Know your rights before your vehicle is towed

Insurance industry warns 'vigilance' needed to keep tow fees from boosting rates

After an Ottawa couple ended up with a $4,000 towing bill, the Canadian Automobile Association is reminding motorists that there are new provincial rules in place to protect them from excessive towing fees.

"A lot of consumers were being subjected to excessive costs and very little information, and no access to their vehicles," said Elliott Silverstein, CAA's manager of government and community relations. 

"And as of Jan. 1, the rules have changed that motorists are required to sign authorization before towing commences, and also receive an estimate for the costs that are going to be incurred, and the costs cannot be more than 10 per cent at the end of the day beyond what was initially quoted."

The Ontario government's Fighting Fraud and Reducing Automobile Insurance Rates Act came into effect Jan. 1. The legislation is aimed at protecting consumers and regulating the towing industry.

New rules for towing companies

If you're in a collision or encounter problems with your vehicle and require a tow truck, the new regulations are in place to protect you. They require tow and storage providers to:

- Have permission from the consumer/driver or someone acting on their behalf before towing or storing a vehicle.

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Publicly disclose rates and other information such as the provider's name and telephone number on tow trucks as well as in places of business.

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Accept credit card payments from consumers.

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Notify consumers where their vehicle will be towed.

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Allow consumers to access their towed vehicles to remove personal property at no charge between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. on all business days.

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Give consumers an itemized invoice listing the services provided and costs before receiving payment.

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Disclose if they are getting a financial incentive for towing a vehicle to a particular vehicle storage facility or repair shop.

"At the end of the day the design is to provide consumers with better choice, better information. But also [to] give them the opportunity to know that they're not going to be held for these excessive costs," said Silverstein.

Customer's right to choose

Silverstein said it's important for consumers to know they have the right to call the company of their choice to tow their vehicle to wherever it needs to go, whether to a repair shop or their home.

"If you have a preferred vendor — whether it be an auto club or your car dealership having a service — making sure you have that information handy, because letting somebody know that you have that type of service could also save you hundreds of dollars in the end as well," he said.

Also, the right to pay on site by credit card creates a paper trail, which could protect consumers from costs added to invoices after the fact, according to Silverstein.

"When people are involved in a collision, certainly their thoughts are trying to get towards safety, and part of the reason why regulations were brought into effect was to protect consumers in those vulnerable times," he said.