Safely Using Removable Tow Hooks

Truckstop after snowstorm.

Stuck, Trapped, Broke-down or Otherwise Immobile

Nobody likes a breakdown. Nobody likes having to call a tow truck.

Because it is a topic not usually covered in truck driver training, drivers may be unfamiliar with how to use tow hooks, especially removable tow hooks. Improper towing or recovery operations can hurt someone or damage a truck.

Warning: Information here is presented only as a topical introduction. Improper towing of a heavy truck can and does result in serious injury or death, or damage to the vehicle. Do not rely on this information as it is provided.  Knowledge does not equal understanding or skill.

“Recovering or towing equipment or vehicles is an inherently dangerous task.” U.S. Army

The function of tow hooks is to serve as an anchor to a tow truck. Merely wrapping a chain around some part of the frame, suspension or undercarriage can damage or stress these parts or warp or twist the frame. A tow hook, when properly used, is engineered to distribute the stresses and strains during the towing or recovery procedures.

Towing — generally means a routine/standard tow that does not require special techniques or special equipment, as in a recovery.

Recovery — is generally defined as the use of one or more of the techniques as the use of air bags, winching, hoisting, up-righting, removing, or otherwise relocating a vehicle when the vehicle is found in such a location, state or position in which it could not remove itself from the location, state or position under the use of its own power, even if it were in complete operating condition.

recovery job

This is a recovery.


Safety Tip: If using a wire rope or steel cable, wear leather gloves when handling the wire rope or cable. Small frays in the wire strands can cause severe lacerations to your hands.

Caution must be taken to never slide the wire rope through hands, even when wearing leather gloves. The hand-over-hand method must be used when inspecting or handling wire ropes, and when inspecting the rigging, hands or body should never be placed between cables, ropes, or chains under tension.

WARNING: Stand clear of a chain, wire rope, steel cable or winch cable before it is tightened. A chain or cable being tightened may break and whip back with enough force to seriously maim or kill. Keep the length as short as practically possible to minimize whip should a failure occur. 

Removable Tow Hooks

Many vehicles come with removable tow hooks.

Recovery Hitch Sockets

Tow hooks may come in sets.

two-hook set

Set of tow hooks.


Tow hooks mounted on frame under the hood.














The tow hooks may be mounted on the frame under the hood. Check your owner’s manual for the stow location.

Open the hood. Remove the hook or hooks. Close the hood and insert the hook per manufacturer’s guidelines and recommendations.

Inserting the tow hook.

Some hooks twist in position, others have a safety pin or bolt to hold them in position. Follow manufacturer’s guidelines and recommendations.

As hooks are worth between $50 and $100 apiece, be sure to stow or secure the hooks after each use.

Top Tip: Be cautious about buying any replacement hooks online. Old or used tow hooks may have damage not visible to the unaided eye. I recommend buying only OEM replacement hooks, if possible. Any off-market tow hooks should undergo certified non-destructive testing (NDT) of their integrity to determine if they are suitable or safe for your intended purposes, in my opinion.

Safety Tip: Be cautious about using any equipment or procedures not designed or intended for towing or recovery operations. A Michigan man was killed when the chain broke while he pulled a tractor-trailer pulled out of a construction site by his bulldozer. Pushing a vehicle can be dangerous as well or result in vehicle damage. Only rely on the advice or services of trained towing and recovery specialists.

What about using recovery straps?

recovery strap

Recovery Strap — Note, loops, no hooks.







Recovery straps are flat with sewn loops (no hooks are  attached on the ends). They are made of nylon (not polypropylene or Dacron) and will stretch. Recovery straps are safer than chains, easier to use, and not as heavy.

As a general rule of thumb, each inch of strap width will allow you to pull a load of about 10,000 pounds. Recovery straps may be rated by their towing capacity and break strength, and number of plys. Here is a chart to determine the proper size/ply of the strap in relation to the load.

Recovery strap chart

Action Summary

  • Train drivers in the proper use of removable tow hooks and procedures.
  • Have a written towing or recovery policy.
  • Use professional towing and recovery services.

Thank you for reading this.


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