Vehicle towing after an accident

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Consumer

Be in the know before you need a tow!

Get prepared before being involved in a car accident or roadside breakdown situation. It is hard to have your wits about you when you have been involved in a car accident, particularly if you’re in a busy location and need to get your car off the road.

It can be a great relief when a tow truck turns up but there are things you need to be aware of ahead of time to avoid being stung financially.

Tow truck with damaged car
Tow truck with damaged car, by Consumer Protection

 

Insurance cover

Know what your insurance policy covers. For example, many insurers will only pay the reasonable cost of towing the vehicle from the scene of an incident to the nearest approved repairer.

Check your insurance policy for instructions about what you need to do if you are involved in an accident.

Keep the number of your insurer in your vehicle and your phone in case you have an accident (most insurers have a 24/7 accident service).

It’s your choice

The first tow truck on the scene does not have an automatic right to tow your car. You have the right to decide who tows your vehicle and where it is towed to.

You can choose to have your car towed to a repairer, your home, to a storage yard or as instructed by your insurer.

If possible, contact your insurance company before you sign anything as they may be able to organise the tow for you.

If you are unsure, or can’t contact your insurer, you have the right to contact someone to help you to decide.

Having your car towed to your home is an option to consider as it will give you time to talk to your insurer and make decisions without being under pressure.

No maximum fees

Towing companies can set their own towing and storage fees as these fees are not regulated in WA. That means it’s really important to confirm the total cost of towing and storage and be sure you are happy with the price and value before signing any agreement or allowing your vehicle to be towed away.

Main Roads towing service

To report an incident on the Main Roads network, please call their Customer Information Centre on 138 138, unless there is a need to phone emergency services.

In the event that Main Roads Control Room Operators – who monitor the Main Roads network 24/7 – determine that a broken down vehicle is obstructing traffic or in a hazardous location, the vehicle will be removed to ensure safety for all road users. 

Main Roads may deploy a tow truck or an Incident Response Service vehicle to assist and relocate the vehicle to a safer location. This service is provided free of charge. Motorists are then able to make their own arrangements, at their own cost to have the vehicle removed from that location to the place where it will be stored, assessed or repaired.

This service applies to broken down vehicles including accident damaged vehicles.

Read the fine print before signing

By law, tow truck drivers must give you a completed standard Authority to Tow form to sign before they tow your car after an accident. They must also give you a copy of the signed form and keep a copy for their records for 12 months.

The Authority to Tow form must includes specific information, such as:

  • where your vehicle is being moved to;
  • your name and address;
  • number plate and make of your vehicle;
  • the tow truck driver’s details; and
  • the tow truck’s number plate.

Although not required by law, make sure that the form includes the total cost of towing and storing your vehicle. You should ask for this to be added before signing.

Tow truck drivers are not allowed to intimidate you or use unfair tactics to get you to sign an Authority to Tow form.

Before signing, make sure you read the Authority to Tow form and any other documents you are given.

Don’t sign the form if it has not been filled out or parts of it have been left blank, or if you’re unhappy with the terms and conditions.

Don’t get caught out

Some consumers have been caught out by signing Authority to Tow forms locking them into having their car repaired by a particular repairer or giving lawyers permission to act on their behalf.

If your car is towed to a storage yard tell the tow truck operator that your car is not to be repaired without the authorisation of you or your insurer.

What if I have a complaint?

If you have a complaint, you may have rights under the Australian Consumer Law (ACL).

For example:

  • If the tow truck driver’s behaviour is misleading, deceptive or unconscionable; and
  • If the tow truck driver doesn’t use due care and skill in providing the towing service.

Tricky towing experiences

Car-napping

Jeremy was involved in an accident. He tried to ring his insurer to find out what he should do but couldn’t get through to speak to anyone. In the meantime, a tow truck turned up and the driver offered to give him a tow. Jeremy agreed, signed an Authority to Tow form without having the chance to read it properly. His car was towed to a storage yard. 

Jeremy contacted his insurer to arrange for his car to be moved from the storage yard and repaired. The insurer refused to commence the claims process as it was not willing to pay for the towing and storage costs of $1,900 stating that the policy only covered reasonable towing and storage costs.

The towing company refused to release the car until the fees were paid in full. After four days of trying to negotiate, Jeremy felt he had no choice but to pay in full given the mounting $80 per day storage costs. Jeremy reluctantly paid the towing company and the insurer later agreed to pay half of his costs.

Fraudulent document scam

Rhonda was involved in an accident, but was not at-fault. A tow truck turned up and the driver offered to give her a tow. Rhonda signed an Authority to Tow form and other documents but didn’t have the chance to read them properly.

Rhonda later found out that she had also signed a document that gave a lawyer permission to act on her behalf, to sue the at-fault driver.

The lawyer took the at-fault driver to court and tried to charge the victim more than $10,000 for $4,300 worth of repair work.

Lodging a complaint

You can lodge a complaint with Consumer Protection.

Important

Because the ACL does not regulate the cost of services, Consumer Protection is generally not able to assist if you feel you have been overcharged. You should make sure you know the total cost of the service before you agree to have your car towed.

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