Consumer watch: Beware of tow truck heavies

Candice EvansGeraldton Guardian
A photograph of a smashed in and shattered front bumper and missing headlight of a red BMW after a car accident; lifted onto a tow truck.
Camera IconA photograph of a smashed in and shattered front bumper and missing headlight of a red BMW after a car accident; lifted onto a tow truck. Credit: Stratol/Getty Images

Car trouble can strike at any time when you are out on the road, so it’s important to be across your rights before a breakdown or an accident occurs to avoid being taken for a ride by tow truck operators.

Following recent heavy rains, we heard from a number of motorists who broke down on flooded streets and allowed tow trucks to move their vehicles without ensuring a price was included on the “Authority to Tow” form.

As a result, these motorists are now being charged exorbitant towing and storage costs by the tow truck companies.

Pricing is the most common aspect of the complaints we receive about tow trucks, accounting for about a third of the total complaints received last financial year.

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There is no regulation in WA of the total cost that may be charged for towing services, so Consumer Protection is limited in our ability to assist if you feel you have been overcharged.

To avoid being stung financially, it is important not to agree to have your car towed unless the total maximum cost of the towing and any storage is disclosed on the “Authority to Tow” form you must sign before a tow truck operator can move your car.

Other common aspects of consumer complaints involve the behaviour of tow truck operators, as well as claims of them not using due care or skill.

So remember that tow truck drivers are not allowed to intimidate you or use unfair tactics to make you sign an “Authority to Tow” form or any other documents when you do not want to.

Our advice is to be prepared before an accident or breakdown – check your insurance policy to see what it covers and keep the insurer’s number in your phone and car so you can easily contact them for advice or on-site assistance immediately following an accident.

Should you decide to engage a tow truck on the scene, remember that the first one to arrive does not have an automatic right to your car —– you can say “no” to any tow truck operator.

It is your decision who tows your vehicle and where it is taken. Having your car towed to your home, rather than to any storage facility, is an option to consider as it will give you time to talk to your insurer and make decisions without being under pressure and likely cost you far less.

For more information on tow trucks, visit: www.dmirs.wa.gov.au/towing or to make a complaint, call us on 1300 30 40 54 or email consumer@dmirs.wa.gov.au.

Candice Evans is senior regional officer for Consumer Protection for the Mid West and Murchison.

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