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A large, red recovery truck towing a semi-truck along an interstate during the day.

Heavy Duty Towing vs. Light Duty Towing: What's the Difference?

A large, red, heavy-duty towing truck tows a semi-truck along a freeway during the day.

When it comes to towing and auto hauling, knowing the difference between heavy duty and light duty towing is crucial for rescuing your stranded vehicle. These two towing methods have different strengths and cater to specific vehicles. We explain these two types of towing, how they differ, and how to determine which one works best for your situation.

What is Heavy Duty Towing?

Heavy duty towing is commonly used for vehicles or tow jobs that reach or exceed 17,000 pounds, or 8.5 tons, in total weight. Retrieving large and heavy trucks safely requires special equipment and expertise that comes from specialized towing services. The most common types include semi truck towing and bus towing, along with other large vehicles like buses, dump trucks, tractors, machinery, trailers, and more.

Tow trucks used for heavy duty towing provide higher weight capacities and more horsepower to pull these large vehicles. Because heavy duty recovery requires much more consideration to ensure safety and minimize as much damage as possible, these tow trucks contain the necessary tools for these experts to use, such as 25-ton booms, winches, or wheel lifts.

Moreover, heavy duty towing can also be used for lighter vehicles that are harder to reach or are in dangerous situations. This includes cars stuck in tall ditches, ravines, or along steep slopes too risky for standard wreckers to retrieve.

What is Light Duty Towing?

Light duty towing consists of rescuing stranded smaller vehicles like cars, small trucks and mini SUVs. These tow trucks are ideal for vehicles stranded on the road from issues like engine failures or tire punctures. Light duty tow trucks also dispatch for on-the-road accidents and for vehicles that need pulling out from ditches.

For vehicles with lower weight capacities, light duty towing works great, as they carry enough equipment and are versatile enough to handle smaller vehicles like cars. Also, for cars and trucks in hilly or mountainous terrains, these trucks work to recover vehicles that slid into steep ditches or hillsides.


semi-truck stuck in the ditch with the trailer sticking out on the road

Which Towing Is For Me?

If you're still unsure which type of towing is right for your vehicle, ask yourself these questions:

1. Weight Capacity

You should know or have a good understanding of how heavy your vehicle is. The general threshold - 17,000 lbs. - helps people determine which way they need to go. However, do some research on local towing companies, as the thresholds for towing types may differ.

2. Towing Capacity

Besides the size and weight of the vehicle, hopefully you know or have an idea of how long the tow will be, and if the tow truck can withstand the weight capacity for a longer period of time. Take into consideration if your vehicle is connected to a trailer, boat, or other connected component. This will likely have you requesting heavy duty towing.

3. Difficulty to Retrieve Your Vehicle

Assess the situation of your stranded vehicle. Can a light duty tow truck reach you without compromising the safety of themselves and others? If your vehicle is too far out or in areas that are hard to reach, you may want to consider using a heavy duty tow truck instead.

4. Cost

Because of its higher capacity and specialized equipment, heavy duty towing generally costs more than light duty towing. However, the overall cost of the towing depends on the tow truck itself and the rates from the towing company.

Towing Equipment From US Cargo Control

Regardless of heavy duty or light duty towing, having the right equipment should be the number one priority in recovering these vehicles. And with US Cargo Control products, your guaranteed to have high-quality towing products capable to getting your vehicles out of some of the toughest recovery situations. To complete your towing and recovery kit, make sure you have the following products:


yellow recovery strap from us cargo control
Tow & Recovery StrapsRegardless if you need new straps for your towing business, or for recreational and personal use, heavy-duty tow straps and recover straps are perfect for any emergency situation your vehicle encounters. Made of durable, high-quality nylon webbing, these straps come in different lengths and widths for both light duty and heavy duty towing.



gray tow shackle from us cargo control
Tow Shackles: Screw pin tow shackles offer up a strong, secure connection point for your tow strap, recovery strap, or winch strap. The screw pin mechanism allows for easy connection, and the shackles' round shape make them flexible to pull loads in various directions without significant side load.



tow hook with oblong ring from us cargo control
Tow Hooks & AccessoriesDurable tow hooks latch onto the frame of any vehicle used to pull another one. Different tow hooks work for different vehicle brands. For example, J-Hooks are designed to tow foreign-made vehicles like Toyotas, while T-hooks work for GM and Chrysler vehicles. Other accessories include V-Bridle Tow Straps, Cable Puller, and more with different break strengths and WLLs.



tow chain with double hook end from us cargo control
Towing Chain: This 10' Grade 70 Towing Chain is incredibly versatile and can be used for a variety of applications. With two hooked ends - one with a T-hook and grab hook, the other with a 14" forged hook - this chain provides great compatibility and easy connection to most attachment points.



wheel net with flat hook ends from us cargo control
Wheel Nets & Auto Tie Down StrapsUS Cargo Control offers many different styles and configurations of wheel straps to tie down cars to flatbed trucks and trailers. From wheel nets, tow dolly straps, axle straps, and more, there's a tie down for whatever application you need.


Safety First

Other vehicles have been and continue to be used for both light duty and heavy duty towing. However, we implore you to use safe practices and good judgment when doing so:

  • Always inspect straps prior to use.
  • Keep bystanders away at a safe distance from the towing area.
  • Never exceed rated capacity for any tow/recovery strap, tow shackle, or tow hook.
  • Always watch for traffic when towing on busy roads or freeways - especially at nighttime.

Remember: Professional towing companies follow strict safety protocols when towing vehicles. Reach out to one if you feel the towing job is too difficult to do yourself.

More Articles You May Like:

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Auto Recovery Straps vs. Tow Straps: What's the Difference?

How to Pull a Car Out of Snow Using a Recovery Strap

How to Tell When It's Time for New Rigging Gear

What Are the Differences Between Shackles?


Get in touch with our product experts by calling (866) 444-9990 or emailing today!

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