paid by the number of cars they bring in. Some nights drivers can bring home $700, he said For some people, the risk is just part of the job and it doesn't deter them at all. Dan's friend who was slashed in the face six years ago is still towing to this day. It's not that they want people to be mad at them or that they particularly enjoy the dangerous encounters, Dan said matter-of-factly, "Some people just tow cars."

    Read More Confessions:

    - Confessions of a Mechanic

    - Confessions of an Auto Engineer

    - Confessions of an Auto Insurance Agent

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    1 - 13 of 13 Comments
    HappyJackmydog Mar 14, 2011 12:20 AM
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    MSalent Mar 13, 2011 10:15 PM
    "Dan" in this story is not representative of a true, trained, professional in the towing and recovery industry. I grew up in the towing business, one my grandfather founded in the early 1930s, and the bulk of professional tow truck drivers make their money from transporting broken down or wrecked vehicles as requested by the vehicle owner, an authorized service and repair business, or law enforcement authorities. While occasional legal repossessions or removal of illegally parked vehicles do occur, this is a minimal percent of the work done in most well-established, larger towing operations. Frankly, that sort of towing is often considered to be lower on the food chain in this industry. The offense of this article is **************** a stereotype of slack-jawed, low-class, money-grubbing vultures in the business. By the way, depending upon local contracted services with towing companies, it is, in fact, illegal in certain areas of the US to stop and offer road service where none was requested.
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    Smithdeane Mar 13, 2011 9:09 PM
    Thieves with tow hooks , Wants to sound legit but thier getting $100-200 off every hit, I get where the lot owners get kickbacks from the tow co's (cash) . Yes many are stupid , many need towed , Many are just a scam and the biggest thief is the towing service . Pepo's I am all for , they have a contract to pay and failure to pay is stealing , at least there they earn thier money
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    Shhurtjr Mar 13, 2011 6:33 PM
    Ambulance chasing my foot. I would be happy if a truck stopped for me before I have to call in, especially if I don't have my cell phone. It is called RESCUE. If that's illegal, then we should BREAK IT!
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    kcruse56 Mar 13, 2011 12:41 AM
    to KIMWELDON I live in GA also and work for a towing company. It is not illegal to stop and offer a tow. But it is illegal to troll parking lots and take cars. The company has to call to report the car and we can not tow the car unless they have a contract. As far as those cars go the wait period is like 30 to 45 days before we can try to get the title and certified letters have to mailed out. And what your talking about with local police is a list of towing companies they go down when the police are called or stop when they see a stranded motorist or an accident. But any towing company can stop even if police are present and ask if they want it towed by them. The faster the car is moved the happier the police are. I've been dispatching now for 3 years.
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    BulletinBoardSN Mar 12, 2011 11:35 PM
    I would visit a friend who lived in a townhome and they clearly said only 60 minutes for visitors parking. I was 5 minutes late and the resident manager left a note saying next time they will tow. The res.mgr. lived right outside the visitor's parking zone. A year later I visited the friend and left 3 minutes before the 60 min. time limit. The visitor's parking was in the back of the building and I was the lone visitor. There was a tow truck next to mines, as I approached my car, he sped off. Wow he was literally counting the minutes down too and seemed to be PO'd that I returned. I really heed those time limits now after that experience; I don't want to spend $150 or more getting my car outta impound.
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    Kimweldon2 Mar 12, 2011 11:13 PM
    I live in GA. One of my closest friends owns a wrecker service. I've ridden with him many times to wrecks, reposessions, and regular tows for service. I don't know about where you live. But I can tell you as a FACT that GA law prohibits a TT driver from stopping to offer a tow to someone stranded on the side of the road...UNLESS the stranded motorist flags the TT driver down. Most, dare I day ALL, of the city/county PD have a contract with a local Wrecker Service for motorist assistance and car removal. And it is absolutely illegal to stop to offer a tow.
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    Fubrewer Mar 12, 2011 10:24 PM
    kimweldon2 i don't know what state you live in or where you get your info from, but i drove a tow truck for almost 10 years ,and never found anywhere that claimed for it to be illegal to stop and offer my help, it is not the equivalent of ambulance chasing, if anything it is more of a chance to clear the road or shoulder before an ambulance may be needed
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    Dbackdraft Mar 12, 2011 2:15 PM
    Kimwildon2 is right ,so very right.
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    Dbackdraft Mar 12, 2011 2:13 PM
    I have been in the business for 43 years mostly in southern California for LAPD,CHP and all other law ********************* only Chicago and California have the right rules for towing and all those programes on tv well what a joke,and my name really is Danny
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    CMax383666 Mar 12, 2011 12:43 PM
    its not illegal to stop and help,it could if he /she does not call in first before the tow.
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    ANCO8710 Mar 12, 2011 11:22 AM
    Dan knows what he is talking about. He sounds like a frontline employee and, like he said, you don't go looking for trouble it just seems to find you. I owned a Repossession company for 20+ years. The repo. industry did not explode till the mid 80's when the finance companies realized that having their people walking on somebodies property, who is about to lose everything, puts them in a highly libelous positon. {The debtor has nothing to lose and everyting to gain. Allegations are filed and the "Deep Pocket" finance company must defend itself. Contingency attorneys know banks will settle before they fight and therefore is easy money. All they need is the charge.} The finance company concluded they needed a "Buffer" between themselves and their customer. "Wallah", thus was born the RepoMan. Most states have laws regulating repo activity. Self help-non breach of the peace, is the term from which repo's are effected and most finance companies have this spelled out in their contract with and agent they employ. A good repo company realizes why their services are being utilized and will go to great pains to avoid contact knowing they incur the liability for their actions. The finance companies are more than happy to unload it on them. Confrontations, such as is seen on television, where one knows an altercation will occur just simply make no sense. The best recovery is where No contact is made.
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    Kimweldon2 Mar 12, 2011 11:07 AM
    First of all...it is illegal for a tow truck driver to just stop and offer assistance when they see someone stranded on the side of the road. The driver has to wait until they are dispatched by whatever service they work for. It is the equivalent of "ambulance chasing" for the TT driver to stop.
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    1 - 13 of 13 Comments
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