Don’t Let Tow Truck Operators Take You For a Ride

Know your rights so that you can protect yourself next time you're in need of a tow.

Getting your car towed is stressful enough as it is. But now you’ve gotta worry about tow truck scams, too?

Sadly, yes. 

For many years, tow trucks were regulated by local bylaws alone. In 2017, the Ontario government introduced new laws to help protect consumers. 

Wondering what we’re talking about? That’s not surprising. According to a poll conducted by Ipsos on behalf of CAA, almost half of Ontarians aren’t aware of new towing industry regulations implemented in 2017. 

While the majority of tow truck operators are honest professionals, it’s important for consumers to know their rights in case they ever need a tow. 

What are my rights when getting a tow?

One of the biggest concerns among drivers is being overcharged or receiving misleading information about what their insurance will or won’t cover. 

To help Ontario drivers, CAA published a Towing Bill of Rights as a quick reference guide for motorists. Here are the basics you need to know: 

  1. You have the right to determine who tows your vehicle unless otherwise directed by police
  2. You must sign a permission form before a tow truck begins towing unless you hold an auto club membership
  3. You must receive an itemized invoice from the towing company before providing payment
  4. Your towing company cannot request more than 10% above the originally quoted price
  5. You can pay by credit card if you wish
  6. You have the right to access the personal items in your vehicle during business hours at the facility where it’s stored
  7. Your tow truck operator must inform you where they’ll be taking your vehicle
  8. Your tow truck operator must disclose if they’re receiving a referral fee from the towing facility or repair shop they take your car to

CAA offers a downloadable PDF copy of these rights. Print out a copy and stick it in your glove compartment for easy reference just in case you’re ever uncomfortable or uncertain while dealing with a tow truck operator. 

What’s "chasing" in the tow truck industry?

Tow truck operators often come to the rescue of people in stressful situations. But just like every profession, there are a few unscrupulous individuals who take advantage of consumers in a vulnerable situation.

Chasers in the tow truck industry race to car crash scenes to win business from motorists. In some cases, they convince motorists that a perfectly drivable car must be towed.

Most cities have laws forbidding tow trucks from parking within a few hundred metres of a collision. In some cases, it’s illegal for a tow truck driver to approach a motorist at the scene of a crash unless they’ve been called by one of the drivers or the police.

One tactic that consumers should be aware of is the work order bait and switch. A motorist is asked to sign standard forms only to later realize they’re signing papers that approve a work order. Their car is towed to a shop and held hostage until they pay for the services they don’t remember authorizing. And if they can’t pay, or their insurer refuses to pay, the repair shop can sell their vehicle under the Repair and Storage Liens Act

How do I protect myself?

Most tow truck operators are compassionate, reputable people. But if you ever find yourself second-guessing a situation, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Compile a list of tow truck drivers approved by your insurance company in advance and keep it in your phone’s memo pad or on a sheet of paper in your glove compartment
  • If you don’t have a pre-prepared list, call the 1-800 number on your proof of insurance, otherwise known as a pink slip, for guidance
  • If you’re in a big city like Toronto, Brampton, or Mississauga, check for a municipal license number on the side of the tow truck. Most large cities license tow truck drivers.
  • Ask for a quote when your car is towed to avoid being overcharged later (Remember: You can’t be billed over 10% of the originally quoted price)
  • If you’re uncertain whether you need a tow, ask the police officer at the scene for advice. Remember: If damage to a car exceeds $2,000 or there are any injuries after a collision, you’re required to call the police. So if you’re questioning whether you need a tow, it means there’s likely police at the scene (or there should be!)
  • Carefully read any documentation a tow truck driver asks you to sign

Does my insurance cover all towing and repair costs?

You may be wondering, who picks up the tab of towing my car after a collision? 

Well, if you’re at fault, and you’ve only opted for basic insurance, it’s all on you. 

If you opted for extended coverage, like collision coverage, your insurance will cover you even if you’re at fault. (But keep in mind: Collision coverage doesn’t cover objects hitting you like a tree falling on your car!)

Be sure to carefully review your insurance policy and speak to your insurance provider if you’re uncertain about terms and conditions as your insurer may have a list of approved repair shops. In other words, if your tow truck operator refers you to a repair shop that’s not on the list, you’re looking at a massive bill that must be paid out of pocket. 

If you’re not covered by your insurance company, but you’re a member of a roadside assistance program, check with them as well. 

Knowing your rights keeps your money in your wallet

We hope you never need a tow, but if you do, we want you to know your rights. Touch base with your insurance provider and jot down the name and number of a few reputable roadside assistance providers, like Onlia’s Roadside Assistance. Above all, know your rights under Ontario law to ensure that if you ever need a tow, only your car – and not your wallet – are taken for a ride.