Running a vehicle recovery business

Starting a new truck business – whether you intend operating one truck or many – is a major decision that should be based on quality advice and information.

We recommend that very early in your planning process, you get professional advice from people and organisations such as lawyers, accountants, insurance agents and Inland Revenue. You can also talk to our contact centre for advice on the vehicle use rules and regulations with which you must comply.

Contact us

Getting a vehicle recovery service licence

In most situations you'll need a vehicle recovery service licence to operate a vehicle recovery business.

You must also ensure that transport service licence labels are displayed in all tow trucks you operate, either as close as is practical to the bottom inside of the windscreen on the passenger's side, or in the window behind the passenger seat.

Find out how to get a vehicle recovery service licence
More information about transport service licence labels

Understanding the Operator Licensing Rule

Section 5 of the Operator Licensing Rule specifies the minimum legal standards and requirements you must meet in operating a vehicle recovery business.

Read the Operator Licensing Rule

Meeting vehicle requirements

Your vehicles must meet higher safety standards before you can operate them in a licensed transport service. These include registration and annual licensing requirements and routine certificate of fitness inspections. Your vehicles must continue to meet these safety standards while it operates in a transport service.

When buying vehicles for your business, you should be aware of the safety features common in many modern vehicles and any features that could affect the environment.

Find out about registration and annual licensing requirements
More about choosing a safe vehicle

Vehicle classes

All vehicles are defined by class, with standards applying to each class.

More information about vehicle classes and standards

Choosing your vehicles

To help you choose tow trucks that are suitable for the type of service you expect them to provide, we've developed a heavy vehicle selection guide.

Read the Heavy vehicle selection guide

Operating your vehicles safely

It's important that you maintain your tow trucks in a safe and serviceable condition at all times.

Attending to faults immediately will keep you in business and save you money in the long term.

For more information on maintaining your trucks in a safe and compliant condition, check out:

Loading vehicles safely

Incorrect loading practices can contribute to truck and trailer rollovers and loads falling off vehicles.

All trucks should be designed and operated so that loads can be restrained. The minimum standard for load restraint is the Truck loading code.

Truck loading code [PDF, 4.1 MB]
Safe loading of heavy vehicles
Preventing heavy vehicle rollover

Road user charges

Road user charges apply to:

  • all vehicles with a manufacturers’ gross laden weight of more than 3500kg
  • all vehicles powered by a fuel not taxed at source, such as diesel.

Find out more about road user charges

Driver requirements

You must ensure that your drivers hold a current and valid licence for the class of vehicle they are driving, and a current and valid V endorsement. 

More about driver licences
More about V endorsements


As a transport service licence holder, you can also access TORO (the Transport Organisation Register Online) to:

  • check that those driving your vehicles are licensed to do so
  • monitor your driver licence status.

More information about transport service licences
Find out about TORO

Investing in driver training

No matter how sophisticated a vehicle’s technology, driver behaviour is the most crucial factor in avoiding crashes.

You can improve safety for your drivers and other road users by investing in driver training – so drivers know how to use their vehicles, and have a good understanding of your expectations of their behaviour while driving.

More driver training options are available through MITO, the training organisation for the road transport industry.

Visit the MITO website(external link)

Ensuring workplace safety

Under the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992, a work-related vehicle is considered part of the workplace. This means that the health and safety rules applying to the workplace also apply to work-related motor vehicles.

Read a guide to the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992(external link)

The chain of responsibility

The 'chain of responsibility' recognises that everyone who influences a driver's behaviour and compliance must be held accountable if that influence results in non-compliance.

Find out more about the chain of responsibility

Tow rebates for some impounded vehicles

Tow operators can claim a rebate where:

  • a vehicle has been placed in storage following impoundment by the police, and
  • the owner has failed to claim it (avoiding payment of the fees for towage and storage) or
  • the vehicle is “written off” (registration is cancelled).

How much is the rebate?

You can claim for a rebate of $253 per vehicle.

How do I get the rebate?

To get a rebate for a vehicle that has been impounded by the police, you must:

  • apply to the police to dispose of the vehicle
  • deregister the vehicle, and
  • apply for the rebate.

Apply for permission to dispose of the vehicle

Section 98(4)-(6) of the Land Transport Act 1998 sets out the process. The prerequisites are:

  • the owner, or other authorised person, hasn’t claimed the vehicle and hasn’t paid the fees and charges (or entered a payment arrangement to pay the fees)
  • no other person has established that they’re entitled to possession of the vehicle.

Providing the above conditions are met:

  • for 28-day impoundment, you must wait 10 days after the impoundment period.
  • for six-month impoundment, you can begin the process after 38 days.

Then you may apply to an enforcement officer authorised for the purpose by the police for approval to dispose of the vehicle.

You must also notify every person with a security interest in the motor vehicle.

Deregister and apply for the rebate

Complete the Application for a storage provider to cancel registration (MR15A).

This notifies Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency that the vehicle will be taken off the road permanently.

When you complete the MR15A, you’re also applying for the rebate at the same time.  

Disposal of the vehicle

The rebate is only payable where the vehicle has been de-registered and taken out of service (generally, sold for scrap value alone).

Occasionally, vehicles for which a rebate has been issued show up in a further event (ie a vehicle has been returned to service rather than destroyed), and a second claim following impoundment is lodged by another tow provider. This is entirely contrary to the intent of the rebate, and we will investigate these cases.

Why is there a rebate?

Police impound vehicles in response to a certain offences, such as driving while disqualified, street racing or repeat drink-driving. There is a direct safety benefit to other road users if these offences are prevented.

Some vehicles impounded by police are not reclaimed by owners. Many are of low value.

When a vehicle owner fails to pay the towage and storage fees to operators and abandons the vehicle, there are limited options for tow operators to mitigate the financial loss. Tow operators can recoup some costs by obtaining ownership of the vehicle and selling it, or by deregistering and scrapping it (and claiming the NZTA rebate).

Police impoundments differ from tows ordered by local authorities (eg to enforce a clearway) because police are not part of the financial transaction and the tow operator cannot recover any loss from them (unless police decide not to file proceedings or if charges are filed and the person is acquitted).

If you need more help

Contact us for advice on and help with complying with all transport-related rules, regulations, and vehicle standards and requirements.