Tow operators – ‘the good, the bad and the ugly’

By MPP Toby Barrett

By and large, towing companies, garages and storage yards provide efficient and reputable service. However, a minority are taking advantage of consumers and their insurance coverage.
Many of us do have experiences with the towing industry, and mine have been positive in Haldimand–Norfolk. We’ve got local companies and garages that help out with understanding and honesty, and their reputation is evident. The same goes for CAA. I’ve been a long-standing member, and I value their service.
However some in the business do not meet the expected standards. Some tow truck drivers charge exorbitant rates. Customers report having their vehicles towed to far-off storage facilities to increase mileage, thus raising prices. People report going to pick up their vehicle from vehicle storage lots, only to find they’ve been asked to pay unexpectedly large amounts before their vehicles are released.
This is one reason your Ontario Legislature is debating Bill 15: Fighting Fraud and Reducing Automobile Insurance. The proposed legislation sets qualifications and standards governing the operation of tow trucks, including driver certification, training requirements and prescribed penalties to violators.

There are approximately 1,200 tow truck and vehicle storage operators in Ontario, and about 3,000 tow truck drivers. Most of them provide good service to their customers and contribute to keeping our roads free and clear by removing vehicles, including those involved in collisions, quickly and efficiently.
But, part of the tow truck business is a tangled web of ‘connections’ and in some cases fraud and organized crime. It’s a business in the cities rife with bikers and others who use the hauling of broken vehicles throughout southern Ontario to, as we read in the media a few years ago, transport drugs and weapons in towed vehicle trunks. I think people may recall the eight-person massacre at Shedden, near London, a few years back, where three of the eight victims were tow truck drivers – all either members or affiliates of a well-known motorcycle gang. At least two Toronto-area towing companies were implicated in the incident.
Some towing operators are involved in fraud rings that inflate auto insurance claims by steering claimants to particular auto body storage and repair shops, health care clinics and legal service providers.
Body shops are paying tow truck drivers extremely well for bringing vehicles to them, and often, under-the-table kickbacks account for 10-15 per cent of a vehicle’s final repair bill. Of course, the more damaged the vehicle, the more lucrative the commission.
It should also be noted however there is also a large number of very professional operators that operate their businesses with honesty and integrity. These businesses operate with repeat business as their main objective and work hard at building a large and loyal clientele. It is also true that the professional operators get caught in the stigma of being part of an industry that carries a very poor reputation due to a “guilty by association” attitude by both the public and the insurance industry. Some tow truck operators in Ontario are convinced there is no future in this industry.

For the honest, hard workers in the towing industry just trying to make a living, Bill 15 has the potential to inflict collateral damage and paint the good, the bad and the ugly with the same brush?