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I got in an accident on Yonge St. and Highway 407 last week. A tow truck showed up within minutes and my car manufacturer’s roadside assistance said I could use them. The driver towed my car to an OPP detachment and then to a body shop that he chose. When I arrived at the body shop, the girl gave me a form to sign. She said insurance would take care of everything. When I asked to take my car to another body shop, they told me I owed $2,700: $1470 for towing, $300 for storage, $457 for cancelling and $475 for administration. It turns out that I’d signed a work order. My insurance company, Economical, will not pay for these charges because I signed the form. Do I have any recourse? – Connie, Toronto

Towing after a crash is normally covered by your insurance company. But if you sign a blank contract with a towing company or body shop, you could be on the hook for whatever they charge.

“Coverage for towing and the repairs to your vehicle are covered within reason under your insurance policy,” Hans Reidl, senior vice-president, claims, with Economical Insurance, writes in an e-mail. “It’s all too common for unscrupulous tow truck operators and body shops to provide a contract to drivers that includes towing and a work order for other services.”

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Before you accept a tow and before you sign anything, you should call your insurance company, Reidl says.

If you can safely drive your car, you don’t even need a tow, Reidl says. And if a tow truck shows up and you haven’t called it, you don’t have to take it.

If you signed a contract, the only way you might be able to get your cash back is to take the body shop or towing company to court, says the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA).

“Once a blank work order has been signed, the dispute becomes a civil matter between the person and the towing company,” Raymond Chan, manager of government relations, CAA South Central Ontario, writes in an e-mail. “Presently there is no process in place in which the public to take this matter up with the provincial government.”

Some companies not towing the line

In Ontario, there are no provincial regulations for the towing industry, says Mark Graves, president of the Provincial Towing Association of Ontario.

“We are working on a provincial licensing initiative with the government,” Graves writes in an e-mail.

There are also local towing bylaws, but only 17 out of 444 Ontario municipalities have them, says CAA’s Chan.

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“Even in places where there are regulations, not all towing providers are following the procedures and rates set out by the municipality,” he says. “People are being taken advantage of each day.”

Other provinces don’t fare much better, CAA says.

In Ontario, towing companies are covered under the Consumer Protection Act.

That means they can’t charge you unless you gave them authorization. You’re supposed to be able to sign an authorization form before towing starts – unless it’s done through CAA.

CAA summed Ontario’s policies up into a towing bill of rights, but, basically, your only recourse is to file a complaint with Consumer Protection Ontario,

“The ministry may undertake education efforts, attempt to mediate a dispute, or commence enforcement action,” Harry Malhi, spokesman for Ontario’s Ministry of Government and Community Services, writes in an e-mail.

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