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Your car typically makes it from Point A to Point B. But now and then, you'll need a tow truck to help get your vehicle to someplace safe.

Most people will experience a problem-free lift from a tow truck, but that doesn’t mean the industry is free of towing scams.

These scams can include unauthorized towing, overcharging for services, false credentials and not properly breaking down the invoice to customers.

Although the Ontario government has recently enacted new laws to curb fraud within the industry, it’s still a good idea to remain aware of the different scams.

Common towing scams

Unauthorized towing scams

Tow truck drivers must adhere to the Highway Traffic Act laws, which means they are not allowed any unauthorized towing in restricted areas.

Authorized towing companies are under contract for each restricted towing zone. No other towing company, outside of the authorized one is allowed to provide you with a tow.

In need of roadside assistance? Here’s what to do: Dial 911 in travelled lanes, 511 while in a restricted towing zone on a provincial highway (see map here) and call a towing company directly for all other areas. 

The restricted towing zones include:

  • Towing Zone 1: Highway 401 from Highway 400 east to Morningside Avenue
  • Towing Zone 2: Highway 401 from Highway 400 wear to Regional Road 25; Highway 417 from the QEW to Highway 409 and from Highway 427 to Highway 401
  • Towing Zone 3: Highway 400 from Highway 401 to Highway 9
  • Towing Zone 4: QEW from Highway 427 to Brant Street

Overcharging for services

The devil, as the old saw goes, is in the details. Always be aware of anything that seems unreasonably priced on your invoice. Whenever you’re going over the details make sure everything is included and that the prices are within the expected range. Inflated towing fees, hidden charges and unexpected costs might be there.

According to CAA, the towing company must provide you with an itemized invoice before they receive payment, and the final bill cannot be more than 10 percent above the quoted price.

They are also required to allow customers access to their vehicles at no extra cost, and they must disclose if they are receiving any financial incentives for towing a vehicle to a particular repair shop.

Remember, never sign a blank work order, a permission-to-tow document or a towing invoice with no dollar amounts filled in.

Ask for proof of credentials

Be sure to ask tow drivers and operators for valid registration. The should have an Ontario Commercial Vehicle Operator’s Registration or National Safety Certificate. Legitimate operators will have $2 million in liability insurance as well.

If you’re at all uneasy or unhappy with the response from the driver or operator, you have the right to go with another driver.

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Signs of potential scams

Lack of ID or certification

Alarm bells should go off if any tow truck driver you deal with doesn’t have the required certifications. You have a choice in where a tow-truck company tows your vehicle, and they need to have all certifications available.

Tow operators require three types of certifications:

  • A tow operator certificate
  • A tow driver certificate
  • A vehicle storage operator certificate

Knowing your rights

As a consumer, you have rights related to:

  • Consenting to a tow
  • Where your vehicle is towed
  • Accessing your vehicle
  • Where your vehicle is stored
  • Rates and payment

Should your rights be violated, you should record the details of the incident, any vehicles involved, the name of the tow truck company and driver, as well as any affiliated companies they try to recommend.

Always remember to avoid signing any blank work order forms. Always read the terms and conditions on documents to ensure you know what you’re signing.

Remember that you can request for your tow truck driver to take your vehicle to a specific place — whether that’s your home, a repair shop you’re used to going to, or a trusted partner of your insurance company.

Request clear estimates/invoices

All tow truck drivers who operate in designated towing zones need to include conspicuous fee schedules, itemized invoices and other ethical measures as required by the Ontario government in their estimates and invoices.

Know your rights

To help Ontario drivers, the CAA published a Towing Bill of Rights as a quick reference guide for motorists.

  • You can choose who tows your vehicle unless otherwise directed by police.
  • You must sign a permission form before a tow truck begins towing unless you hold an auto club membership.
  • You don’t have to pay until you receive an itemized invoice.
  • Your towing company cannot charge more than 10% above the quote.
  • You can pay by credit card.
  • You can access personal items in your vehicle during business hours.
  • Your tow truck operator must inform you where they’ll be taking your vehicle.
  • Your tow truck operator must disclose if they’re receiving a referral fee from wherever they’re towing your car.

Not every issue that requires a tow truck is going to be related to an insurance claim, but if you suspect you’ve been the victim of fraud, contact your insurer for guidance.

We’re always here to help you.

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