Hooklifts vs. Cable Loaders

Compare both types to discover the advantages of hook loaders

Among many cities, contractors, waste haulers and other users, the money-saving benefits of cable loaders and hydraulic hooklifts for trucks are well known.

You can purchase a single cab and chassis and equip with your choice of a cable hoist or hook loader. Next, you’ll buy as many different roll-on/off truck bodies to swap out as your operation requires.

With either setup, you can mount and haul a container on one occasion, a tanker body the next, a dump body later, and so on. Some users swap bodies seasonally while others like scrap recyclers might do it many times a day.

Your big-ticket purchase — the cab and chassis — rarely sits idle. Unless operating a fleet, you register, license and insure only one vehicle, and hire and train just one driver.

Which way to go? Take a closer look at both types.

Cable Loaders

These systems employ a winch and a cable to pull containers or other bodies up onto the truck’s bed. Of course, compatible roll-on/roll-off bodies must have a hook in the front to connect with the cable. As the name implies, the containers also need to have nose rollers and rear wheels so the cable can pull them up on the chassis.

Rails on both the truck bed and the containers align loading. Most cable hoist-equipped trucks have two rails that are about 35 inches apart, while the containers have two rails that are approximately 36 inches apart.

Cable hoists are the more common of the two types of roll-on/off systems. In selecting one, you will:

  • Enjoy greater (initial) familiarity with them, as more drivers and mechanics are likely to have operated one.
  • Expect a greater selection of used cable loader trucks and bodies from which to choose, if seeking to go the pre-owned route.
  • Operate with low clearances. Because of their lower-angle roll-on/off capabilities, cable-hoist systems are better for placing containers underneath overhead obstructions, in buildings or within other enclosed structures.


These systems do away with truck-mounted winches and cables. As the name implies, hook loaders mount a large, hydraulic-powered hook behind the cab. Drivers back up to a body, connect the truck’s hook to the container and lift and roll it up and onto the chassis.

Compatible bodies require a front hook attachment point and rear wheels because the hook loader both hoists and hauls them onto the truck bed.

Many users swear by hook loaders, and for several excellent reasons. They:

  • Load (and unload) in a fraction of the time as cable hoists because drivers do not need to get out and extend, attach or retrieve cables. Many operators report hauling more loads per shift thanks to the efficiency of hooklifts!
  • Improve operator safety — and reduce owner liability. Unlike cable hoists with controls mounted outside, hook loaders are operated from controls within the cab. Drivers are well shielded and far removed from moving machinery. What’s more, they have less need to walk on icy, muddy or otherwise slick surfaces for hookups.
  • Allow loading/unloading in tighter spaces, and in exact positions. Cable hoists need more fore-and-aft or horizontal open space than hooklifts to load or drop-off a container.
  • Permit off-center approaches. When picking up, hooklifts can engage a container up to 60° off-center. Operators spend less time seeking that perfect line-up. And even younger drivers can get the hang of hooklifts faster. With a cable hoist, the stingers of the rail must be in almost perfect alignment with the front wheels of the container.
  • Handle elevated loads such as those on loading docks. Cable hoists can only load from raised platforms if they’re about the same height as the rails on the truck and if the rig can back up flush to the platform. As for unloading on elevated docks, with a cable system you’re out of luck; they don’t have that capability.