Thomson’s Towing and Panelbeaters, based in White River, Mpumalanga, owes much of its success to the hardworking Tata trucks in its growing fleet
Thomson’s Towing, an Automobile Association partner, currently operates six Tata trucks comprising Tata 713, 813 and 913 medium and heavy-duty LPT models. One of these, a Tata 713, stands out from the rest.
Over the years, this four-tonne, medium-duty truck has completed in excess of 1.5-million trouble-free kilometres. The truck was bought second hand several years ago, and it had already clocked up 500 000 km while serving the forestry industry in Mpumalanga.
Tommie Thomson, owner of the business, recently 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 Tata trucks are so cheap to maintain I can afford to buy more. There is nothing better.”
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 trucks, because I knew the brand very well,” he reasons. “Everyone here knows that I drive only Tata trucks. I’m looking at buying more; I’d happily buy a Tata with 500 000 km on the clock.”
Thomson is particularly impressed with the four-tonners in his fleet, which use 5.7-litre turbocharged Tata engines and five-speed manual gearboxes. These trucks have a gross combination mass (GCM) of just over ten tonnes and a permissible body and payload of 4 990 kg. They use dual wheels at the rear and are equipped with full air brakes.
One of these trucks has done over 260 000 km to date and is used primarily to tow forklifts, minibus taxis and other stricken vehicles in the Lowveld. Thomson 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.”
The 150-km drive from Nelspruit to Burgersfort includes several mountain passes. “The Tata trucks are not overly fast, but they’re dependable,” says Thomson. 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 long distances 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 Thomson. “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 – the Tata’s are much cheaper to maintain. Personally, I’m very happy,” says Thomson
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 older models envy the drivers of the newer vehicles.
“Nobody can tell me bad things about Tata or its trucks. I’ve seen my competitors with new trucks, which are fitted with fancy auto gearboxes, being towed in for repairs. In this game, reliability is more important than luxury.
“These Tata trucks are real workhorses. Any faults I’ve had usually stem from driver abuse or from incorrect loading of vehicles. 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.