Confessions of a tow-truck operator: People use me to escape paying parking fees
This tow truck driver is no stranger to the sight of blood on mangled metal.
Human flesh splattered inside wrecked cars serve as grisly reminders to the deaths of their occupants.
As a subcontractor to the Traffic Police, Gao Express Towing Services owner Jim Koh often receives calls to remove crash vehicles from difficult spots.
When he arrives, he would often see police officers nearby holding back grieving relatives.
Despite the gory scene, he has to get the job done.
"The congestion stretches on and on. Everyone - police, family members, bystanders - is just waiting for you," says Mr Koh, 27.
Talking about fatal road accidents seems to take an emotional toll on Mr Koh, who repeatedly tried to steer the topic away from the heartbreak of seeing relatives grieve over their loved ones'.
He has a wife and is expecting a kid next year.
"It's not that we try to forget. We don't," he says, shaking his head.
"But talking about it can affect us so much that we can't do our work properly."
His company has a fleet of eight recovery vehicles, ranging from tow trucks to double-deck car carriers, and employs 10 tow truck drivers.
He hires only drivers under 40 years old because he doesn't want his men to "get a heart attack from seeing gruesome scenes".
Besides attending to accidents, his job includes responding to vehicle breakdowns and towing heavy construction machinery.
One thing he doesn't do: Repossessing vehicles whose drivers have stopped paying instalments.
"We stopped doing that because the car owners are always livid," he says.
His tow truck drivers have been embroiled in long verbal battles with the owners. Some of his men have even been beaten up.
"It's not even our fault," he says in an exasperated tone.
In his seven years in the business, Mr Koh has dealt with all sorts of people - from fussy supercar drivers to pranksters who try to send them out to cemeteries in the middle of the night.
But 20 to 30 times each month, he also gets calls from drivers who exploit his service to avoid hefty parking fees.
Reveals Mr Koh: "It's a trick that's been going on for some time. Especially at Changi Airport.
"They might have parked for weeks or months. Instead of paying hundreds of dollars worth of parking charges, they pay me $60 to $100 instead."
So these drivers would phone in, reporting that their car is "unable to start". But as soon as the car reaches the owner's home, everything works fine.
Mr Koh also confirms rumours that tow truck drivers are often unwitting drug mules or car thieves, especially when the calls come from across the border.
"We have to get all the proper details before we dispatch our drivers. Our hotline operators have to be sharp to discern which are the genuine cases," he says.
If there's anything suspicious, they reject the caller right away.
Because of the dirty and dodgy nature of the job, Mr Koh says the industry is suffering from an image problem.
"Nowadays, youngsters don't want to work in this type of job. They don't want to be seen driving a truck for a living," he says.
This is despite the large pay cheques his men receives. Each driver earns a commission-based pay of $3,000 to $5,000.
"It's hard work, but it is honest and decent," he says.
SECRETS OF THE TRADE
1 Honesty is the best policy. Some tow truck drivers exaggerate the difficulty of the recovery just to overquote the towing fees. Keep doing this and your customers will go elsewhere.
2 Think quickly on your feet, because each recovery job is different and often needs improvisation. Experience will teach you to be confident with the towing equipment.
3 If you get a call to go to a secluded area late at night, don't dispatch a tow truck immediately. Genuine (and desperate) drivers will always call back.