Mark Wheatley tests Suburban Towing’s brand new Pete 378 wrecker.
Truckers love gorgeous rigs, but there’s one kind they hope never to see.
“These,” said Texas wrecker owner David Goode, “are a driver’s worst nightmare. If we arrive, you’ve got troubles. But they sure do like to see us arrive.”
These are tow trucks, super-powerful monster big rigs ready to hook up a broken-down or smashed-up 18-wheeler.
“Drivers really don’t take much notice of them until they need them. Then they take a real good look,” says Goode, who owns Goode Towing and Recovery based in Killeen, Texas.
Wrecker drivers will tell you every job is different, and wrecker owners will tell you a good wrecker driver is hard to find. Like so many niches in our industry, this one calls for a special kind of person behind the wheel.
“You’ve got to want to be in it,” says D. Brown (everyone knows him as just plain “D”), operations manager for Suburban Towing of Louisville, Ky. “It’s a 24/7 job, and you can’t quit when someone needs you. You work all day and finally get home and get a shower and get cozy and warm and the pager goes off. It’s 2 a.m., and a guy going from Dallas to Pennsylvania loses a water pump or a transmission. You never know when it’s going to happen. I’ve worked wrecks on Christmas day before, a lot of us have. You can’t shut the doors because it’s Mother’s Day.”
Goode says it’s all about the adrenaline.
“I tell new drivers, ‘If you aren’t an adrenaline junkie, there’s no sense training you,'” Goode says. “If you like that rush, you can have some fun in this business. I like to get up at 3 a.m. and work a wreck, and if a call comes when I’m at the movies, I have to leave my wife and go. It’s tough on her, but I’ve got to take it. It’s business, and I need business.
“But there are a lot of frustrations at the same time that adrenaline is flowing, so you’ve got to be very careful. That can be a very potent mix.”
One of those frustrations is dealing with demands and requests from every direction.
“Sometimes I have four or five authorities to deal with,” says Mark Wheatley, a driver with Suburban Towing. “The fire people will say they need 15 minutes, and the environmental cleanup people will say there’s a spill and it will be two hours, and the police will say they’re done and I can take it as far as they’re concerned. If there are just traffic guys there, they usually want you to clear the road as fast as you possibly can. You have to work with everyone.”
The wrecker driver is looking to be gone as quickly as he can.
“I want to hook up, override the tractor’s air and brakes, hook up electricity so I can run lights, take the drive shaft out as fast as I can,” says Wheatley. “I want to be there and gone as fast as I can. Of course, it doesn’t always work that way. There’s a lot more work to do with a wreck.”
(The drive shaft comes out because when the front of the truck is raised the lubricant in the rear end falls to the lower side, leaving bearings exposed, and a turning drive shaft could burn them – and the transmission – out.)
Brown says he knows of no one who can hook up a broken-down big rig faster than Wheatley.
But speed isn’t the only necessary skill. A driver has to be good at “just plain figuring things out,” says Brown. “We did a wreck where an 18-wheeler had left a two-lane, slid through a ditch and wrapped the trailer around a big tree. It was hauling 880 bags of sawdust at 35 pounds apiece. We had to figure what was left, where it was, what it weighed and how it was going to affect the trailer when we moved it.”
The first thing Goode wants to know when he arrives at the scene is “what does it weigh?” so he can figure out the best method for hooking it up or lifting it. And he has to think about the content of the load and what might have happened to it in the accident. “If he’s slammed on his brakes, I can be reasonably sure that his load has shifted to the front of a van,” he says. “And, of course, I need to know what he’s hauling. I need to know if it might explode or do something unpredictable.”
Besides the technical side, wrecker drivers have to be able to deal with irate or emotional drivers whose livelihood is crumpled in a ditch. Wrecker drivers must deal with confused, sometimes tense situations without losing their cool.
The first thing to consider, says Goode, is that the driver has been in a wreck. He wants to take care of his truck, but he may not be thinking clearly. Drivers of wrecked trucks often ask tow truck drivers to handle their rolled or jackknifed vehicle with kid gloves. But it is often a more difficult task than the despairing driver realizes. “I’ll come up to a tractor trailer in the trees, for example, and I’ll tell the driver I’ll try to get it out without damaging it any further,” Goode says. “But I’ll tell him ‘just because you got it in here without a lot of damage doesn’t mean I can get it out the same way.’ It may have jumped a ditch to get in, but I can’t fly over it on the way out.”
The easiest way out is usually the reverse of how it went in, says Goode, but that isn’t always the case. “I know of a case where a wrecker looked like he had a simple job pulling one out. He pulled and pulled, and it wouldn’t budge. It looked easy enough, so he just put more power into it. But the rear end was hooked on a stump he couldn’t see, and when he finally moved it the rear end stayed behind.”
Of course, the wrecker driver must overcome the first hurdle – getting paid – before he can do anything.
“Last year I hauled a guy out of a ditch who had been hauling rockets to Fort Hood,” says Goode. “I charged him $600, and he thought I was crazy and didn’t want to pay me. I don’t get paid any more to pull a tanker load of jet fuel out of a ditch than a tanker load of milk.”
Goode regularly runs into drivers who argue about his towing price. “One guy will look at his bill and say ‘Is that all?’ and the next one will scream ‘That’s highway robbery,'” he says. “I just bought a new, little wrecker, and that one cost me $70,000. Then somebody wants to know if I can haul him all over Texas for $25.”
Drivers arguing about price is a frequent part of the job, says Earl Mumma III, a 29-year veteran of the business and president of Highspire Auto & Truck Repair Corp. in Steelton, Penn. “But I’ll remind them how far I had to drive to reach them and that when they want me to take them somewhere I have no backhaul to pay me for the miles,” he says. “I’ll tell them, too, that no one will do a better job of looking after their equipment.
“What a lot of companies and drivers don’t take into consideration is that we don’t work all the time, just when we get a call, and there could be a lot of time between calls. But we’re still paying insurance and wages and maintaining the trucks. If I have a super rig wrecker that costs $350,000, it’s expensive to keep it working.”
The cost of outfitting a wrecker can go up in a hurry. In addition to having a special wrecker body the truck will carry generators, air cushions, straps, chains, a multi-purpose saw, bolt cutters, shovels, lights, traffic control equipment, oil spill control equipment, fuel recovery equipment, load spill cleanup equipment and first aid kits.
When Mumma arrives on a wreck scene, he will often come with a digital camera and laptop. A lot of fleet owners, he says, have no idea how to cost a recovery. “I quote them a price, and they hit the roof. I take a digital picture, download it to the laptop and e-mail it to them,” he says. “When they see where their truck is and what sort of shape it’s in, they realize it’s going to be expensive to get it out. They don’t mind paying when they know they’re getting value for their dollar.”
Even if the prices for towing are justified, you want to avoid them if you can. For owner-operators, Mumma gives some basic advice: “Maintain your equipment so you won’t break down and need a wrecker. There are some breakdowns you can’t avoid, but most of them you can.”
A quick poll of experienced wrecker owners and drivers across the country suggests that as many as 75 percent of breakdowns could be avoided if the tractor and trailer were simply properly maintained.
“Every time the wheels of the truck go around it costs you money,” says Mumma. “But it’s easier to calculate fixed maintenance costs per mile and work that into your accounting than it is to suddenly find yourself having to pay a big towing and repair bill.”
Some regular maintenance can take time and cost more than you want, says Brown, but it’s cheaper and easier on your stress levels than being towed.
Goode says he sees a lot of tractors stranded by a broken universal joint. “You do actually have to grease the joint, and if you do it will last. If you don’t, it won’t,” he says.
For an OTR driver in a jam, one thing to ask a wrecker driver is whether he has “on the hook” insurance. You want to be sure that if something happens to your rig while it is being towed you don’t end up having to pay for it. Wrecker owners say they face regular letters from attorneys seeking some sort of payment for damage to trucks they have towed.
But the wrecker driver is also going to ask you questions about your insurance. He has to consider the insurance on the tractor, trailer and cargo. “I need to be very sure I know what he has and how it works,” Goode says. “I may work one wreck and have to do three insurance deals to get paid.”
But that’s just one of the quirks of this unusual profession. “This is not like a regular trucking job,” Goode says. “Each thing you haul is completely different. It’s never the same pull twice. One day it’s a truck broken down neatly by the side of the road. The next day it’s a wreck in a ditch or a rollover in the middle of the road. Even if you hook on to a basic Class 8 tractor with a loaded van, it can be a different pull.”
Goode says the most difficult thing about being a wrecker driver is the hours you have to work. “You’re on call all the time, kind of like a fireman. But a fireman is paid by the public and he’s paid regularly; if you run a wrecker you have to find a way to make it pay, and that can be difficult.”
Brown says when he goes to work he is never sure how long he will be there or what sort of jobs to expect.
That’s why many wreckers have sleepers, in case they have to travel a long way to a job or carry a broken-down truck half way across America.
One common call requires the wrecker driver to bring a truck back to its home
“Sometimes it’s cheaper to fix it at home and pay to get a new truck out there,” says Robert Adams of Quality Towing and Equipment Moving of Cincinnati, who runs a big Kenworth that “can lift anything on the road.” Owners are especially likely to tow trucks home for major problems. “Get stuck out on the road with a major job and you’re dead,” Adams says. “It’s going to take time and a lot of money.”
Brown also travels long distances to bring broken-down or wrecked trucks back to their home terminals. “Something that doesn’t cost a lot at home is going to cost a lot more on the road. A U-joint that’s $35 in your home shop could cost $50-$100 on the road, plus you’ve got a service call and labor costs that are higher,” he says. “We went to West Virginia to get one that only had a broken U-joint. We took one of their tractors down, and five hours later the driver was back under load and we were coming back with the broken down truck.
We’ve gone down to Orlando, Fla., to do the same thing. We even went to Kingman, Ariz., and got a broken down bus. If we have to go a long way, we’ll put two or three drivers on it and drive all night.”
Some towing companies pay their drivers a percentage of the business they bring in pulling broken-down or wrecked vehicles. “We give drivers a basic guarantee, an amount they will take home even if there is no business that week or if they don’t tow enough to make that much,” says Suburban’s Brown. “But if they have a really busy week they can go way beyond that.”
All of Mumma’s wrecker drivers are certified mechanics. “My drivers are basically diesel mechanics who we train to drive a wrecker,” he says. “They can earn something like $30-$35 an hour whether they are out on the road or in the shop, so you need people who can work both places.”
Good maintenance skills are critical, says Goode. “If a driver arrives and the rear end of a tractor is locked up or there’s a transmission problem, he’s going to have to find out why. For one thing it might be fixable, and for another he’s got to know how to tow it. And he’s also got to know a lot about load balancing, especially if he’s towing 80,000 pounds, and especially if that 80,000 pounds has been damaged and may not be riding evenly.”
Sometimes a really good wrecker driver knows enough to fix the problem that has caused a truck to break down. But he is probably not going to fix it for you because of the liability risk. “I went to one call when a driver called us because his water pump had gone and he was stopped by the side of the Interstate,” recalls Wheatley. “I got there and took a look and found his alternator had locked up. The water pump was fine. He just needed someone to come out and get it going. We get a show-up fee when that happens.
“The owner was in Florida and man was he happy. He got on the phone and told me ‘If I was there, I’d hug you.'”
Wrecker drivers also need to be great drivers. “Consider,” says Goode,” that my rig weighs 49,000 pounds and is 40 feet long, and it’s towing 80,000 pounds that’s 70 feet long behind it. Imagine driving that. Then imagine what it’s like to back it up. These guys are exceptional drivers.”
Goode enjoys the challenge and the variety of the job. “I did mechanic’s work for 12 years, but I got bored with it,” he says. “I like a challenge. I used to play drums and got bored with that, then I played guitar and got bored with that, and now I play the piano and I’m not bored with that yet. Wreckers are hard to get bored with – it’s fascinating work.”
That’s one reason the industry commonly sees new blood coming in and trying to make a living, people who like trucks and being mechanics and who have some money to spend or can see a way to build their own business around work they like.
But the work is demanding, and newcomers must spend more time learning from experience than they might expect upfront. After about five years, many newcomers leave the industry. But while they worked, their rates were low so they could compete for business.
Mumma’s advice for anyone wanting to get into the industry is simple: “Write a business plan.” He says he gets “a lot of people who tell me they’ve already got their minds made up and they’re getting into the towing business. It’s hard to help people like that.”
And it’s a competitive market to break into. “I have to stay in this business,” says Goode, “so I can’t compete with their rates. If I do I’ll lose money and could go out of business. I have the experience and the people and the equipment to do the best job. If someone wants to pay less they can. They may get a good wrecker and save a lot of money. But they may end up paying for someone’s inexperience, too.”
Part of the hard-earned experience of a good wrecker driver is the ability to be professional at the scene.
Sometimes the ambulances are gone when a wrecker arrives at a crash scene. Sometimes not. And the wrecker driver has to deal with it. Adams says he isn’t bothered “too much,” but it’s easy to see he’s not immune to the emotions of a deadly crash site. “I’ve been there when a life has been lost; I’ve been working when there has been a fatality,” he says.
Wheatley says he, too, has learned to simply be professional when he arrives and get his very necessary job done. You have to push accident victims back in your mind to do the work safely and efficiently, he says.
The hardest part of the job, says Adams, “is dealing with the public in their cars. You can be working on the side of the road with all your lights on and they still want to hug the white line and race right by you. After that, the rest of it is a walk in the park.”
A lot of owner-operators are shocked when the wrecker pulls up, says Adams, and he hears all the time, “Hey this is a nice truck.” And that, he says, is very important.
“A lot of people in this business enjoy their trucks, and they like to make them really unique. But it’s not just for show,” he says. “If you turn up to help an owner-operator whose rig is his livelihood and he sees you’ve spent a lot of money and time and care on your wrecker, he’s more likely to be happy to have you work on his truck. He knows you are going to take some care with his property because he knows how much work you put into yours.”
WHEN PUSH COMES TO SHOVE
Law enforcement’s agenda is often to clear road at any cost
Many law enforcement authorities use “quick clear” procedures to get roads open as fast as possible. In many cases that means the first haul is simply to get the vehicle out of the traffic lanes, even if it means it is hauled into a ditch.
Veteran wrecker owner Earl Mumma sees a possible change on the horizon that does not bode well for drivers. He sees more and more highway cops asking, or telling, wreckers to make their first priority the clearing of the road lanes. “It costs so much to keep a major road closed that you will see more and more cops just wanting to get a wrecked rig even more badly damaged or pushed off the road,” he says. “If it gets damaged or ends up in the ditch, that’s not going to stop them because they want travel lanes open.”
Mumma says simply “I work for the truck owner, not the police,” but he acknowledges there are times when he or his drivers would be powerless if ordered to do something by a trooper.
Texas wrecker boss David Goode has run into the same situation. “Sometimes the authorities want to bring bulldozers and push the wreck off the roadway. I’ve had that happen. It makes the job harder. What can you do?”
For truckers, that can mean sitting helplessly by while a wrecked tractor and trailer are damaged further as they are pushed or pulled from the traffic lanes, to be recovered later from a roadside ditch or median.
How to find a reputable towing company and avoid getting gouged by fly-by-night operators
DON’T LET A BREAKDOWN BREAK THE BANK
How to find a reputable towing company and avoid getting gouged by fly-by-night operators
Trino Arellano’s truck had no sooner broken down on a California freeway than a tow truck operator pulled up and offered to pull him off the road.
“I didn’t even call him,” the Mira Loma, Calif., owner-operator recalls. “He wanted to charge me $200 just to pull me off the traffic lane.”
Like Arellano, immediately after a breakdown or an accident, you’re in a vulnerable position. Unless you have a plan in place for how to handle situations that require towing, you or your carrier could spend hundreds – if not thousands – of dollars with an unscrupulous towing company. And towing charges may only be the beginning. To ensure collection of an exorbitant charge, some towers hold trucks and freight hostage, charging a daily garage fee, until payment comes through. Others pull a “bait-and-switch” routine, quoting one price up front and then tacking on charges and refusing to release the truck until payment is made.
How big is the problem? Industry experts are quick to point out that most towing companies are reputable firms that make their money on repeat business and referrals – not one-time gouging. “With a company our size, it may happen less than one-half dozen times per year,” says David Hedgpeth, vice president, corporate compliance and safety for Frozen Foods Express, a 2,300-truck, Dallas-based carrier. “But it becomes an expensive issue when it does happen. The possibility certainly is there that you will pay two to three times what you should have legitimately been charged.”
Sometimes the problem starts when a law enforcement officer calls a tow truck to the scene of an accident or breakdown. His goal is to clear the roadway as quickly as possible, not to make sure you get a reasonably priced tow. “We often have little say over how cleanup is managed and how much the fee is that’s being assessed to us,” says Hedgpeth, who also chairs a committee on towing for the Texas Motor Transportation Association.
In some cases law enforcement officers immediately call towers with whom they have a relationship. “I’m not saying there is any improper action, but there are some close ties in some places with law enforcement and towing,” Hedgpeth says.
But many law enforcement agencies try to ensure carriers are comfortable with a tower before they make the call, says Lt. Rick Fambro, a spokesperson for the Ohio State Highway Patrol. “We try hard to work with trucking companies to see if they have a preference,” he says. “These calls can be hundreds or thousands of dollars, so we don’t want to stall a company from using a particular service.”
Like many State Patrol agencies, Ohio maintains a wrecker rotation. Companies in the rotation must meet specific insurance, equipment and capability requirements. They must maintain a secure impound lot, be able to provide 24-hour wrecker service and 24-hour phone numbers, and be able to respond to calls in a reasonable amount of time. “Each post commander is responsible for trying to rotate those wrecker calls fairly,” Fambro says. The agency keeps a log of calls to towing companies, “so we have documentation to show our actions,” he says.
Despite their efforts to work with carriers, there are times when law enforcement must take matters into its own hands. “You may have a trooper who says, ‘does your company have a preference?’ But if it’s going to be two hours’ response time and we have a closed road, we have to take that into consideration,” Fambro says.
To help avoid having towing arranged for you, plan ahead, experts say. “If you wait until something happens, it’s too late,” Hedgpeth says. “You’ve got to be prepared. You have to have that plan in place before you’re in need of a tow.”
Start by making a list of reputable towing companies along the lanes you frequent. Look for towers that are members of a state or national towing association, recommends David Goode, owner of Goode Towing & Recovery, Killeen, Texas. “For the most part, people that are members of associations aren’t going to be fly-by-night people,” he says. Signing up for a nationwide towing plan or keeping a towing directory handy (see One-Stop Shopping, page 32) can also help ensure a positive towing experience. If you’re a company driver, make sure you know your carrier’s towing policy.
Another way to take some of the worry out of towing is to carry breakdown insurance. Owner-operator Andy Soucy, Lebanon, Tenn., has had this “security blanket,” as he calls it, since he became an owner-operator in 1997. The $16 per month the insurance costs him is minimal, he says, compared to the potential cost of towing. “Just getting pulled out of a ditch is $300 bucks,” he says. “You could end up getting towed for $700 for a $25 part.” Soucy’s insurance covers up to $700 per incident up to a cap of $1,500 per year.
One of the simplest things truckers can do to avoid being overcharged is to ask how much the tow will cost up front, says Lane Goebel, owner and founder of National Truck & Trailer Services Breakdown Directory, and a 20-year trucking veteran. When truckers find themselves with an outrageous towing bill, “nine out of 10 times they haven’t asked how much,” Goebel says. He recommends asking towers to fax a document stating the least and most they will charge for a tow so you have something in writing in case you are overcharged.
If you are in a less-urgent towing situation (say you broke down in a parking lot) and you have time to call and compare several companies, it can be tempting to go with the lowest-priced provider. But that might not always be the wisest move, Goode says. “In towing, the best price is not always the best deal,” says Goode, who has five locations and runs 16 tow trucks. “Especially with heavy-duty towing, if you wind up with a company that hasn’t been around for a while, if they damage something are they going to stand behind it?”
Goode also cautions against using towers who are willing to drop their price to undercut a competitor. “If I’m doing something for $1 a mile and the guy across the street says he’ll do it for 80 cents per mile, I’m not going to change my price based on what he’s doing it for,” he says. A tower who is willing to auction off his services does so “because that’s what he has to do to get the business,” he says.
Image is important in the towing business, says Goode, who gets many customers while competing in truck beauty contests at major trucking shows. When selecting a towing company, “the appearance of the tow truck and the driver is 90 percent,” he says. Projecting the right image can be expensive, though. Goode’s 2004 Peterbilt tow truck, which took first-place honors in the Specialty division at the Overdrive Pride & Polish truck beauty contest at the Great American Trucking Show in Dallas last year, cost $320,000.
But let’s assume you took all possible precautions and still ended up with an over-priced towing job. What do you do? “The first practical thing you have to do is pay it and recover your vehicle,” says Jim Klepper, an attorney with Interstate Trucker, Oklahoma City, Okla. “If you don’t they’ll keep your vehicle and charge you towing and storage fees.” (See Towed and Stowed) You can then try contacting your state trucking or towing association, or if you’re a member of a nationwide towing plan, they may be able to mitigate the charges on your behalf.
Failing that, you can take the matter to court. “Say you got a $35,000 towing fee on an accident when other towing companies said it would be between $6,000 and $8,000,” he says. “You have recourse through the legal system to seek a refund.” At that point, it’s up to the towing company to prove that what they charged you was reasonable in terms of expertise, time and equipment, Klepper says, as well as comparable to what other companies would charge. “The judge isn’t going to allow you to be gouged,” he says.
You also have legal recourse if your truck is damaged while being towed. “Towing guys are supposedly trained and in some states licensed, which establishes a minimum level of responsibility they have to meet,” Klepper says. Because they are providing a service, towing companies are “expected to meet reasonable demands, one being not to increase damage or cause more in the act of towing,” he says.
In the end the best advice, experts say, is to plan ahead and avoid potential problems before they happen. Do that, and with a little luck your towing experiences could be as headache-free as those of trucker Lance Wood. “In the last nine years I have been towed or rescued over 18 times,” says Wood, of Mascoutah, Ill. “I’ve never had a bad experience or a damaged truck.”
Nationwide networks take the guesswork out of towing
Rather than face the headaches and uncertainties of locating and negotiating with towing companies, how would you like to make one call and handle it all?
Nationwide towing plans make that possible. One such service, the American Towing Alliance, grades towers in its system on a scale of one to 10. Towers “receive high grades for fair charges, quick response and how they handle customers,” says Dennis Yates, AmTowA client relations manager.
When an AmTowA member needs a tow any time, day or night, they simply call an 800 number and AmTowA “handles it from hook to drop,” Yates says, using one of the more than 1,600 towers in the system. There is no charge to join, but members are charged a percentage of the cost of each tow. A typical fee for owner-operators would be 10 percent of the cost of the tow, Yates says. The fee drops to 6 percent for ATA and state trucking association members.
A similar service from FleetNet America – FleetNet Select Towing and Recovery Program – prescreens towers by validating their fees and verifying their equipment capabilities, says C. Oren Summer, FleetNet president. Once set, towing companies’ “hourly rates are contractual and cannot be changed,” Summers says.
FleetNet has contracted with approximately 800 towing companies covering the busiest traffic lanes and major metro areas, “but we continue to grow the program,” Summer says. Owner-operators or carriers that sign up become members of FleetNet’s client list. They are charged $44 per occurrence, no matter the type of tow.
Although not a “one call” network, the National Truck & Trailer Services Breakdown Directory is an 800-page resource listing 4,243 towing companies, as well as repair services, nationwide. The print version is $49.95; CD is $249. You can also access the directory in a searchable, online format at no charge.
NTTS polices the towers in its directory by following up on complaints from truckers. NTTS contacts the tower and unless it is able to resolve the situation to the trucker’s satisfaction, it is immediately pulled from NTTS’ online database. “In some cases, I’ve been able to help people get their money back,” says Lane Goebel, NTTS owner and founder.
TOWED AND STOWED
What to do if you are overcharged for towing or your truck is detained over a disputed towing charge
Carriers and owner-operators say exorbitant towing charges – and towing companies that hold equipment hostage to get them – are an expensive problem. That’s why the Texas Motor Transportation Association partnered with Great West Casualty Co. and the Texas Towing and Storage Association to develop guidelines for when a truck, trailer or load are detained in a dispute over towing charges.
“We were able to bring carriers, insurance executives and our very reputable friends from the towing industry into the process to help craft a strategy for dealing with the few towing companies that are causing problems,” says TMTA President Bill Webb.
If you receive unfair charges and/or your truck and cargo are detained due to refusal to pay excessive towing or storage charges:
- Request an itemized invoice, including a description of all wrecker equipment, the number of and purpose for all wrecker staff, how long each staff member was at the scene and the hourly rates and fees for each staff member.
- Immediately notify the towing company in writing, stating that you believe its bill is unreasonable and demanding release of all equipment and cargo (if applicable).
- Request documentation and photos the towing company may have regarding use of equipment and personnel.
- Keep a disposable camera in your truck to photograph towing company equipment, personnel and the pre-tow condition of your tractor, trailer and cargo.
- Document whether each piece of equipment was used, how each was used and how long such equipment and laborers were present.
- At the time of the tow, document your equipment type, its condition, its value and its cargo. Keep track of how long it is out of service, as well as any lost loads.
- Report any accidents immediately to your insurance company.
- Estimate what a fair invoice should be based on experience, weather and location, then work with the tow company to get a reasonable settlement. Some towing associations, or groups such as the American Towing Alliance, will help members get reasonable settlements.
- Check state statutes or local laws, such as city ordinances, to determine if there are any regulations governing wrecker and storage charges.
- Contact the local Better Business Bureau to file a complaint and check for past complaints against the towing company.
- File a complaint with the local commander of the State Patrol, the state’s Attorney General’s office and the Department of Consumer Affairs.
- Consider seeking legal counsel with the possibility of litigation.
American Towing Alliance
Contact Dennis Yates,
(800) 618-6946, ext. 235, or firstname.lastname@example.org;
FleetNet America, FleetNet Select
Towing and Recovery Program
Contact James Williams,
800-438-8961, ext. 532, or email@example.com;
National Truck & Trailer Services
Contact Lane Goebel,