Don't get ripped off by a tow truck driver

By Staff Writer
When it comes to having your car towed, there are several things that should be in order before your vehicle is taken away. However, following an accident, it can be easy to forget what you need to do and what paper work should be completed before your vehicle is towed. But this can lead to confusion and tedious administration when you later try to retrieve your vehicle.
Below are some tips and advice from industry experts to help ensure that when you need to tow your vehicle everything runs smoothly and you are not ripped off by a tow truck company.
‘Do Not Tow’
Bertus Visser, chief executive of distribution at PSG Insure, said that it is important that you have the ‘Do Not Tow’ sticker from your insurance company, the AA or your adviser placed clearly on your vehicles window, particularly if your insurer already has a special relationship with a tow truck company. “This will become particularly important if you are incapacitated in an accident. It will make sure that authorities know to call your insurer to get the right tow truck to assist you,” says Visser.

“If you are involved in a collision, an accident or a crash, with a sticker in the car, it acts as a notification of who your preferred towing service provider is,” adds the AA.
The benefit of having a predetermined towing service provider, either through your insurance company, or the AA, is that you will have agreed upon rates, and you will be paying a premium, which allows you to know the type and amount of cover you will receive for towing your vehicle.
“With a sticker on the vehicle it gives an indication to the authorities on the scene and other towing companies that this person has an arrangement with a certain company and therefore they would have made arrangements to have that vehicle towed,” explains the AA.
Having a sticker will also be helpful if you are unconscious during an accident, as it will alert those on scene that you are insured or a member of the AA and that people at the scene must phone the relevant company to deal with your vehicle.
Contact the right people
“Once you have had an accident, the first thing to do is to call on reliable sources for assistance. You should have either your insurance company, adviser or the AA’s contact details on both the back of your ‘Do not tow’ sticker as well as stored in your cell phone contact list. You could also keep the contact details on hand for United Towing Association of South Africa (UTASA) and South African Towing and Recovery Association (SATRA). If you are unconscious, having the right contact details on the back of your sticker or on your cell phone will assist authorities in getting you the right help,” says Visser.
Choosing the tow truck company
It is completely within your right as the vehicle owner to decide who tows your vehicle. This is especially relevant for people who do not have ‘Do Not Tow’ stickers and therefore do not have preferred tow truck service providers. However, it is important to take note of the costs before allowing a tow truck driver to tow your car.
However, Visser warns: “Many independent tow truck drivers are quite happy to bend the truth, convincing you to use their services. Never feel obligated to choose the first tow truck driver who arrives on the scene and be aware that not every one of them has your best interests at heart. Make sure to use a tow truck company you can trust, such as those registered with UTASA or SATRA. Keep in mind that using a tow truck driver that isn’t registered could be very costly, and could even put you at risk to become a victim of crime. The police have identified some tow truck drivers as part of a scam to steal cars.”
The AA highlights that on appearance it is difficult to judge if a tow truck driver or company is reputable. “You wouldn’t be able to judge, if you are in an accident and some guy in a tow truck arrives on the scene, you wouldn’t know who this person is. It all comes down to you being prepared.”
The AA points out that you need to know the company that you are dealing with initially, and that these companies (i.e. the insurers or the AA) will contact and have agreements with tow truck companies to provide a reliable and reputable service. These companies can outsource to smaller companies or independent tow truck drivers, but this arrangement will be made through your service providers and you do not need to get involved in the process.
“When we go and look for partners who will work with us, we make sure that they live up to our standards and they meet all of our requirements, and in that way we give that piece-of-mind over to the consumer,” notes the AA.
Visser points out that insurers have the right to refuse to pay the towing storage cost if your vehicle has a ‘Do Not Tow’ sticker from your insurer, but you have a non-affiliated tow truck company tow your vehicle.
Furthermore, “the towing company will have a retention right on the vehicle if the tow slip was completed correctly and signed by the driver. The terms and conditions on the back of the tow slip must be explained to the client,” explains Visser.
The exception:An exception to the owner’s right to choose who tows their vehicle is if they are unconscious and unable to make decision themselves.
Furthermore, if your vehicle is blocking the road and needs to be moved to prevent further incidents , the authorities may get a tow truck driver (who is not affiliated with your insurer or the AA) to tow your vehicle to a safe location out of the way that is nearby to the accident scene.
“If you are unconscious and you are in a car that is blocking a major section of road and there is nobody else in the vehicle with you then the authorities need to move the vehicle out of the way for a variety of reasons, it may be that it is blocking traffic, it may be that it is becoming more of a hazard or your car might be spilling oil or petrol or diesel on the road. They may get a tow truck company to move it off to the side of the road, but let’s say to the side of the road is also a problem, they would then obviously need to move it to a place where it is close but it is out of the way, but they can’t remove it off site to their own depot,” explains the AA.
In a situation such as this, the AA emphasises that you may be liable for additional costs if a non-affiliated tow truck has to move your vehicle off the road.
Keep a clear record
Visser and the AA both highlight that it is important to keep detailed records of the incident, as well as the tow truck company and the driver. This will include:
  • name of the company
  • name of the driver
  • registration number
  • telephone number of the company and the driver
  • address of the company
“In line with correct procedure, the towing operator needs to compile a list of all the accessories fitted on the vehicle and has to note all damage before towing it away. You will be given documents to sign and you must insist on copies of these. Take caution to review and verify all terms and conditions before you sign.
“Before your vehicle is towed, take your own photos of the accident and remove any valuable personal belongings from your car. Keep in mind that the cost of towing your vehicle may not be covered by your insurer unless you utilise a reputable, approved tow truck company,” says Visser.
If you are unconscious: If you unconscious when your vehicle is towed, there would most likely be authorities on scene, and they will be responsible for completing all paperwork before the tow truck driver can leave with your vehicle, reveals the AA.
AA Rescue App
In the event that you are in an accident, but you are able to use your phone the AA has an app to help drivers ensure that they capture all the information they may need at the scene of the incident.
You do not have to be a member of the AA in order to make use of AA Rescue. The app can be downloaded onto any smartphone and will assist when a driver has an accident. If you are an AA member, the app will already have all of your details when you register it, however, if you are not an AA member, you will need to fill in your ID number and all other required information before the app can be successfully used.
“What is really nice about the smartphone app, is there is basically a button that you push that says ‘Rescue Me’ and the AA call centre is immediately notified. So in the event of a crash they know exactly where you are and they can call you and they can find out if you’re okay or whatever the case may be,” reveals the AA.
“In addition to finding out that information and whether you require a tow or not, which is one of the questions that the call centre will ask you, there is a form that you can fill in, and it’s all done your smartphone, where you capture the particulars of the other driver involved, you capture your details and you get all the relevant registration numbers and the details. There is a feature built into the app that allows you to take videos and photographs. There is a whole procedure that it takes you through so at the end of the day you are able to capture all the relevant data that you need,” adds the AA.
Tips for drivers after an accident
  1. Have a contract with a reputable service provider, such as the AA or an insurance company.. If you are a member of the AA or an insurance company, you know what costs may be involved if there is an incident.
  2. Remove all your valuables from the vehicle before it is towed.
  3. The AA advises that you have your vehicle fully uplifted on the back of a truck, as it is more secure when towing your vehicle.
  4. If you are not a member of a service provider, get a quote at the scene for the cost of towing your vehicle. However, the AA notes that you will have to pay for this.
  5. If your vehicle is towed, make sure that you get a proper tow slip, and that the tow slip gives you the name of the company, the registration number of the company, the registration of the vehicle, the cost of the tow, the name of the driver, and the contact details for the driver and the company.
  6. Make notes of the nature and the extent of the damage, as well as any other fitment accessories that are on the vehicle when it is being towed, and have both yourself and the driver sign this.
  7. Make sure the insurance company has proof of liability cover.
“Always ensure that a valid reference number is obtained before the vehicle is towed. Tow truck drivers often pretend to obtain reference numbers. Confirm full details of their conversation - the number they called as well as the person they spoke to in order to obtain the reference number,” adds Visser.

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