Here at Bemac we’ve been concerned about rogue towing companies for many years now. These operators use high-pressure tactics at accident scenes to get shellshocked drivers to give up their cars. Once these towers have the car, it’s generally taken to specific repair shops in exchange for a kickback.
The repair shops often don’t review repairs needed and costs in advance with the owners. Once the work is done the owner is faced with a bill they didn’t agree to with ridiculously high prices. When the owner objects and won’t pay, the shops hold cars hostage.
Now it looks like there are finally some new regulations to help protect you. The Repair and Storage Liens Act (RSLA) introduced some of the changes as of July 1, 2016. There will be more rules to come under the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) January 1, 2017.
Car Storage and Lien Protection
Here’s an overview of the new rules that are now in effect. They apply to situations where your car is in storage on a lot, and the repair company has placed a lien on the car. A lien is a legal right to keep your property until you pay any money owed. The rules are:
- The company has to give written notice to the owner within 15 days if a car is subject to a lien (and the car is registered in Ontario).
- They can inform you by email, fax, or delivered by registered mail or courier.
- Courts may now intervene if no amount has been agreed on by the owner and the storer/repair shop.
These rules should help prevent unfair liens going forward.
Predatory Towing and Repair Practices Protection
Starting January 1 2017, these additional rules will take effect under the CPA:
- A tower will have to get permission before hooking up your car and providing towing services. The permission must come from the owner or someone acting on their behalf (if, for example, the owner has been put in an ambulance and are no longer on the scene). This will put a stop to the practice of towers just hooking up the car without any kind of agreement in place. Not only that, the tower will have to record the contact information of the person giving permission.
- Towers will need to disclose in advance where they plan to take the vehicle and provide the information in writing. They are not allowed to recommend any specific provider unless asked, and if they are paid for their recommendation they have to tell you.
- Storage facilities will be required to give access to the vehicle so the owner (or someone acting on their behalf) can remove personal belongings. As long as it’s 8 AM – 5 PM on business days, they will have to let you in. They cannot charge for this access.
- Towers will have to explain the rates and fees in advance, and provide them in writing on request.
- Before demanding or accepting payment, repair facilities must provide an itemized invoice.
- They must now accept credit card payments if that’s how the owner wants to pay. Some insist on cash only.
- Towers will also need to maintain insurance and keep at least 3 years’ worth of records.
At Bemac these rules make sense to us – they pretty much sum up how we think the towing and repair business should be done. We believe in full disclosure every step of the way, and we think it’s about time consumers got more protection from these predatory practices.