Brian Joss – Thomson’s Towing and Panelbeaters, based in White River, Mpumalanga, owes much of its success to the Tata trucks in its growing fleet. An Automobile Association partner, the company operates six trucks comprising Tata 713, 813 and 913 medium and heavy-duty LPT models.
One of these, a 713, stands out from the rest. Over the years, this 4-ton medium duty truck has completed in excess of 1.5 million trouble-free kilometres. The truck was bought second-hand several years ago, where it had already clocked up 500 000km serving the forestry industry in Mpumalanga.
Tommie Thomson, owner of the business, decided to overhaul the engine himself to keep it in tip-top condition. “Parts are cheap and are readily available,” he says. “As a qualified diesel mechanic, I fit the parts myself and I know what to look out for when buying a truck. These trucks are so cheap to maintain I can afford to buy more.”
He explains that he has a long history with the Tata brand, having opened a Tata dealership in Nelspruit several years ago. “I later moved on to towing and chose the Tata’s because I knew the brand very well,” he reasons. “Everyone here knows that I only drive Tata’s. I’m looking at buying more; I’d happily buy a Tata with 500 000km on the clock.”
Tommie is particularly impressed with the 4-tonners in his fleet, which use 5.7-litre turbocharged Tata engines and five-speed manual gearboxes. These trucks have a GCM of just over 10-tonnes and a permissible body and payload of 4 990kg. They use dual wheels at the rear and are equipped with full air brakes.
One of these trucks has done over 260 000km to date and is used primarily to tow forklifts, minibus taxis and other stricken vehicles in the Lowveld. Tommie says he has seen improvements in fuel consumption and more space in the cabin on the newer models from Tata.
“We serve the Lowveld and move cars, bikes, boats and even light aircraft,” he continues. “We do a lot of long distance work, from Nelspruit to Johannesburg and Pretoria, to Lydenburg and even to places as far away as Burgersfort, regularly.”
The 150km drive from Nelspruit to Burgersfort includes a lot of mountain passes. “They are not overly fast trucks, but they’re dependable.” Apart from towing, the company also provides vehicle recovery and roadside assistance services and even does some panel beating.
“I’m busy. I do a lot of work for the insurance companies. We run 24 hours a day. If there are vehicles broken down somewhere, we collect them. I do all the work for SMD as well,” he explains. “While we drive far every day, we also do local contract work and we deal with several insurance companies, too.”
In all of this, reliability is the most important characteristic for Tommie.
“I don’t need to pick up my trucks from the side of the road. If something does go wrong, the drivers can normally still drive the vehicles back to our yard,” he says.
“I will not change to a different make of truck. I’ve had guys trying to sell me different brands, but I’m not interested. One reason for that is maintenance – they are much cheaper to maintain. Personally, I’m very happy.”
He says he gets his drivers to partner with more experienced drivers for a week or two to familiarise themselves with the vehicles before allowing them to operate the new trucks. While his fleet is made up of both new and older trucks, he says the drivers of the newer vehicles are envied by the drivers of the older models.
“Nobody can tell me bad things about Tata or that it’s a bad truck. I’ve seen my competitors with new trucks that are fitted with fancy auto gearboxes being towed in for repairs. In this game, reliability is more important than luxury.
“These Tatas are real workhorses. Any faults I’ve had usually stem from driver abuse or from loading vehicles incorrectly. I can’t possibly speak badly about a truck that has helped to build my business. I’ve only had good service out of these trucks from the very beginning,” he concludes.
CAPTION: Towing maestro: Tommie Thomson and his Tata tow truck