By Roger Brown
Next month the spotlight will be on the vehicle recovery industry as The Tow Show – the biggest exhibition of recovery vehicles and accessories in the UK – is held at the Telford International Centre.
As well as recovery vehicles from all the main manufacturers, the event, held on 25 and 26 September, will display a broad selection of the equipment, accessories and services available. One of the exhibitors, J&J Conversions, based in Andover, Hampshire, was founded in 1987 by business partners Richard Guy and Mick Vine.
All its equipment is designed and manufactured in house including its Vehicle Recovery System (VRS). There is a full service and parts department, a three-year warranty on many of its products, delivery and collection service, as well as full testing facilities with individual vehicle approval (IVA) bay.
Guy said: “With regards to body sizes and types, we specialise mostly in mid-range vehicles, but have a diverse product catalogue. “We consider the 7 ton/12 ton slide-bed to be our ‘bread and butter’ and we also specialize in the design and manufacture of covered transporters which mostly serve prestigious brands such as Aston Martin and Ferrari.”
According to Guy, customers want their recovery trucks to be as versatile as possible so that they can get the maximum return on what is usually a considerable investment. He said: “Customers are looking for reliability, pay load, ease of operation, cost efficiency and continuity from their recovery trucks.
“The secret of a good recovery vehicle is quality workmanship, high grade materials, attention to detail and incorporating operators’ feedback in to the design and manufacture. A good maintenance regime and an experienced operator help.”
The recovery industry faces a number of challenges, including difficulties in recruiting people with the right skills and high cost of training, inadequate profit margins, as well as the high cost of equipment. Although heavy recovery trucks tend to hold their value well – even one that is five years old can see a drop of less than 30% on what was paid for it – a crew-cab slide-bed can still set a company back more than £60,000.
Also, slide-beds tend not to hold their value as well because they do jobs that involve large mileages. Guy said: “With regards to whether they hold their value well, it depends on the model both in terms of body builder and chassis choice. Ours hold particularly good residual value as we build a complete recovery vehicle, not just attaching a body to a chassis but consider the complete conversion to give the best possible overall vehicle.”
Hard shoulder running on motorways is a problem that exposes recovery trucks and the people operating them to greater risk, while emergency refuge areas are sometimes not large enough to house a broken-down truck plus a recovery vehicle. Bodies are therefore designed in such a way that those attempting to recover a vehicle at the roadside spend the minimum amount of time there, reducing the danger that somebody will drive into them.
Guy said: “Our designs are rigorously tested and certified, not just complying with all safety initiatives but also surpassing guidelines and directives. To achieve vehicle type approval (VCA) approvals we manufacture many test rigs to go to the test centre at MIRA where they are tested and certificated. We own a ten-bay custom built factory in Hampshire and have a dedicated workforce, many of whom have worked for the company for decades.
“Many of our popular products such as aluminum Predator slide-bed are built in large batches and once an order is received, depending on capacity a vehicle could be completed and ready for delivery within two weeks.”
Vehicle recovery specialists, Hough Green Garage of Widnes recently put a new five-axle Volvo FH16-750 rigid recovery vehicle into operation adding to the company’s 200 hundred strong vehicle recovery fleet, which operates from 12 sites across North West England, North Wales and the Midlands. The FH16-750, supplied by Thomas Hardie Commercials, is fitted with a Globetrotter XL Cab, a D16K Euro-6 engine producing 750hp and I-Shift automated transmission system with Crawler gears.
Its 6,400mm wheelbase rigid was specified with twin ten-tonne front axles and an additional Estepe-fitted pusher axle located in front of the hub reduction bogie. Manufactured in North America, the Miller Industries 1075s HHU, 75-tonne rotator recovery body was imported and fitted by Boniface Engineering in Thetford.
Boniface was bought by United States-based Miller Industries more than 20 years ago and makes over 200 vehicles a year based on DAF, Volvo, Mercedes or Scania larger chassis to Iveco, MAN and Renault Trucks lighter ones. It manufactures anything from slide-beds to 75-tonne rotators, including the Safe Bar towing system, winch rope management systems, and trailer loading and weight distribution products.
David Farrell, Director at Hough Green Garage, said: “The new Volvo FH16-750 joins a fleet of four 75-tonne rotators in our business and with 750hp, it’s the most powerful vehicle we’ve bought to date.” It joins several Volvo trucks in this operation, which range from 14-tonne crew cab slide-bed recovery vehicles through to tractor units and specialist heavy duty rigids.
There are also TruckMax vertical exhaust stacks and a large selection of work, hazard and marker lights. Farrell added: “Specifying a vehicle like this is always a challenging process and there is always going to be the occasional niggle. I’m a great believer in the phrase ‘you get what you pay for’ and at present, only Volvo will provide a five-axle chassis like this, with the Estepe additional axle.
“Our new FH16-750 represents a substantial investment for our company and we expect to retain the truck for a minimum of seven years. Volvo trucks do hold their value and that fact gives us confidence for the future.”
Another major specialist due to exhibit at The Tow Show is Dave Bland Engineering based in Stamford Bridge near York which constructs its own slide-beds on chassis grossing from 7.0 tonnes to 18 tonnes. The company sources its heavy recovery equipment from Canada’s NRC Industries, which it then mounts on European chassis.