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American Towman Magazine Presents the Week in TowingJune 12 - June 18, 2019

Metal Fatigue and Vintage Tow Loops

89 d04c5By Randall C. Resch

Have you ever loaded a vehicle onto your carrier using old style—not bumper-mounted—underside tow loops?

I recently reviewed a lawsuit where a carrier's operator was loading a vintage 1970s BMW coupe onto his carrier. The operator attached the winch cable to an underside factory tow loop, forgoing other attachment accessories. The BMW was nearly onto the carrier's deck when the loop let go. The BMW took off, hit a parked car and ran into a building. Thankfully no one was injured or killed; but there was considerable property damage.

The insurance group asked my opinion whether the operator should have used the loading loop. I reviewed the investigation that included numerous photos and statements by the operator, the vehicle's owner and witnesses who saw the crash.

Tow Vs. Transport

This was a challenging case as there are several factors that come into play to consider.

Exotic and collector cars come in all sizes, shapes and conditions. I researched early BMW cars like the 3.0 CS and found they often have considerable issues with rust. It's common that vintage vehicles have issues with undercarriage rust.

Fast forward to the introduction of flatbed carriers; towers frequently hooked into tow loops because of convenience and by vehicle design. Besides, either flat-towing or winch-loading bears only a percentage of the vehicle's total weight during tow or loading processes.

Some early BMWs and Jaguars were factory outfitted with these kinds of loops. U-shaped loops were made of rolled steel and were factory-welded to the vehicle's frame, usually on both undersides of the vehicle and oftentimes at both ends. Thirty-five years ago, I used them on vintage Ferraris, Aston Martins and other vintage vehicles. Because separation is always possible, I personally don't use any eye-loops for this very reason.

Consider All Options

Having reviewed the underside photos taken by investigators, it was my opinion that the vehicle's tow loop gave way. It was clearly evident it separated from the factory weld. That's not operator negligence; that's metal fatigue.

Another factor for not using bridles with J-hooks on exotics: the shape of a J-hook's shank is prone to making small indentations in lower control arms and suspension components. Some vintage owners strongly demand no J-hooks be used for loading processes, especially on concours and show-quality vehicles.

While I believe there's a plethora of V-bridles, cluster hooks and round-strap accessories that could have been used during the winch-on process, could this tower have employed other means of attachment? Yes. ... But I don't necessarily blame the tow operator.

The same goes for today's modern vehicles, especially Honda cars that have that small hoo-ha located on the underside of the car's spare-tire well. Intentionally situated, they're intended for hold down purposes and not to be used for winch-on operations, recovery or attaching ratchet straps in some laughable attempt to attain four-point tie-down.

For vehicles spending time through harsh winters or ocean air environments, they also could pull out during winch-on operations making it good sense to not attach to them.

Remember, there's always the right tool for the job. In an industry where more is better, bridles, straps and round slings can be employed in any number of ways to avoid cable detachment and separation. Always consider the vehicle's age for potential of an attachment point not bearing the weight of pull. While tow loops served their purpose long ago, the industry's made great advances in tow and load techniques and accessories available to today's towers.

I'm sure the tower felt confident that the tow loop had sufficient strength and integrity to winch the vehicle without incident. But as we all know, we towers aren't quite 100-percent clairvoyant in knowing when something's about to break or let go, right? Don't take chances on a case of simple metal fatigue; use today's modern accessories as a means to prevent potential damage and an accidental runaway.

Randall Resch is American Towman's and Tow Industry Week's Operations Editor, a former California police officer, tow business owner and retired civilian off-road instructor for Navy Special Warfare. Randall is an approved instructor for towers serving the California Highway Patrol's rotation contract. His course is approved by the California law enforcement community. He has written over 500 industry-related articles for print and on-line, is a member of the International Towing & Recovery Hall of Fame, and, a recipient of the 2017 Dave Jones Leadership Award.
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