Canada's Condominium Magazine

Car towed? New Ontario rules could make it a less horrible experience.

Except when they’re needed, the sight of a tow truck is generally not a welcome one to drivers. To be fair, drivers who park their cars in spots that are clearly marked as towaway zones more or less deserve what they get. But, as the man said, let the punishment fit the crime. Stories of drivers whose cars were towed miles away, after which they were charged extortionate fees in the thousands of dollars to get them back, are easy to find on the Internet. It happens in towns and cities all over the country. Towing companies are often described as “pirates,” “predators,” “highway robbers” and much, much worse.

Therefore, it is good news that the Ontario government is at long last taking steps to deal with the problem of disreputable towing companies and their cronies in the vehicle storage business. As of January 1, 2017, new laws will come into effect in Ontario which, the government says, will give consumers new protection. It’s about time.

The most significant change could be the new requirement for towing companies to get the consumer’s permission before towing. (Presumably this will not apply when a driver parks in a designated no-parking zone in rush hour.) In the case of an accident, in which the driver is unable to give permission due to injury, the new rule will require someone to act on the driver’s behalf.

Once the vehicle has been towed, the operator of the storage lot (also known as the pound), must inform the owner in writing within fifteen days. That seems overly generous to the storage people, but at least they can’t charge for more than fifteen days if they fail to notify the owner. They will also be required to notify interested third parties like leasing companies.

When the driver gets the bill, he or she has to pay it before the vehicle is released, but in cases of disputed costs, the courts are an option. A judge can decide whether the storage operator’s costs and profits are reasonable or not.

If the new rules work as intended, surprises in towing and storage bills should be eliminated. Tow and storage operators are henceforth obligated to publish their rates at their place of business and on their website, if they have one. Telephone numbers must be posted on the side of the tow truck and at the place of business. They must also inform the vehicle owner where the vehicle is being taken if they are receiving a financial payment or “incentive” for recommending a particular storage facility or repair shop.

Ontario towing and storage lot operators will no longer be able to demand cash payment after January 1, 2017.

One change to the rules shows just how out of touch the whole towing and storing business has got. From now on, when it comes time for the “customer” to pay the bill—loud applause—these tow and storage operators will no longer be able to insist on cash only! Imagine that. Sixteen years into the twenty-first century and car impounders will finally have to accept that most  twentieth-century mode of payment, the  credit card. Not only that, they will have to give the vehicle owner an itemized bill, listing the services and costs of each. As well, drivers must be allowed to enter the impound lot during business hours in order to access their vehicles.

These changes to the rules, apart from making life a little easier for consumers, could have a larger impact. It has been estimated that insurance fraud, with tow truck operators key participants, costs Ontario drivers $2 billion a year. A provincial task force that looked into the matter estimated that fraud adds $700 to the insurance bill of every driver in the GTA. The new rules fall under Bill 15, the Fighting Fraud and Reducing Automobile Insurance Rates Act.

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