Bottom Line
Staying off the hook
Towing experts say truckers can improve their chances of getting a fair tow bill by following these steps

By Charlie Morasch
staff writer


The late September tow bill read like a multiplication table.

First wrecker: $750/hr.
   for 6 hours ........... = $4,500
Second wrecker: $750/hr. 
   for 6 hours ........... = $4,500
Tractor and lowboy: $750/hr. 
   for 6 hours ........... = $4,500
Labor: ..................... = $1,000
Helpers: 9 people at $150/hr. 
   for 6 hours ........... = $8,100
Supervisor’s fee: $100/hr. 
   for 6 hours............... = $600

And those are just some of the highlights. When it was all said and done, the driver was stuck with a $30,399 tow bill – enough to prompt two formal complaints with the state of Texas.

Roadside tow bills can devastate small trucking businesses. Tow company operators, however, say truckers can limit their exposure to companies that may issue massive towing bills.

OOIDA Member Patrick Montgomery owns Cooters Towing of Gooding, ID. Montgomery said truckers can separate good tow companies from scalpers by working through towing trade associations such as the Towing and Recovery Association of America.

When possible, Montgomery said truck owners should get to know tow operators along the routes they run.

“Our insurance and costs have risen just like those of truckers,” Montgomery said. “If you get to know your towing people ahead of time, bargaining can be done even at the time of an emergency. The best way to get a break on towing is to get to know those who tow before you need them – not at the time you need us.”

Montgomery said truckers should never tell police on the scene to call just anyone.

“And don’t forget to look for towing owners that display OOIDA’s decal on their tow trucks,” Montgomery said. “OOIDA members get serious discounts and consideration.”

Brian Riker is a third-generation tower from northeastern Pennsylvania and an OOIDA member. Riker said truckers can limit their exposure to bad towing bills.

Riker suggested regional drivers familiarize themselves with towing companies along the routes they frequent, and find the companies that are trained and industry-certified.

“Second, law enforcement has regulations on towers depending on the area, and there are some caps on non-consensual work,” Riker said. “If you feel there is a problem there, you can always request to review the contract for that particular area.”

Many tow operators are trained or certified by good towing schools, Riker said.

“Generally, I’d look for certified operators,” he said.

The Towing and Recovery Association of America publishes an online guide to help cities set up tow lists for police and emergency workers to call.

The TRAA recommends that municipalities govern who can and can’t tow in a city, and even says “separate lists for accident calls are justifiable because of the greater degree of skill that it takes to clear an accident scene,” according to the group’s municipal towing guide. “Specialization in recovery work is becoming more prominent with the intervention of ‘quick response’ and ‘incident management’ programs.”

Most states have regional lists of services that police and troopers use to clear accident scenes. Because wrecker and tow operations are often part of that rotation list, truck owners may be able to fight back against unfair billing by making complaints about specific tow operators.

Doug Morris worked as a Maryland trooper before retiring at the rank of commander of the Maryland State Police traffic safety division with 25 years of service.

The regional service lists are closely watched, and tow companies with enough complaints on issues like high bills may get removed from the tow list, Morris said.

“When someone calls in a complaint, they take it seriously,” said Morris, who now works as OOIDA’s director of security operations. “They want reputable tow services coming onto the scene. Towing services that take trucks to an impound lot or steal – the state takes that seriously.” LL