The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) has embarked on a national campaign to warn and educate consumers about unethical and illegal practices among what the organization calls "rogue" towing and storage operators and repair shops around the nation that may charge unfair fees or attempt to steer vehicles to certain repair shops. Beginning this week and for the next eight weeks Houston, Texas, will become the first region to display billboards advising drivers to check with their insurers first to avoid run-ins with unethical towing and repair companies.
NICB says it believes the majority of the nation’s towing, storage and repair shop operators are honest and provide valuable and critical services to consumers. However, there are some in the industry operating over ethical and legal lines, and although a minority, their misdeeds can cast an unfair shadow over the honest operators as well, NICB says.
"In the greater Houston area, we have seen many cases where tow operators attempt to take crash vehicles to body shops. In addition, many storage lots also own body shops and attempt to steer cars into their body shops even if the car is taken to their storage lot initially," NICB stated. "At this point, consumers are urged to sign paperwork (prior to speaking with an insurance company) that allows extraordinary fees, such as an administrative fee and a teardown fee, etc. Oftentimes, a consumer gets charged over $1,800 from a body shop and their car has yet to be repaired. Moreover, if an owner wishes to take their vehicle to a different repair shop at this point, they’re charged a steering fee to obtain their car."
Towing, storage and repair facilities are regulated to varying degrees around the nation, but mostly it is a state and local concern. Cities like Houston, for example, have enacted ordinances that help clarify roles and responsibilities within these industries, but problems still exist with those few that persist in operating unethically or outside the law, according to NICB.
NICB says it’s important for consumers to know their insurance coverage and how a policy will perform in the event towing, storage and/or repair services are required. NICB says it’s aware of dozens of cases around the nation where motorists have been charged significant towing and storage fees that could have been averted by being "towing savvy."
NICB gives consumers the following advice to avoid a "costly" towing experience:
Never give permission to a tow truck operator who arrives unsolicited to take your vehicle.
If law enforcement has responded to the scene, follow their towing guidance. Do not provide tow truck operators with your insurance information.
Do not provide tow truck operators with personal lienholder information.
Determine that the tow truck signage is identical to what appears on any documentation the tow truck operator provides (they may say they "work with" your insurance company).
If the tow truck does not display signage identifying the name of the tow company, ask for company identification.
If a tow operator’s legitimacy is in doubt, call the police.
NICB also says it’s concerned with consumer safety: "There have been some instances around the country where tow operators have become belligerent with accident victims who challenge or question their intentions. A legitimate tow operator will satisfy your concerns; an illegitimate one will not," the organization says.
View the NICB’s towing checklist: