Nothing is worse than having an accident and getting to get your car towed away, unless your car is taken to a shop you didn't select and held hostage until you pay up.
The problem has existed for years, but is getting worse, thanks to trucking and towing industry deregulation that allows private operators lots of leniency in picking up cars and taking them to the highest bidder.
How can you avoid getting taken for a ride when you get a tow? There are some rights you enjoy as a consumer, and some smart things you should know to prevent a towing operator from taking advantage of you. Dan Bailey, president and chief operating officer for CARSTAR, recommends the following:
1. Stay with your vehicle until the tow truck arrives if possible.
2. Get the towing company's name, address and phone number, driver's name and tow truck operator license number and license tag number from the truck.
3. Ask where the vehicle will be towed, the address, on-site contact person and pickup policies.
4. Ask for an estimate on the cost of the tow and any additional charges- in writing and signed by the driver.
5. Remember that you have the right to have your vehicle towed wherever you want. That's why it's important to have an accident plan in place ahead of time that details your selected collision repair center.
6. Keep in mind that once your vehicle is delivered to a storage facility or unapproved body shop, you will be liable for daily storage fees, pressured to use their repair facility and will owe delivery fees should you tow it to your selected shop.
7. Make an extra set of your title, registration and insurance papers from your glove box so you can take them with you if your vehicle is towed.
8. Clean all of the electronics, sports equipment, office materials and personal items from the vehicle before it is towed.
9. Double check how your vehicle is hooked up for towing. Typically, if it is a rear-wheel drive vehicle, these should be off the ground to avoid damaging the transmission. For a front-wheel drive car, the front tires should be off of the ground.
10. Call your insurance company immediately to let them know where your vehicle is being towed. They cannot mandate where you have your car towed or repaired, but may have some guidance on quality collision shops if you don't already have one chosen.
"The smartest thing you can do is know in advance where you want your vehicle towed," said Bailey. "This eliminates a major portion of your vulnerability. You never want to be at the mercy of a tow truck operator who isn't working with a reputable shop. With stories in the paper every day about how some less-than-honest operators take advantage of car owners in the worst moments after their accidents, it is important to know your rights and your options before you tow."