Van Lingen Towing—Set the Standard, Raise the Bar
Today, Van Lingen Towing of Torrance California, is one of Southern California’s largest and most sophisticated towing and recovery services. It serves Southern California, but it is not unusual to see a Van Lingen truck in Arizona or Nevada. The road to today’s success has run through three generations, more than 75 years, who knows how many trucks, and continuous innovation and re-invention.
Clarence Van Lingen Joins the Navy, Fights a War, and Learns a Trade
Clarence Van Lingen learned all about working a round-the-clock schedule growing up on a South Dakota dairy farm. As soon as he could, he left the farm for the Navy—just in time to be on board the USS Enterprise when the United States entered World War II. In fact, the Enterprise was supposed to be in port at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 but was running late and missed the attack. This was fortunate not only for young Clarence and the ship but especially for the battered U.S. naval forces that were in dire need of “the Big E” in those early days of the war in the Pacific.
The Enterprise was one of the very few surviving aircraft carriers in the Pacific fleet, and she participated in more major actions of the war than any other United States ship, along the way becoming the most decorated U.S. warship of World War II. This meant that the Enterprise was seemingly always in action, and either the ship herself or her complement of 96 aircraft were in constant need of repair. Clarence learned to reliably patch them up as an onboard metalsmith, making it possible for “the Big E” to keep fighting until the end of the war.
After the war, Clarence left the Navy with a Purple Heart and a new trade. In 1948, he and his wife, Inez, with the help of their families, opened a small auto body shop on the edge of his uncle’s dairy farm in Torrance, California. The auto industry was booming, and he wisely recognized that the metal smith trade would likely prosper in the thriving post-war economy.
Discovering a Need, Capitalizing on an Opportunity
As the Van Lingen auto body business grew, Clarence found that he couldn’t get tow service on weekends. This was obviously a frustrating situation, and he made it a point to chat with the local police to learn more about the issue.
The police told him that if a car needed to be towed on the weekend, people were instructed to lock the vehicle and leave it on the side of the road until it could be picked up on Monday. Sensing that Clarence might be able and willing to help, the police told him that if he got a tow truck, they would call him when their other vendor was busy or unavailable. Little by little, starting with late-night and weekend calls, the business grew and Van Lingen Towing became a local fixture. The company has always offered private and commercial towing, but perhaps due to that unique beginning, Van Lingen Towing came to specialize in service to the law enforcement and first responder community.
Clarence Passes the Torch to Robert
Clarence’s son Robert grew up in the towing industry. He learned all about waking up in the middle of the night to make a towing run with his father. And he absorbed the lessons that Clarence passed on to him over the years of his childhood and young manhood.
One of the foundation stones of today’s business—perhaps the cornerstone—is the principle to which all three generations attribute the basic success of Van Lingen Towing. Clarence was a proud man, and he simply refused to do a job badly or in a slipshod manner. He would go ahead and do the job right, even if it cost him money. This same pride moved him to respect his commitments to customers. In short, he did what he said he would do.
Robert inherited the pride and learned the lessons. By applying those lessons, he could easily scoop up the business of other towers that did not match the right equipment to the job or failed to properly train operators. Some towers took their customers for granted or treated people rudely as a general practice. Van Lingen Towing became known as a different type of business and continued to grow.
Then, there was a sea change in automobile construction. Rather than one big hunk of steel, by the 1980s cars were incorporating fiberglass, and replacing metal bumpers with plastic. Also, accidents involving bigger trucks were more and more common. New equipment was needed to deal with this new reality. And here Sean Van Lingen, one of Robert’s sons, makes a key point that other businesses can learn from.
“To be able to take care of the new kind of towing and recovery jobs, the company needed new equipment, specialty-built to handle new types of problems. Even back then the equipment was expensive, but dad knew he didn’t really have any choice. So, he bought the tools needed to get the job done. Meanwhile, he noticed a tendency in some towers to just keep taking their fees without reinvesting in their fleet. Over time, that turned out to be a disaster for them.”
Van Lingen’s philosophy as regards reinvesting in his fleet—and investing in superior training for his people—has paid off in tangible ways. Our tow trucks are typically on the scene in only 8.1 minutes. For comparison, the industry standard is around 15-20 minutes.
Unique Approach to Equipment Acquisition
Van Lingen Group continually invests in state of the art, industry leading equipment. With over 50 trucks from small wheel lifts, all the way to large rotators, we have the equipment to service ANY type of vehicle on the road. This truly aligns with our one call does it all approach.
Focusing on Public Safety
Van Lingen Towing has a customer base that skews strongly toward public safety and municipality clients. These clients have special needs, and the Van Lingen family has learned from and provided for these clients in exceptional ways.
Over the years public safety has changed, and so has the needs of Towing Services for Municipalities. It's no longer a police contract, It's a public safety contract, which encompasses a lot more than a drunk driver or an accident. It includes city resources that are involved in hazmat and environmental situations. It includes the fire department’s extrication techniques and being aware of the importance of remediating any liability risks the city may otherwise be exposed to.”
Indeed, clearing an accident scene in a timely manner requires the right people, proper training and certification, and the right equipment. Van Lingen Towing considered these requirements and decided to address them head-on. As a result, the company purchased its own state-of-the-art Haz-Mat command trailer and developed its own Incident Management Response Team.
Our close relationships with public safety clients have made us hyper-aware of where the gaps in service are. We look beyond traditional towing tasks and ask ourselves if there is a gap between where our services leave off, and what the client needs next. The Haz-Mat program we created—that’s a good example. Another example is law enforcement’s need for access to impounded or wrecked vehicles while still protecting the chain of evidence.
As any law enforcement officer will attest, the chain of evidence is sacred. The very smallest transgression, the most minor mishandling, can lead to a judge ruling that evidence is inadmissible. That means a case may be dead, and a bad guy walks, free to commit more crime and further endangering the community. Our evidence storage facility continues to evolve, and is amongst the most secure and state of the art in the world.
Today, this critically important issue is addressed by the three secure facilities owned and operated by Van Lingen Towing, all of which cater to the needs of law enforcement. Each location features a Public Safety Impound Facility that is available to local law enforcement agencies 24 hours a day. Police investigators can bring in the car, access it 24/7 thereafter using their own security code, and use Van Lingen’s on-site selection of tools and lifts to examine the vehicle for evidence in a controlled environment. These sites are protected by video surveillance that digitally records and stores data from over 30 cameras, providing a continuous, uninterruptible video record of the entire examination. There are several evidence retention areas on site.
We use a very similar Computer-Aided Dispatch software used by public safety agencies. The benefits of knowing where every resource and incident is in real-time—and being able to see it on a map ensures our towing operators are always on time.
At Van Lingen, we have spent over five years and tens of thousands of dollars perfecting our computer-aided dispatch system, and we’re still working to make it even better. All our strategically located trucks are equipped with GPS, so we know where they are at all times, what direction they are heading, and how fast they are traveling. More importantly, we know how close they are to the accident scene, so when you call to ask when our truck will arrive, instead of telling you, “They’ll be there soon!” we are able to say, “they’ll be pulling up in two minutes and 35 seconds”. All of our trucks are also equipped with forward and rear facing cameras, ensuring evidence is always secure as well as creating a sense of security for customers in our trucks.
The future looks bright for Van Lingen Towing: We set the standard and we continue to raise the bar.