While the story of an Ottawa couple finding out their vehicle was being held to force payment on a $4,000 towing bill may have been shocking, it's not an isolated incident, according to a Gatineau body shop manager.
Guy Lamoureux, manager at the Lallier Honda in Hull, showed CBC News the original bill, which would have amounted to $5,000 with additional fees and taxes listed on the document.
He also showed CBC on Monday another customer's bill, charging nearly $4,000 from Feb. 28 this year.
"The towing bills that we've seen in the last three months have been between $1,500 and $5,000," Lamoureux said. "It's been frequent like that."
An insurance company refused to reimburse him for the up front cost of towing last month, he said, leaving him on the hook until he cancelled the cheque. He said the company negotiated directly with the tower, cutting the price in half.
He now leaves it to the tow company and insurer to sort out the price between them for Ontario vehicles — but that's caused some delays as tow companies hang onto cars during negotiations, Lamoureux said.
"Usually a towing takes half an hour from Ottawa to here," he said. "The first [dispute over fees] took two weeks before we got the car."
Lamoureux wants Ontario to implement standards on the costs related to towing.
Dealership '100% right,' says towing association
One of the bills was for $3,995.38 from Express Towing Service, which is based in Manotick.
Al Awada, a manager for Express Towing, said there was nothing irregular about the bill despite the fact it didn't detail how the fee accumulated.
"We grabbed that vehicle from the scene of the accident. We actually took it to our storage facility," Awada told CBC.
"The accident was actually near almost midnight so you're not able to take it anywhere at that point. When the report was done, when the insurance company got in touch with us and indicated we would like this at A-B-C-D body shop, whatever it is — then we discuss the rates, we agree upon them and we take the vehicle to the destination."
The collision happened Feb. 24 and the bill is dated Feb. 28, Lamoureux said, and the tow operator negotiated the fee with the insurance company when they dropped off the car.
Joey Gagne, president of the Provincial Towing Association of Ontario, said the bill should be more detailed based on the rules in Ontario's Consumer Protection Act and to make sure insurance companies would reimburse.
"The dealership is 100 per cent right. They shouldn't be accepting that invoice because they will get stuck with that if the insurance company comes in," Gagne said.
Awada said Express Towing does document the breakdown of fees so it can present them to insurance companies.
"If something's above and beyond, we put our notes, we provide footage or photos or something that we have to provide to the insurance company to show that we've done the extra work," Awada said.
Express Towing drivers keep a laminated rate sheet in their vehicles, he said, and he, too, welcomes pricing guidelines for the industry.
Ontario vs. Quebec
In the previous invoice from Big City Towing, an "out of province hook" is listed at a price of $1,275.
Gagne said he doesn't know of any fees associated with an Ontario tow truck picking up a vehicle in the province and dropping it off in Quebec.
"If you tow a vehicle into Quebec to drop it off, there's no significant cost to the tower — there should be no cost passed on to the consumer," he said, while acknowledging standard mileage rates would apply.
A typical tow from a collision in Ottawa to Gatineau should cost between $400 and $500 and Lamoureux said he hasn't seen the same steep climb in prices from Quebec tow truck operators.
Gagne said people being charged exorbitant rates should file a complaint with the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services under Ontario's Consumer Protection Act.
"This is unacceptable. These rates are unacceptable because there is no justification for the services these people have charged," Gagne said. "And the rates are outrageous compared to the same services from another towing company."