The office of the Consumer Goods and Services Ombudsman (CGSO) says it has received an influx of complaints about towing companies targeting South African drivers.

The complaints relate to allegations of misleading representation to drivers immediately after they are involved in an accident.

Some towing companies seem to take advantage of the state of shock and confusion that a driver experiences just after being involved in an accident, said the Ombudsman, Magauta Mphahlele.

“Some of these companies have refused to cooperate with our office to resolve the complaints and as a result we have referred them to the National Consumer Commission for possible further investigation,” said Mphahlele.

The modus operandi reported to the CGSO states that the towing operator pretends to call the driver’s insurer to confirm authorisation for the specific towing company to tow away the car, or they promise to help with claims and accident assessments.

When the driver later contacts their insurer, they are advised that no authorisation was provided nor was there any call logged to seek authorisation.

It is alleged that the towing company then charges the driver for storage and towing fees which were not previously disclosed, and refuse to release the car if the driver does not pay up.

Drivers have also complained that the towing companies also strip and vandalize the vehicles while it is said that the vehicles are in the “care” of their premises.

Because of the conduct described above, drivers have reported that they are dispossessed of their vehicles when they are not able to settle the exorbitant amounts charged for towing, salvage and storage.

The CGSO advised consumers to use towing companies that are authorized by their insurers or alternatively consider the following guidelines before concluding an agreement with any towing service company:

If you are insured, make sure you understand the benefits of your policy, the claims procedure as well as their guidelines on what to do when involved in an accident;

  •  Make sure to store the contact details of your insurer’s emergency roadside assistance and claims departments;
  • When involved in an accident and if possible, rather contact your insurance provider yourself to report the accident and obtain authorisation;
  • If the tow truck driver claims to have contacted your insurer, ask them to write down the number they called as well as the person they spoke to before you allow your car to be towed;
  • Do not allow your car to be towed unless you have either confirmed that your insurer has given the go-ahead and if not insured that you understand the cost as well as the terms and conditions of the towing contract you are signing;
  • Remember to write down all the details of the towing company that you are using, before they tow your car away. Get the company’s name, driver’s name, tow truck’s registration, address and telephone number;
  • Make sure to read through the documentation that the tow truck driver has given you. Don’t just sign anything until you know what you are signing for. Also make sure that you are authorising them to tow your car away. So, only the driver of the car can sign that document;
  •  Remember to remove all your valuables from your car before it gets towed away. The tow truck company will not be held liable for missing valuables.

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