Don't get ripped off by a tow truck driver

By Staff Writer

In the event of a serious car accident or an engine failure, you’ll want to resolve the situation and be on your way as soon as possible. However, there are several things that should be in order before you allow a tow truck to remove your vehicle.

Below are some tips from industry experts to help you avoid what can become an administrative nightmare and frustrating financial disaster.

Tip:Get a car insurance quote here.

“Do Not Tow”

As an initial precaution, Bertus Visser, chief executive of distribution at PSG Insure, advises that you apply a “Do Not Tow” sticker to your vehicle window. This can be sourced from your insurance company, the Automobile Association of South Africa (AA), or your insurance adviser.

“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.

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. Your policy will indicate the type and amount of cover applicable.

“In the event of an accident, the first thing to do is to call on reliable sources for assistance,” says Visser. “The ‘Do not tow’ sticker should contain the contact details of your insurance company or the AA. You should also have this 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),” he adds.
Choosing the right towing company

It’s completely within your rights as the vehicle owner to decide who tows your vehicle. This is especially relevant for people who do not have towing included in their insurance cover. However, it’s important to take note of the costs before allowing a tow truck driver to remove your vehicle.

Visser also warns, “Many independent tow truck drivers are quite happy to bend the truth, convincing you to use their services.”

You should never feel obliged to choose the first tow truck driver who arrives on the scene, Visser says - and be aware that not all of them have your best interests at heart.

“Be sure to use a towing company you can trust, such as those registered with UTASA or SATRA. Accepting service from a tow truck driver who isn’t registered could be very costly, and could even put you at risk of car theft. Some tow truck drivers are known to be part of scams,” cautions Visser.

The AA notes that it’s difficult to judge if a tow truck driver or company is reputable, based on appearance alone. Your insurer, if you are covered, will have agreements with tow truck companies who provide a reliable and reputable service. This may include smaller companies or independent drivers.

Visser points out that insurers have the right to refuse to pay the towing storage cost if you use a non-affiliated company. In this instance, the towing company will have the right to retain the vehicle, provided that the tow slip was completed correctly, and that the terms and conditions on the back of the tow slip were explained to you.

An exception to the rule

An exception to the owner’s right to choose who tows their vehicle is if they are unconscious and unable to make this decision.

Furthermore, if your vehicle is blocking the road and needs to be moved to prevent further incidents, the authorities may enlist a tow truck driver – who may not be affiliated with your insurer or the AA - to tow your vehicle to a safe location near the accident scene.

In a situation such as this, the AA emphasises that you may be liable for additional costs.
Keep a clear record

Visser and the AA both note that it’s important to keep detailed records of the incident, as well as the towing company and the driver. This will include:

  • Name of the company
  • Name of the driver
  • Registration number of the tow truck
  • Telephone number of the company and the driver
  • Company address

“In line with correct procedure, the towing operator needs to compile a list of all the accessories fitted on the vehicle, and must note all damage before towing it away,” says Visser. “You will be given documents to sign and you must insist on copies of these. Be sure 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.” 

If you are unconscious when your vehicle is towed, there will 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, notes the AA.

AA Rescue Me App

In the event that you are in an accident, but you are able to use your phone, the AA has an app called AA Rescue Me, that can help you ensure that you can capture all necessary information at the scene of the incident.

You don’t have to be a member of the AA to make use of the app, but if you are a member, the app will already contain your details when you register. 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 used successfully.

“The app is very simple to use once you are registered - you simply push a button that says ‘Rescue Me’ and the AA call centre is immediately notified. In the event of a crash, they know exactly where you are and will call you and find out if you’re okay,” says the AA.
The app enables users to capture the particulars of any other driver and vehicle involved, your own registration number, and other relevant details. Videos and photographs are also part of its functionality.

“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,” notes the AA.

Tips for drivers after an accident

  • If you haven’t already, it’s best to take up a policy with a reputable service provider, such as the AA or an insurance company. If you already have a policy, be sure you are aware of the costs that may be involved if there is an incident.
  • Remove all of your valuables from the vehicle before it is towed.
  • Be sure to have your vehicle fully uplifted on the back of a truck, as this is a more secure towing method.
  • If you are not a member of a service provider, get a quote at the scene for the cost of towing your vehicle.
  • If your vehicle is towed, make sure that you get a proper tow slip, and that the slip specifies the name of the company, the registration number of the company, the registration number of the vehicle, the cost of the tow, the name of the driver, and the contact details for the driver and the company.
  • Make notes regarding the nature and the extent of the damage, and any fitment accessories that are on the vehicle when it is being towed, and ensure that both you and the driver sign this.
  • Make sure the insurance company has proof of liability cover.

“Always ensure that a valid reference number is obtained before the vehicle is towed,” says Visser. “Tow truck drivers often pretend to obtain these. 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.”

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