GHL Recovery & Salvage undertakes 1200 towing jobs a month for the Automobile Association. It’s a contract they won 18 months ago, and which grew rapidly. Owner Che Bartle is increasing the number of trucks in his fleet – it’s currently at 43 – to keep up with demand.
The towing business has changed significantly since the cowboy days when the authorities brought in the Vehicle Recovery Licence (VRL) system. Che believes the VRL is now outdated and preventing the towing industry from moving forward due to the costs and time involved for drivers to get their licence to operate a tow truck. Towing is a serious business and drivers need operational skills that licensing doesn’t address, especially around electronic technology such as electronically operated park brakes and proximity keys.
Trying to move vehicles incorrectly can cost thousands of dollars in damage to the vehicle and hold up other traffic, especially in tight areas such as car park buildings.
Towing cars and trucks in Auckland’s notorious congestion is where GHL, and ACE Heavy Haulage, their heavy division, excels. Customer service is a keystone for the business and Che says they put on their new double cab Fuso Canter to help with families whose car had broken down or was damaged. Often a taxi was required to get a family home while their car was being towed, and sometimes vehicles and families had several hundred kilometres to get home. But the Canter will take up to six passengers safely and carry a relatively heavy car, while pulling a caravan or trailer if necessary.
Che says he has most Japanese makes in his fleet. The Canter had the right specifications for the role, and Keith Andrews Trucks are good customers, so he settled on a FEW85G2.
The 3850mm wheelbase was the only drawback and GHL extended it by one metre in their own workshop. Their mechanic Tony carries out mechanical work and engineering, and extended the chassis and fitted the Canadian-built NRC slide deck over two months between normal maintenance jobs. From the side the Canter is a long truck.
Che imports the slide decks himself; he has tried several makes over the years and found the NRC units best. They make a wide variety of sizes and he will have an 8-wheeler one on the road soon. He says they are strongly built and have several advantages over the other options. Driver Izak Townsend agrees. He’s driven plenty of tow trucks since he started with Che and says, “You’re not going to bend this deck.”
We joined Izak and the Canter for a journey across Auckland to carry out a job. The truck has a 5680kg tare and an 8550kg GVM, meaning it can carry almost 3,000kg, enough for virtually any car and family. Fuso’s 3-litre Mitsubishi engine puts out 173hp (129kW) and the truck easily keeps up with the traffic flows, even laden. It’s performance is enhanced by Fuso’s DUONIC® transmission, a dual clutch 6-speed AMT.
The transmission has been around for a few years now and always impresses us. It’s a neat package complete with wet clutch packs that smoothly deliver power to twin input shafts.
When the transmission changes gear, one clutch releases as the other engages, almost eliminating lag. Going uphill with a load on, we estimate the performance gain achieved by the dual clutch is probably equal to an extra 20 to 25hp.
The DUONIC® changes down and assists with braking too, not that there’s anything wrong with the service brake, it’s an all-round twin calliper vented disc system that stops the truck quickly and smoothly. An exhaust brake also features and Izak leaves it activated.
When we reach the SUV it has a flat tyre and Izak explains that some vehicles no longer have spare wheels; they come with a container that can be attached to the valve and adds a sealing solution to allow the vehicle to get to a service centre. Izak raises the deck using a remote control, and the vehicle can be driven onto the raised deck without needing the winch.
The car owner takes the front seat for the short trip to the repairer and we enjoy the roomy backseat. It’s a good load for the Canter, but its performance in the 50kph area is unaffected, even when accelerating out of intersections.
After dropping off the car, we head back through the Auckland traffic. The 2.3-metre-wide truck is ideal when it comes to handling the congestion.
It’s clear that the Canter and NRC slide deck combination is an ideal truck for its role with GHL and Che says it is proving a good choice, so good in fact that he’s ordered another one.