A vehicle recovery technician is the driver of the recovery vehicle tasked with assisting immobile cars and commercial vehicles on UK roads.
With over 31 million cars on UK roads, the vehicle breakdown sector is a huge industry. The harsh winter weather can cause a great number of vehicle breakdowns, and the sheer number of cars on the road results in escalating numbers of car accidents. When an immobile vehicle needs to be removed from site, it is the vehicle recovery company which is tasked with collecting the car(s) and its passengers. The vehicle recovery technician will drive the recovery vehicle to site, attempt minor repairs, load the car onto the truck if repair is unsuccessful and deliver the vehicle and its occupants to safety.
Some companies offer only a recovery service, whereas others have more comprehensive arrangements in place to repair stricken vehicles. Repairing a car at the roadside is a potentially hazardous activity, and repairs can only be completed where there is very limited threat to health. Anything beyond simple tyre, electrical or fuel connection issues usually require that the vehicle be towed to a repair facility, in which case the car is safely loaded onto the recovery truck and moved to a local garage.
According to Directgov’s web-published guide to average salaries, new entrants can expect a starting salary of between £13,000 and £18,000 depending on location. Experienced engineers can earn up to £30,000 for specialising in heavy plant equipment and commercial vehicles in certain sectors, as these types of machines require express knowledge and specialist equipment to move safely from one place to another.
- Understand the instructions relating to the breakdown recovery and respond as appropriate
- Reach the stranded vehicle in as timely a manner as possible
- Reassure and assist the stricken motorist
- Load the immobile vehicle onto the recovery truck in a safe and secure manner
- Safely return the driver to an appropriate drop-off point
- Handle all of the recovery and breakdown insurance paperwork
- Deliver the immobile vehicle to the pre-agreed delivery point
- Remain mobile and in constant communication with the office
There is a standard requirement of three years’ experience working in a car mechanic role before candidates can be considered for this job. In addition, candidates are usually required to complete a driving assessment. A driving licence is essential, and for certain types of recovery work the candidate may need an LGV licence, depending on the size of the recovery truck being operated. To become a qualified mechanic, the candidate will need to complete a course of further education after GCSEs to study a BTEC in automotive engineering.
- Be able to reassure a motorist who may be in a state of stress or panic
- Have a thorough understanding of the breakdown truck and its lift mechanism
- Have a strong appreciation for road health and safety threats whilst recovery is in process
- Be able (and licensed) to drive the recovery vehicle safely
- Be able and willing to work in difficult roadside conditions, and in adverse weather
All of the work takes place outdoors. This subjects the candidate to much adverse weather, particularly in the UK where the winter months take their toll on the reliability of motor vehicles. The hard shoulder of a motorway in winter is an uncomfortable, hostile and dangerous place, and the candidate should have an excellent common-sense approach to protecting themselves, the stricken motorist and the vehicle being recovered.
Recovery drivers who attempt to fix cars at the roadside face a trickier task than counterpart mechanics who work in a garage or workshop; sometimes they have to improvise repairs without the appropriate tool falling to hand. Some recovery companies place heavy demands on their recovery drivers during winter months, where there may be as many as fifty “flat battery calls” a day.
Many recovery drivers who develop their experience working for breakdown recovery service companies choose to set up their own recovery companies later in their careers. This involves a significant risk and the expense of initially injecting capital for vehicle and tool purchase costs. Some recovery technicians choose to specialise with a specific type of vehicle, for example, farming machinery, commercial vehicles or tracked vehicles. Again, this requires specialist equipment and investment on the part of the business owner.
In the UK, some of the biggest recovery companies include the AA, the RAC and Green Flag. These are companies with a long history of service in the vehicle recovery sector, and are generally recognised as being the market leaders domestically.
Also known as…
- Breakdown truck driver
- Breakdown technician
- Car breakdown assistance engineer
- Recovery driver
What’s it really like?
Amjid Mahmood is the Company Director of Top Auto Recovery, a well-established recovery firm based in Erdington, Birmingham.
What made you decide or choose to get into this sort of career?
I have been in this business for ten years and worked hard to develop Top Auto Recovery as a professional, courteous and well-recognised recovery company. I was involved with the vehicle repair industry before that, and a move to the Birmingham area gave me a great place to set up Top Auto. We are based in the heart of the Midlands, which gives us excellent coverage throughout the whole of the West Midlands.
Do you have a standard day or a standard type of `exercise’?
I work now as a company director, but for the recovery drivers, the key focus is getting to the stricken motorist within our advertised (but not always possible) 60-minute response time. We deal with transportation and storage, accident recovery, breakdown assistance and vehicle disposal.
What do you like most about the job?
Being able to help people who are in difficulty is the main reason a lot of our drivers enjoy working for us. We are a professional organisation with a strong focus on customer service, so we consider ourselves to be highly experienced and competent. I think that our customers really appreciate that we are able to deliver this exceptional roadside service, and later on, clear and easy-to-understand admin.
What do you like least about the job?
Suffering a vehicle breakdown or accident can be quite a traumatic experience for the car occupants, so in some respects, the hardest part of the job is getting the motorist to relax and understand that we are here to help. This is tricky when it’s cold, raining and the motorist is late for a meeting!
What are the key responsibilities?
As before, the key thing is responding in under an hour. We facilitate this with a great team in our customer service department. We need to get there on time, fix the car where possible, and remove the vehicle in circumstances where it cannot be fixed. We also deal with storage and disposal where appropriate.
What about academic requirements? Any formal demands, eg A Levels?
All of our vehicle recovery technicians have at least three years of experience working as mechanics or service technicians. We look for enthusiastic individuals who can offer an exceptional service to our customers, so academic qualifications in vehicle engineering coupled with a few years of “on the job” training are very important to us when we recruit new recovery technicians.
What advice do you have for someone who is looking to get into this as a career?
Be prepared to work weekends, overtime, deal with tricky customers, bad weather . . . a whole range of potential difficulties! Most of our recovery techs enjoy being outside and get a buzz out of helping people, so in that respect, the job can be highly rewarding. The other thing I would say is to commit to the academic side of things. This means studying a BTEC or similar after finishing GCSEs; it’s really important to have a good education behind you to develop your skill set and make yourself as attractive as possible to potential employers. This sector is very competitive for vehicle operators, especially in the Midlands, which is home to the domestic car industry and all of its suppliers, service providers, etc. We are fortunate because the strength of our company name means we can attract high-quality candidates when it is time for us to recruit.
What are the most important qualities an applicant must and should possess?
They must be hardworking, enthusiastic, be committed to continually developing better technical skills, and be willing to be as professional as possible when helping our customers. The recovery tech represents the company when they are on the roadside helping the customer, so it is important the customer is happy with the service they receive from him/her.