Help! My towing bill is too high

Cost of roadside towing

The following story was related to me by a DriveSmartBC site visitor from a recent incident:

“I slid into the ditch recently and an ambulance happened to be right there at the time.

It stopped and (paramedics) checked me out, insisting I wait for a tow with them as this occurred on a blind corner. Their dispatch had already called for a tow (truck) and while we were waiting, the police arrived. I waited with the officer so the ambulance could leave.

A tow truck arrived and I spoke with the driver. He said his was not the truck that was dispatched but since it was such an easy tow, he could do it with his deck truck. He contacted his dispatcher and cancelled the other truck.

I was asked how I intended to pay and I told him I had a credit card. Since I could almost have driven my car out myself, I expected the bill to be $200 or less. It took the driver about eight minutes to winch my car back onto the road.

The driver forgot to bring his credit card terminal, so we had to wait while another truck brought one. During the wait, the driver added up his bill, which came to $495. I did not have that much room on my card and told him so. His response was, if I did not pay, he would load my car onto his truck and take it to the towing company's lot to await full payment. That would add $250 and storage charges onto the bill.

I made a phone call and arranged an e-transfer for the bill:

• $165 minimum recovery charge

• $161 mileage for 46 km

• $97.80 fuel surcharge

• $71.19 GST

The towing yard is 38 km from the location, according to Google Maps.

I feel this huge bill is unreasonable for 10 minutes work, I didn't choose (the towing company) myself and I felt threatened by the driver who was going to take my car away from me. What should I do?”

The topic is related to road safety and traffic law, so I contacted a couple of towing companies I trust and asked about this to try and help.

Both companies said they charge a "gate-to-gate" fee regardless of whether they are called from their towing yard or happen by the incident. The bill would include mileage, recovery and fuel charges. Both pointed out towing companies in B.C. are free to set their own rates and drivers should be aware of the rates before they agree to the tow.

Towing Rates

ICBC sets rates for light/medium duty and heavy duty towing when they pay the bill for an incident. These rates will likely be lower than the rates you and I would pay out of our own pockets.

I contacted the Automotive Retailer's Association about rates. The first sentence in its response was the tow operator does not have the authority to impound the vehicle for failure to pay rates.

I once worked for a service station with a one-ton tow truck and that business was a member of the ARA.

We used a suggested rate card provided by the ARA to bill for our work. The ARA no longer advises its members on rates and repeated what I had already heard from the towing companies, it was up to them to set their rates.

The ARA also said the driver should have discussed rates or services up front, bearing in mind that if unforeseen difficulties were encountered during the recovery, the bill could be higher than discussed.

You may consider getting the estimate in writing before you agree to services.

Ontario is struggling with "wild west" issues involving towing. The Canadian Automobile Association in that province has published its towing “bill of rights” to show it will treat their customers fairly.

The choice of towing company is up to the driver (or owner) of the vehicle being towed.

If the driver is unable to make a choice, or makes an unreasonable choice for the circumstances, police or the road maintenance contractor may choose for them. The police often have a towing rotation they follow to apportion the work fairly among local towing companies.

Subject to doing it in a safe manner for yourself and other road users, to some extent you could do it yourself. Remember you have no authority to block the road or direct traffic in order to facilitate the recovery of your vehicle. Should a collision occur, you leave yourself open to significant legal liability for damages.

Can I leave my vehicle there? This is identical to asking “can I park there?"

If you wish to come back later to deal with the recovery of your vehicle, either by yourself or with your chosen towing company, it would be legal to park there. It’s legal to wait there as well.

Notify the police and road maintenance contractor of your intentions, as they are the agencies that would order the removal of your vehicle when you are not there with it.

Consumer Protection B.C. advised it does not regulate towing companies or their practices. Businesses in B.C. are allowed to set their own return, refund and cancellation policies and most can set their own payments terms. There is a difference between what might be considered “best practices” for businesses to follow and specific rules that are written into law.

This government agency is responsible for enforcing the Business Practices and Consumer Protection Act. When asked about the threat of impound for non-payment at the roadside as an unconscionable act under section 8, a representative said they could not make a determination like that without an official complaint from a consumer so it could be properly assessed.

The Civil Resolution Tribunal is an accessible, affordable way to resolve disputes without needing a lawyer or attending court that encourages a collaborative approach to resolving disputes. Their decisions are searchable on line and a number of decisions involving towing companies are reported.

Small Claims Court is also available to resolve issues. Its website suggests when the amount involved is less than $5,000, using the Civil Resolution Tribunal is a better choice.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

More Behind the Wheel articles

About the Author

Tim Schewe is a retired constable with many years of traffic law enforcement experience. He has been writing his column for most of the 20 years of his service in the RCMP.

The column was 'The Beat Goes On' in Fort St. John, 'Traffic Tips' in the South Okanagan and now 'Behind the Wheel' on Vancouver Island and here on Castanet.net.

Schewe retired from the force in January of 2006, but the column has become a habit, and continues.

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The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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