As motorists prepare for the July 4 holiday weekend, the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI) today unveiled the findings of the 2011 National Towing Survey and offered consumer tips for avoiding unscrupulous towing and storage practices.
“Aggressive and unscrupulous towing companies can make the unpleasant experience of having an auto accident that much worse,” said Bob Passmore, senior director of personal lines for PCI. “Motorists and their insurers not only face confusing rules to reclaim their vehicles, but in some cases staggering bills. It is a no-win situation. These bills drive up out of pocket expenses for consumers and affect auto insurance costs that they pay.”
While there are many honest, well-intentioned operators, a few bad players have created widespread problems. Insurers want to prepare motorists and arm them with the facts. The PCI 2011 National Towing Survey was commissioned in an effort to seek insight into insurers’ top concerns over problems with towing companies and negative vehicle owner experiences.
The survey found that the number one towing issue consumers face across the country is skyrocketing and inconsistent charges and fees associated with towing and storage. Consumers also face a wide range of charges that can include outrageous items that range from “helper fees” to “wait time fees”.
The National Insurance Crime Bureau reports that claims of inflated towing or storage bills have increased 57 percent since 2009. In addition to concerns about charges and fees, complaints related to the difficult and sometimes nightmarish process of retrieving a vehicle from storage facility were common. Many respondents noted that it felt like the vehicle was being held hostage.
Survey Quick Facts
The survey of insurer staff found that towing problems are widespread, 149 cities made the list of worst areas for aggressive towing practices and 42 states were separately mentioned. When the votes were counted, the following areas were named the worst of the worst:
Five Worst Cities for Aggressive Towing Practices:
1. Chicago, Illinois
2. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
3. New York, New York
4. Atlanta, Georgia
5. Houston, Texas
Five Worst States for Aggressive Towing Practices:
3. New York
4. New Jersey
Biggest Problems for Motorists and Insurers:
1. Towing & Storage Charges and Miscellaneous Fees
2. Inconsistent and Difficult Release Process
3. Lack of Transparency and Communication from Towing Companies
4. Access to Vehicle for Adjustors
Real-Life Horror Stories Included:
* A vehicle in Iowa was towed 7 miles and the insurer’s bill was $892, without any storage time.
* owing companies in Virginia have charged $350 in administrative fees for letters sent to notify owners that their vehicle has been towed to a storage facility.
* A storage facility in Washington, D.C. charged an insurer $400 per day for large vehicles.
* In 2011, a Chicago woman was hit with a $915 towing bill after a minor traffic accident. The towing company then charged $100.00/day for storage and would not release the vehicle without an in-person cash payment from the vehicle owner.
“The charges and fees associated with towing and storage were called, ‘inconsistent’, ‘inflated’, and ‘downright outrageous’,” said Passmore. “These broad-ranging concerns underscore the need for consumers to be aware of these problems, and for states to have effective regulation of accident scene towing practices.”
Following an accident a motorist may feel vulnerable but it is important to remember that if you need tow truck assistance you have options. This begins with reviewing your insurance coverage with your company or agent regarding towing and repairs on an annual basis. PCI has developed the enclosed checklist to help motorists who may require towing services.