It’s something that happens to most of us at some point in our driving career: getting stranded at the side of a road with a broken-down vehicle. Whether it’s due to an accident or mechanical failure, it can be a stressful and unpleasant experience. Ernest North, co-founder of Naked, the fully digital insurance platform, says that in addition to your physical safety, your immediate priority should be to get assistance on site or to arrange for your car to be moved to a safe place until it can be repaired. So what should you do if your car needs to be towed?
“If you’re insured, there’s a good chance your insurance company will offer a free towing service from a selection of authorised providers as part of your cover,” adds North. “You can usually phone the insurance provider’s call centre for help or connect to their emergency assistance from the app.”
North offers some advice about what to do if you need your vehicle to be towed.
If your car has a mechanical or electrical breakdown
Having access to 24/7 emergency assistance is one of the benefits of having comprehensive car insurance. The emergency benefit usually covers sending somebody out to come take a look and help you (e.g. with a jump start or a litre of petrol), and possibly tow you to the nearest repair centre or panel beater. It is, however, important to check what your insurance provider’s policy is when it comes to breakdowns due to mechanical faults. Most policies will have a cap on what they will cover – either the cost of the tow (e.g. R500) or the number of kilometres per tow (e.g. 25km). If your car is under warranty, you can contact your car manufacturer and they should send a tow truck driver out to you. Insurers usually don’t cover the costs of repairs or replacements when it comes to mechanical issues.
Following an accident
If you cannot drive your car following an accident, contact your insurer via its app or call its toll-free 24/7 emergency assist line immediately for assistance. They should arrange a tow truck to fetch your car as soon as they have all the details. The call centre agent will provide you with the tow truck’s details and expected time of arrival. “Even if you can start your car, it’s usually wise to avoid additional damage and to rather arrange for a tow if you can pick up any internal or external damage after a crash,” says North.
Your rights in dealing with tow truck companies
Tow truck drivers are not allowed to tow your car without your permission, usually given by signing a form. Before you sign, ensure the tow truck driver is from your insurer. The only way to be sure that your car won’t end up in the wrong hands, is to contact your insurer and to arrange the tow with them directly. However, if you get badly hurt in the accident, there’s a good chance your car will be removed by the first tow truck driver that arrives on the scene.
For that reason, it’s a good idea to put a sticker from your insurance provider on your car. Perhaps someone will help by contacting your insurer and arranging for one of its approved tow truck services to help. Alternatively, the tow truck driver should phone your insurer and let them know. If the tow truck driver doesn’t have your details or those of your insurer, it will usually trace the owner of the car through eNatis.
If your car is towed without your permission
When your car was towed without your permission, it’s important to not pay any tow truck services directly. Rather contact your insurer and let them deal with it. It’s best to phone your insurer yourself if you are able to. If a tow truck driver demands payment for the tow, ask for an invoice showing the cost of the tow and location of the car and pass it to your insurer to sort. But remember, there may be a limit to what your insurer pays if you don’t use the appointed service provider.
Do I arrange towing for others involved in the accident?
North’s advice is to let the third parties take care of their own towing arrangement. Before you leave the scene of the accident, be sure to get the details (names, car registration, contact details, insurance information) from other drivers involved in the accident as well as contact details from any eyewitnesses. Do not offer to pay for the third party’s tow, since it could be interpreted as accepting liability. That will make it harder for your insurer to fight in your corner.
Also take a look at how to find the best car insurance for your needs.