We sometimes hear from drivers who have been gouged by unscrupulous tow truck operators. Unfortunately for commercial vehicle drivers, the towing industry is still largely unregulated.
While consumer protection legislation may apply to the towing industry — as it does in Ontario — the legislation itself only protects individual consumers. Not businesses. Some municipalities also regulate the maximum amount that an operator may charge for a tow and related services, but such regulations usually only apply to passenger vehicles.
So what should drivers do when dealing with an unscrupulous tow truck operator? Here are a few tips.
First, remain calm. As frustrating as the situation is, getting angry is not helpful. In fact, it might even make matters worse. Instead, focus on the goal of getting your vehicle safely off the road.
Second, before agreeing to anything, collect as much information from the operator as you can. Operators in your jurisdiction may or may not be required to provide certain information before they can start the tow. Either way, the operator will likely have it available. Helpful information may include:
the operator’s name and/or business name;
business address and other contact information;
municipal licence number;
driver’s ID number;
truck licence plate number;
details about all prices to be charged for all services to be rendered;
the location where the vehicle will be towed;
whether the operator has a financial interest in taking your vehicle to a given facility.
The operator may be required by regulations to keep daily records of all performed work, including the rates charged for each tow. Be sure to ask for a copy of this logbook. If the operator refuses, note down the details of your request and the refusal.
Record all of this information in writing, too. Use your smartphone if there’s no paper handy.
Third, consider your options. Evaluate whether quoted prices are reasonable, and whether there is anything that you can realistically do in the circumstances. Is this operator the only option, or is there time to call for someone else and wait for another operator who you know will charge reasonable prices? Can you call dispatch or someone else for assistance? Can you stall for time?
Then, if you must proceed with an operator who is taking advantage of the situation, don’t get mad. Continue to record evidence.
Take as many pictures with your smartphone as you can. Important details will be found in shots of the tow truck and all identification, including the licence plate, and both sides of any documents.
The phone’s video setting can also be used to record all conversations with the operator or any other noteworthy developments. Consider asking the operator, on the record, to charge a more reasonable price. If they refuse, as why they believe the charged rate is reasonable. The answer to such questions can be helpful later.
This can all be supplemented with written notes that include details about every conversation with the tow truck operator. And record these details as soon as you can, along with the name and badge numbers of any police officers on the scene.
Be sure to get an itemized invoice for all services that are ultimately rendered, and read everything carefully before signing anything. Make a note of anything thought to be objectionable, and don’t hesitate to record the objections in writing or on video.
Ultimately, the incident may be serious enough to warrant a small claims action. A tow truck operator may even assert a lien over your vehicle until all owing amounts have been paid. In cases such as these, it would be prudent to call a transportation lawyer to decide what to do next.
James Manson of Fernandes Hearn LLP can be reached 416-203-9820, or firstname.lastname@example.org. This column is intended for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.