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Tow truck LED lights

Here’s Everything You Need to Know About Tow Truck Lights

If you plan to provide towing services, you likely already know you need to buy tow truck lights. Powerful onboard lighting alerts other motorists to steer clear of your rig and ensures you have ample visibility to work safely – so it seems pretty clear that lights are an essential purchase.

What you may not realize, however, is that federal and state regulations affect your lighting options. You cannot equip your tow truck with any type of lights you like, as non-compliance with these regulations can cost you. The police could pull you over and give you a ticket when you are heading out to pick up a stranded driver or disabled vehicle, and you might need to remove or replace some onboard lighting.

To make sure you don’t have to deal with these hassles, take a little bit of time to research the governing regulations on tow truck lights before you begin shopping. Here is everything that you need to know, along with some expert advice that will help you make a wise investment.

Federal Regulations on Tow Truck Lights

Two federal organizations regulate vehicle lighting – the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

The NHTSA rules apply to new tow trucks, and you can find them in section 571.108 of the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS). The FMCSA requirements, found at section 393.11, apply to vehicles that are currently in service.

However, the two sets of regulations are closely related. The FMCSA rules require you to meet the FMVSS criteria in place when your towing rig was built for the entire time it is in service. The basic vehicle lighting requirements for tow trucks include:

  • Headlights, taillights and brake lights
  • Front and rear turn signal lights
  • Backup lights to indicate when the vehicle is in reverse
  • Front and rear side lights that indicate vehicle length
  • Front and rear clearance lights that indicate vehicle width
  • Reflectors at the vehicle corners that are visible from the side and rear

Keep in mind that some of these can serve more than one purpose. Your tow truck headlights, for example, can double as the front side and front clearance lights. And the reflector requirement is easy to meet, as most headlights and taillights have reflective covers.

If your towing rig is oversized, you will need to meet additional lighting requirements. Trucks that are more than 30 feet in length must be equipped with side marker lights and reflectors, mounted near the midpoint. And those that are over 80 inches wide must have identification markers, or sets of three lights mounted on top of the truck at the front and rear, to indicate that they are wider than other vehicles out on the road.

State Regulations on Tow Truck Lights

In addition to the federal rules regarding vehicle lighting, you must also be in compliance with the regulations of your state.

Each state has a set of lighting standards tow truck drivers are required to meet, and the specific requirements vary. To learn the rules for onboard lighting in your state, you will need to check with a local law enforcement agency. However, you can expect the standards to regulate any or all of the following:


Many states reserve certain colors for specific types of vehicles, such as police cars and ambulances, and you may be limited in your color choices for tow truck lights.


Vehicle lighting must be bright enough to be visible, and your towing rig lights must meet your state’s minimum candlepower or brightness requirements.

Flash Pattern

State laws often specify which types of onboard lighting vehicles must have, and your tow truck may need strobe, rotating and/or steady-burning lights.

Rear Lighting

Most states mandate that the rear lighting is readily visible to other motorists, and you may need lights that are wired to your truck yet able to affix to the vehicle in tow.

Additional Tow Truck Lights are Acceptable

Federal and state regulations allow for the installation and use of additional onboard vehicle lighting.

Generally speaking, putting extra lights on your tow truck is permissible if they meet the following conditions:

  • The lighting does not reduce the effectiveness of the vehicle lights required by law
  • The lighting does not create confusion for other drivers out on the road
  • The lighting does not violate the any state-mandated color and flash pattern requirements

Some states may specify how many extra tow truck lights you can use, but you may have the freedom to decide. More may be better for a towing rig, though you need to be careful not to equip too much onboard lighting – after all, you certainly do not want your tow truck lights to blind another motorist and cause an accident.

Recommendations for Tow Truck Lights

Vehicle lighting comes with one of three types of bulbs: halogens, HIDs or LEDs.

Halogens are the cheapest option, but they also have the shortest lifespan. HIDs, or high intensity discharge bulbs, are the next best because of their improved efficiency and longevity, but as they do not function well in all weather conditions, HIDs are not the most practical for tow trucks.

LEDs, or light emitting diode bulbs are the most practical investment for a towing rig. They offer optimal visibility and efficiency, and LED lights are also made to last up to 50,000 hours – you can use LED tow truck lights all day, every single day, and they will continue to function for a number of years.

Now that you understand why LED lighting is the superior choice, you need to consider what type or types to purchase. To make the decision a little easier, here is a look at the LED lights other tow truck operators frequently choose.

Full-Size LED Light Bars

Many towing rig operators install full-size LED light bars. They are powerful, offering the high-intensity illumination necessary for safety and visibility out on the job, and the many different sizes allow for a perfect fit.

Interior Visor LED Lights

For additional lighting, tow truck services frequently opt for interior visor LED lights. They are easy to install, and they stay tucked away when not in use – and the visor lighting also ensures sufficient illumination for work at night and in inclement weather.

Surface Mounted LED Lights

Towing rig operators often turn to surface mounted LEDs to meet the requirements for side and clearance lighting and identification markers. Tough and dependable, LED tow truck lights provide intense brightness and are suitable for mounting on any flat surface.

Running Board LED Lights

Many tow trucks have running boards, and drivers commonly install LED lighting in the recessed grooves of the steps. This offers extra illumination out on the road, while also ensuring that other motorists take notice of the towing rig and stay at a safe distance.

Which Tow Truck Lights Meet Your Needs?

First and foremost, any lighting solution you choose for your towing rig must meet all applicable federal and state regulations. Therefore, before you begin shopping for LED lights, we strongly suggest that you check with a local law enforcement agency to learn what tow truck lights are legally acceptable.

Next, consider the configuration of your vehicle. Take careful measurements of the places where you would prefer to install your onboard lighting, and limit your options to only those that will fit well.

As you mull over your choices for tow truck lights, verify that they have mounting hardware that will work for your tow truck. Most mounts are universal, but you may want specialized brackets or custom-fabricated lighting attachments.

With all of the factors involved, finding vehicle lighting that is well-suited for your towing rig can be difficult. Shop with a reputable supplier, like LED Equipped, and you will have a much easier time getting what you need at a price you can’t help but love.

We are the preferred lighting supplier for some of most well-known and well-respected towing services around the country, and we offer a large selection of high-quality LED lights – all of which are backed by an impressive three-year warranty. Plus, because we understand the unique needs of tow truck drivers, the LED Equipped team can answer your questions and offer expert suggestions on which onboard lighting to select.

Turn to LED Equipped, and you can count on unparalleled customer service and affordable pricing. Browse our online catalog of LED lights for vehicles, or give us a call and we will help you find the right tow truck lights to meet your needs and your budget.

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