Friday, 28 July 2017


Check that shark cage
It is so revealing that the South AfricanTowing and Recovery Association (SATRA) tops its website with the dire warning "Get it wrong and risk losing your vehicle." Even more revealing is my friend Gloria's latest meltdown.  She's referring to the tow truck scrum she found herself in last week as: "worse than being in a broken shark cage."

Must admit I'd never realised how dangerous the tow truck waters are. Of course, I've heard tales of woe and I know there must be something in my insurance policy small print but who worries about those things until one needs to be towed?  Now she has me worried that I could lose my car, or my life savings.

Gloria's saga
Some of you may remember that she bought a used Bimmer from a sexy salesman a while ago? As luck would have it, she drove slap bang into the back of a SUV with a tow bar which had slammed on anchors to avoid a stray dog crossing Beyers Naude Drive. Still in shock, she applied fresh lipstick while watching steam launch from her badly injured radiator.
Within minutes she was being helped out of the car and the SUV's driver was apologising profusely. Then it happened. Tow trucks were screeching up to the scene. She claims there were at least a dozen, but she is prone to exaggeration so my guess is four or five.

By the time I arrived to take her home, her car had already been towed away. She'd opted for the driver who was first on the scene and had the most respectable looking truck.

Gloria knew she'd made the right choice when he told her he was approved by her insurance company and called in to get the go ahead to tow her car. It would be stored overnight and taken to the panel beater the insurance company had chosen. He handed over his phone for Gloria to furnish the person on the other end with her name, ID number telephone number and address. She signed the blank document the driver had kindly promise to fill in for her and - cherry on the top - there would be no storage charge for her beloved Bimmer's overnight stay.

He gave her his card with the company address.

Stranger than fiction
Next day we had her neck checked for whiplash. I drove her to two important business meetings and we asked her broker to handle the claim. The first shock was to learn that her insurance company hadn't approved the tow, the driver had never contacted them.

With alarm bells ringing 

we rushed to the towing company where the owner said the driver did not have the authority to offer a free overnight stay. 

The car had been taken to a nearby workshop and we couldn't have it back until and unless Gloria settled the towing and overnight bill for R4 900!!!  NOT covered by insurance. Seems she should count herself lucky. A man, close to tears, told us how he'd been hit with a R23 000 bill because he'd been hospitalised for 10 days before he could release his car!! He'd also been caught by the scam telephone call to his insurance company. The grumpy receptionist was telling him he should have read the information on the back of the form he signed. He was about to lose his car,

If ever there was a case of caveat subscriptor (signer beware) this was it. Gloria didn't have a leg to stand on. With that blank form, she'd given that crook carte blanche to do as he pleased with her car. While she was arguing her case with the towing company, I noticed a sign claiming that the business was affiliated to SATRA. That also proved to be bogus. Good reason why the association doesn't handle complaints unless the tow was arranged through its call centre. The number is 0861072872 and it could be useful on your cellphone as well as permanently in your car.

Dammit! Why do I feel so vulnerable?
Open season for crooks
I am indebted to Georgina Crouth who recently wrote in The Star that the towing industry is not regulated so there are no set rates for towing. However, the various associations have agreed on market related prices. SATRA's website says storage ranges between R200 and R400 a day, depending on the level of security offered.

As she wrote: "The honest Joes remain in the minority because the industry is unregulated. So the disreputable tow truck drivers do as they please - lying and conniving, feeding on shocked crash victims, bullying and effectively stealing vehicles because they have nothing to fear."

She also advised that you should check for an association decal prominently displayed on the tow truck, but we've already learned that's not a hundred percent assurance that the driver adheres to its code of conduct or is even a member.

I think we all agree that signing blank documents at any time is a big NO NO and it's important to know the charges up front.  

The AA
It is important to know your rights when it comes to dealing with tow truck drivers. Here are some helpful Automobile Association tips to keep in mind:
  • Always carefully check any documentation before signing.
  • If you are insured, contact your insurance provider for advice or any other information you may require.
  • Or make sure your vehicle is taken to a repair workshop which your insurance has approved.
  • Get all the relevant details from the tow truck driver (his name, the name, contact number and physical address of the company he works for, as well as the tow truck registration number).
  • Establish exactly how much it will cost to tow your vehicle before agreeing to anything.
  • Remove all valuables from your vehicle before it is towed away.
  • If you are a member of AA, you can contact them for assistance.

Other useful info includes:
It's not enough to know your broker's number (usually only good for office hours). If your insurance covers towing, you need to have your insurance company's incident management number on your cell and in the car. They will handle matters for you. Just as importantly, read the fine print on your policy. Know what is and isn't covered. If you have a "do not tow" sticker put it where it can be easily seen.

All well and good but....
What happens if you are too seriously injured to follow all this good advice? Car decals could prove invaluable but it's clearly time for greater regulation.

There are even claims that the bad guys are affiliated to major crime syndicates, it's time for the good guys within the towing industry to pressure government for better regulations and proper enforcement. 

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