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There are no shortage of horror stories from drivers getting their vehicles towed off the highway. (Thinkstock/Getty Images)
There are no shortage of horror stories from drivers getting their vehicles towed off the highway. (Thinkstock/Getty Images)

Road Rush

Cheney: Pirates on the highway are costing Ontario drivers billions Add to ...

Drivers who opt for a freelance tow at an accident scene may face a bewildering array of charges. Although reputable companies follow standardized rate schedules, some operators specialize in bill inflation and fee add-ons. Among the charges you may face: an arrival fee (for showing up on the scene), an inspection fee (for looking your car over before towing it), a hook-up fee (for connecting your car to the truck), a drop charge (for releasing your car), storage fees (for holding your car at the impound lot), and mileage fees (which add cost for distance travelled). There may also be surcharges for using a dolly, for towing a car from a multi-lane highway, and for waiting time.

How to protect yourself from a roadside pirate

Tow truck operators are often the first to arrive at the scene of a crash or breakdown, and an unscrupulous one can take advantage of a disoriented driver. Once your car is hooked up, a driver may try to direct you to companies that pay them referral fees and kickbacks for everything from bodywork to medical care. They may also charge unreasonable fees for towing, storage and other services, and hold your car hostage until you pay. To protect yourself:

  • If you crash or break down, call your insurance company’s hotline and ask to be referred to an approved tow operator and service centre.
  • Do not allow a tow operator to hook up your car without the approval of your insurance company.
  • Join a reputable roadside assistance program such as CAA. In exchange for a fixed annual fee, you will receive several tows as needed (details vary by specific program). Some car manufacturers also offer roadside assistance programs.
  • If your car is impounded by a tow operator who is demanding unreasonable fees, you can pay the contested amount to a provincial court, ask the court to release the car, and wait for a ruling.

If you have questions about driving or car maintenance, please contact our experts at globedrive@globeandmail.com.

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