Check this list before you have your vehicle towed

If you get into a collision and your vehicle is no longer safe to drive, it’s very likely that you’ll need to have it towed to a repair shop. But before you have your vehicle towed, it’s important to know your rights and know what to look out for when the tow truck driver arrives. While most tow truck drivers are honest professionals, there are an increasing number of tow truck services that try to take advantage of people who are shaken up after being involved in collisions. The good news? There are some steps you can take to avoid getting into a sticky situation when having your vehicle towed. Before you let anyone tow your car, always:

  1. Call your car insurance company first, even if it’s outside of business hours. Your insurer can tell you what to do next, advise you on reasonable towing rates, and help make sure there’s no unnecessary delay in having your car repaired. In some cases, they may even be able to arrange to have one of their preferred repair facilities pick up your damaged vehicle. If you can’t get in touch with your insurer right away, you can still have your vehicle towed, but keep the rest of the tips on this list in mind. 
  2. Determine that your vehicle actually needs to be towed. When you’ve been in a collision, your first instinct may be to call a tow truck. But the reality is, you may be able to drive your vehicle away from the scene yourself. If you can answer yes to these questions, it’s likely safe to drive your own vehicle instead of getting a tow:
    • Is your vehicle free of fluid leaks?
    • Are your headlights and taillights still working properly?
    • Are all of your mirrors intact?
    • Does steering and braking feel right?
  • Is your hood still able to close securely?
  1. If you can’t answer yes to all of these questions or you have another reason to believe your vehicle may not be safe to drive (if the airbags have deployed or there’s damage to the wheels, for example), it’s better to have your vehicle towed. If there’s a police officer at the scene of the collision, you can also ask them to help you determine whether your vehicle is safe to drive.
  2. Consider roadside assistance instead of an independent towing company. If you have access to a roadside assistance service through an automobile association or your vehicle’s manufacturer, give them a call instead of calling a regular towing service. Note: Some roadside assistance services don’t cover towing after a collision. Be sure to specify that you’ve been in a collision when you call — the operator should be able to let you know if post-collision transportation is included in your coverage.
  3. Prepare your vehicle for towing. Before your vehicle is moved, take detailed photos of the damage and the collision scene — and don’t forget to include the inside of your vehicle. You should also remove all valuables and necessities from your car before you give access to a tow truck driver.
  4. Make sure the tow truck that shows up is the one you called — or, if you didn’t call it yourself, make sure it’s from a reputable company. Some tow truck drivers will wait on the side of the road and race to the scene of a collision to try to get new business. Sometimes they’ll even try to convince you your vehicle needs to be towed when it’s still drivable. If a tow truck seems to show up at the scene too quickly, but you didn’t call it and you can’t confirm it’s from a reputable company, proceed with caution.
  5. Tell the driver exactly where you want to have your vehicle dropped off. You can either have it towed to one of your insurance company’s preferred repair facilities or a repair facility of your choice. It’s important to note that you have the right to decide who can tow your vehicle and where you want it to be dropped off — a reputable tow truck service shouldn’t insist on taking your vehicle to a specific location unless the police provide directions on where to take your car.
  6. Be sure to read the paperwork provided by the tow truck driver carefully before you sign it or make a payment. The tow truck driver needs to provide you with an itemized invoice to review, not a blank contract or work order. Make sure that you’re only agreeing to pay to tow your vehicle to the location of your choice, not signing a work order or agreeing to have your vehicle repaired by a specific facility. Never sign a contract that doesn’t specifically outline what you’re paying for and where your vehicle is being towed to.
  7. Make sure the quoted cost is reasonable. Your insurer’s claims line should be able to look into reasonable towing rates for you if you’re not sure. Depending on where you live, there may be standardized rates tow truck drivers have to stick to, and there may be a maximum upcharge limit as well. You should be able to find your local tow rates online if you can’t get in touch with your insurance company for guidance. 
  8. Know that you aren’t obligated to pay in cash. Towing companies legally can’t make you pay in cash in most locations — they have to accept credit cards. If a tow truck driver tries to insist that you pay in cash, it may be a sign that something isn’t right.
  9. Keep the receipt and any paperwork provided by the driver. You’ll likely need to provide it to your insurance company so they can reimburse you if your policy includes coverage for towing.