Parts We Like: Everybody likes good, practical gear

Overview

Published: 07/01/2011

by Allan Duffin

Photos

Pierce winch cables

   At Footnotes we’re always looking for products that will help our readers in the shop and on the road. We’re fortunate to work with a great variety of parts suppliers, including AW Direct, Tow Mart, Equipment Sales & Service, East Coast Truck & Trailer, In the Ditch, Custer Products, and United Recovery Industries, among others.

    This month, we’ve checked with a few parts vendors and manufacturers and asked them for some random examples of what’s new, what’s popular, what’s innovative. What could be a hot item but isn’t well-known? Here’s what they suggested:

Jumper Cables

    Nick Kemper, general manager of TowPartsNow.com, told us that PowerSafe jumper cables are one of the most important developments he’s seen in awhile. “With all of the onboard computer components in vehicles today, some of the manufacturers are recommending that their vehicles not be jump-started, because a power surge can damage the components,” Kemper told us.
    According to Kemper, the PowerSafe Cables feature an in-line processor that regulates the current and prevents damage from occurring. “EnergySafe, the manufacturer, is offering systems with an Associated connector and with an Anderson connector, as well as standard clamp cables and a short adapter for portable jump boxes and chargers,” added Kemper.

Winching Up

    Tabitha Pierce of Pierce Sales in Henrietta, Texas, points to winch cables as one of their most popular sellers. Because cable kinks and wears out over time, “use a cable tensioner and roller guide for your winch cable, and re-spool the cable once a week,” said Pierce.
    Butch Hogland of Hooks Towing & Recovery Supplies in Wynne, AR, recommended a cable he calls “the Superman cable.” The new All-Grip super-swaged winch-line cable has two primary advantages over conventional wire rope: higher break strength and better resistance against crushing.
    “Swaging” is a process whereby a product is forced through a die in order to change its properties. The “Superman cable” is manufactured via rotary swaging, “which is a process of compaction,” explained Hogland. “An oversized wire rope is swaged, which reduces the voids and produces a more solid cross-section of wire rope. The result is more steel within a given area, which increases the break strength dramatically.” These characteristics also allow for greater outer surface area contact on drums and sheaves, added Hogland, which helps the cable resist being crushed or deformed.
    One customer in Texas used to replace his winch cable every six to eight weeks. After replacing it with the All-Grip version, “the cable has been on there for seven months and is still going strong,” said Hogland. “That’s very good for a [busy] driver; it’s also great for the company to account for less down time.”

Chain Links

    Some of the best-selling parts at B/A Products Co., in Columbia, MD, are chain assemblies, winch lines, and wheel-lift straps and ratchets. Vice President of Operations Fritz Dahlin noted that while the company sells parts, B/A (“Best Available”) Products is, first and foremost, a manufacturer.
    “All of our chain assemblies are welded in-house,” explained Dahlin. “We have a large sewing department that sews everything from one-inch cargo straps to 12-inch-wide trailer recovery straps.” Dahlin added that the company swages winch cables of up to 5/8 of an inch in diameter.

Remote Controls

    One of the most popular offerings at Pierce Sales is the Lodar two-function remote control, which allows wireless operation of a winch from up to 1,000 feet away. Because tow operators easily lose their transmitters out on the road, “a Lodar 9811 LoCator reminds you to return your transmitter to the holder,” said Pierce, a handy feature when you’re busy at an accident scene and have more important things on your mind.
    A control system recommended by TowPartsNow.com is the Mobile Control Systems Radio or Manual Pneumatic Controls, a product that’s been around for a while and is “an outstanding innovation,” said Kemper. The system “converts the control system on your truck to an air-pressure system, which eliminates worn-out cable controls and crossrod systems and gives you the option of a radio-operated system so that you can operate the controls from anywhere around the truck.” 
    Even better, said Kemper, these systems are not difficult to install, and you can purchase a system for your winch only — which is perfect for carriers.

Cradles & Arms

    Another recent innovation that Hogland recommended is the control arm skate, which allows a tower utilizing a flatbed to relocate a disabled vehicle or trailer using just one piece of equipment. This was developed for towers who encounter “broken ball joints, twisted-off axles, sheared lug studs, and stolen wheels on cars, trucks and/or boat trailers and rental equipment,” explained Hogland. “There appears to be an increase in ball joint failures across North America from lack of maintenance and potholes due to the economy.”
    The Collins Manufacturing Corporation manufactures tow cradles and dolly cradles, and Nick Kemper recommends these products highly. “The tow cradle fits into a standard wheel-lift L-arm and cradles the vehicle suspension when there is no wheel,” he said. “The dolly cradle does the same on a tow dolly.”
    Kemper added that the use of these products helps prevent damage to both the towed vehicle and the tower’s equipment. In addition, the towed vehicle will be more level during the tow.

Tried & True

    And now back to basics: popular items that have been bestsellers for years. “Our best-selling items remain the standard items that are on almost every tow truck: straps and ratchets,” said Kemper. “Two-inch ratchets and two-inch lasso straps are our biggest sellers. Two-inch cluster straps, carrier winch cables, and carrier skates are right behind them.”
    At B/A Products, Fritz Dahlin noted these “new and innovative” parts that the company introduced to the towing industry: round slings, self-locking swivel hooks for winch cables, Cordura-wrapped recovery slings, and side recovery guides that protect your carrier’s cable and side rails.
    Meanwhile, twist locks manufactured by Pierce Sales “have been on the market for two decades,” said Tabitha Pierce. “Towers use them to secure sling arms and lengthen wheel lift arms. Pierce twist locks [feature] ease, simplicity, and longevity. Weld them in place and go. They now come in a stainless steel and threaded option.”
    Dahlin also lists spill kits, trash cans, go jacks, and reflective vests among the items that the company has added to its line over the past few years — products that are always needed and will never go out of style.

SIDEBAR 1
Talking Parts

    Creating a positive customer service experience can be a challenge for both the customer and the parts representative. Tabitha Pierce of Pierce Sales in Henrietta, Texas, discussed how the process works for their company — and how customers can get the most out of the people they buy from.
    Before contacting your parts distributor, said Pierce, try to collect as much information as possible about the item you need and the assembly on which you’ll install it. “To ensure you receive the correct part, we may ask for measurements, photos, or detailed information about the part in question,” she said. The more you know about your tow truck and other equipment you use, the easier it’ll be to order a part when you need it.
    Also important, according to Pierce: Be as patient as you can with the parts department. The customer service representative knows that you need the part as quickly as possible and should do his or her best to fill your order. The relationship between tow operators and parts suppliers is reciprocal. “We understand when our customers are down, business is down,” said Pierce.
    Finally, prepare for the unknown by having spare parts already on hand. “Stock the parts you use the most,” said Pierce, to avoid last-minute emergencies. Overnight shipping can cost a lot of money.

SIDEBAR 2

One-Stop Shopping

    While the parts supplier’s goal is to get the part to the customer as soon as possible, this isn’t always done in the same way. Some parts vendors warehouse a variety of products to ship, while others coordinate items located in different distributors’ locations.
    Fritz Dahlin noted that his company, B/A Products Co., in Columbia, MD, sells its products through distributors in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and Asia. Although B/A Products doesn’t maintain its own call center with customer service representatives to interact with the customer, the company’s distribution system affords it a wider network than the company could get on its own.
    “While we would love to sell to individual tow companies,” said Dahlin, “we believe the distributor system to be more efficient and reliable.” By dealing with a local distributor, continued Dahlin, the customer gets the benefit of the distributor’s knowledge of local equipment requirements and usage.
    “For example,” explained Dahlin, “California has different requirements for chain and winch lines than New York. In another example, if you are located in Oregon, and need a winch cable now, we can direct you to several distributors who stock them, saving you time and money.”
    Dahlin added that, as a manufacturer, B/A Products is able to run specials with no minimums and quick turnaround. “We ship 95 percent of our orders within 48 hours,” he said.
    The company goal: “If it can be used on a tow truck,” he said, “we want to make it available to our distributors. Second, we have begun stocking a wide range of other manufacturers’ products. We want to be able to offer our distributors a complete line — one-stop shopping.”



SIDEBAR 3

Cool New Rope

    Butch Hogland of Hooks Towing & Recovery Supplies in Wynne, AR, pointed to a new and very helpful item that towers should know about: the Supreem X-12 Rope Winchline. “This new winchline rope has eased its way into the market by surprise,” said Hogland. “Its strength has gathered a lot of attention from the towing industry.”
    According to Hogland, this brand of rope features a working load limit stronger than cable of the same size. “Can you imagine dragging or hauling extensions, chain, or cables down a embankment or across a field to pull a vehicle back,” he continued, “when [instead] you can throw this rope over your shoulder?” The answer is easy, he said: “Work smarter, not harder!”
    Hogland believes that the Supreem X-12 Rope Winchline will be “a big factor in the towing industry” for these reasons: “Extremely high strength, a working load limit that’s better than cable, light weight, low stretch, floats on water, spliceable, provides more torque, safe handling, no razor edges, low recoil, no shrapnel” and at a weight that’s one-ninth that of steel cable.

SIDEBAR 4 

Lighting Up

    There are new and unique lighting products being introduced almost every week, said Nick Kemper of TowPartsNow.com. A recent addition to the company’s inventory is the Maximma MWL Series of worklights.
    Added Kemper, “Another interesting product that I recently received is the Road Strobe, a handheld, rechargeable emergency lighting device that can either stand on its base or hang from a traffic cone.” This light features two sets of LED strobes — in a variety of colors — on one side, and another set on the other side.     “While you're warning traffic with one side, you’re illuminating a work scene with the other,” said Kemper. “This one was developed by a tower, and we’re helping to bring it to the marketplace.”

SIDEBAR 5

Speed Chock

    Chuck Ceccarelli, owner of In the Ditch Towing Products, noted that his company recently completed final testing of a new product, the traveling Speed Chock. “Every year I hear the horror stories about a car coming off a carrier deck during the loading process because either the winch or wire rope failed,” he explained. “There is nothing on the market to help prevent a vehicle from rolling off the deck.”
    Ceccarelli is also proud of the company’s Speed Dolly. He said he has heard from many towers who “love this product” and told him his company really “got the design right for towers.” He added that “it is very rewarding when you hear from someone who says your product is making a difference.”


SIDEBAR 6
GoJak Go!

        The GoJak 6200 Vehicle Moving Jack, one of AW Direct’s top-selling equipment items, is a popular combination jack/dolly for lifting and moving a locked, blocked, or disabled vehicle for a tow truck or carrier hook-up.
    Rated at 1,500 pounds, the GoJak accommodates 13- to 16-inch wheels and tires up to 13 inches wide. Leverage to the foot pedal squeezes the tire between rollers until it lifts off the ground, but there’s no contact with the vehicle frame or undercarriage.” While the GoJak doesn’t replace dolly wheels, it does help a tower to reposition a vehicle for a hook-up.
        According to the manufacturer, Zendex Tool Corporation, the GoJak was “born in the body shop.” Back in 1984, Al Coccaro, president of Zendex, had to solve a problem in his auto body shop: he needed a tool that could help him move cars sideways, allowing him better and more efficient control over the flow of vehicles in the shop.
        Janesville, Wisconsin-based AW Direct has been selling parts to the towing community for three decades.