The Point: Pepe’s Towing President, General Manager each celebrate 25 years with Freeway Service Patrol 

A lot has changed over the years in the towing business, and Manny Acosta and Lorenzo Navarro have been in the drivers’ seats at Pepe’s Towing to see these changes first-hand. One thing that hasn’t changed over time, though, is Pepe’s dedication to family and safety, as well as to RCTC’s Freeway Service Patrol (FSP), which started in 1993.

Founded in 1978 by Jose “Pepe” Acosta, Pepe’s Towing has grown from one tow truck in Boyle Heights to a thriving business with 100 employees and 85 trucks in 14 locations. Manny Acosta, who is Pepe’s son, joined the company in 1987 and now serves as president. Navarro came on board in 1989 and is now the general manager. Both Acosta and Navarro recently marked 25 years with FSP and credit the program for making the industry safer and standardized.

“Before the Freeway Service Patrol came along, the towing industry was pretty independent – kind of the wild, wild west,” Acosta said. “The FSP adopted CHP standards and required drivers to follow a dress code, have more knowledge of equipment, strict safety compliance rules, and screening of drivers’ backgrounds and behavior. The CHP really pioneered and improved the towing industry.”

Just what is the FSP?  The program uses a fleet of roaming tow truck drivers, who help stranded motorists get back on the road and out of harm’s way on Riverside County’s busiest highways.

Drivers quickly fix flat tires, tape radiator hoses, jump-start batteries, or tow vehicles from the roadway, with no fees or tips accepted from motorists. The Riverside County Transportation Commission operates the program in partnership with the CHP and Caltrans.

RCTC’s FSP operations cover 129 miles across the western section of the county on I-15 and I-215, Routes 60 and 91, and the 91 Express Lanes. During the past 27 years, drivers have performed more than 945,000 “assists,” and are expecting to reach their one-millionth assist next year – wow! Four contracted companies – Coastal Pride Towing, Pepe’s Towing, Royal Coaches Towing, and Steve’s Towing – provide more than 75 drivers who operate 25 roving tow trucks along 12 “beats” or service areas (and an additional flatbed tow truck in the 91 Express Lanes) in Riverside County.

Pepe’s has been with RCTC FSP since 1995. They operate the program from their Moreno Valley facility, where Acosta and Navarro both work. Navarro’s son, Chris, also is part of the business, reflecting Pepe’s family values.

“This company is a big part of my life,” said Navarro. “I treat my employees like family.”

Acosta agrees. “We have marvelous people working for us. The strength of our company is our employees. We are blessed with good help and I consider them an extension of my family,” he said.

Both appreciate the changes that have come to the industry but note that it is a dangerous business with heavier traffic and more distracted and impaired motorists.

“In today’s world, the towing business is dangerous – traffic is heavy and more motorists are distracted, driving too fast and intoxicated,” Acosta said. “I give my employees a lot of credit and a lot of appreciation for the work they do every day. I also credit the CHP for doing a wonderful job to keep our drivers safe,” he said.

Safety is a core value for Pepe’s team. Navarro explains that the company holds meetings each month to teach and reinforce safety standards.

“At our safety meetings, we always learn something. I’ve been in this business for more than 40 years, and I still learn something new each time. We share ideas and our experiences so that everyone learns and all of our employees stay safe,” Navarro said. “We want every single person on our team to get home safely at the end of the day – our families are waiting for us. Our drivers are everyday heroes.”

Motivation isn’t a problem for either Navarro or Acosta. The job is all about serving others.

“Often the FSP is the first responder to a scene,” Acosta said. “Our tow truck drivers get people to safety. Seeing a person in the #1 lane who is frightened and being able to tow that person to someplace safe – that makes the job special. Just knowing you helped someone return home to his loved ones or her loved ones is so rewarding.”

Navarro also enjoys teaching his drivers. “You don’t have to be a white-collar professional; you can be a terrific tow truck driver.”

Outside of work, Navarro is a classic car buff and proud owner of two 1966 Mustangs – one is red with white stripes, the other is pearl white with navy stripes, complete with a “Pepes02” personalized license plate, and a white 1958 T-bird with a light turquoise top.

Company founder Jose Acosta died in 1992. “My dad got to see his company grow to eight trucks. I think he would be amazed to see us operating 85 trucks now in 14 locations,” Acosta said.

“I never thought I’d be a business owner – I consider myself a tow truck operator and still tow vehicles today.”

Learn more about FSP.