The head of Ontario's towing association says there are ways consumers can protect themselves from hefty towing bills from tow truck drivers.
The industry isn't regulated on a provincial level. Instead, Ontario municipalities can decide whether or not to license local tow truck operators.
Doug Nelson, executive director of the Provincial Towing Association, said that doesn't go far enough.
The association has been trying to get a self-regulation bill passed by the provincial government, but two versions of the bill that passed first and second readings in 2008 and 2010 never went any further.
"It's something that has to be done," Nelson said in a Skype interview. "It's very serious."
City doesn't regulate towing companies
The City of Ottawa does not regulate local tow truck companies, though city staff are working on a report on the issue.
In Ottawa last month, resident Ahmad Mobarak said he was taken advantage of after a minor crash on the Queensway.
The front of his car sustained only minor damage, he said, but was towed from the scene.
When he went to pick up the car from the impound lot, he was handed a bill for $460.
"I was not given any power over what to do with my car," Mobarak said. "After all it is my property and it was fully driveable, why wasn't I given any solid direction … of what to do next?
"It was humiliating for me. I felt like I was frauded and taken advantage of."
Police have to be able to explain reason for tow
Ontario Provincial Police, who are in charge of patrolling local highways, say clearing crash scenes is a top priority for the safety of motorists coming up behind them.
But OPP Const. Rheal Levac said that if someone wants to know why their vehicle is being towed, OPP officers have to provide an explanation.
Though it's important to note that once a vehicle has been hooked up to a tow truck, its owner has to pay the bill.
"There's no legal authority, there's no law … that limits how much they can charge, so the tow companies can charge what they want," Levac said. "There's no contract with us saying that it can only be a certain amount, and there's no legislation saying that, either."
It's possible to fight bills in court
Nelson agreed that there isn't much consumers can do about the fees, but there is a way to fight the bill if people think it's unfair.
To do that, the owner of the vehicle would have to go to provincial court and pay the court whatever amount the tow truck company is asking for.
Then, under the Repair and Storage Lien Act, the local sheriff has the power to demand the release of the vehicle from the tow truck company, and the vehicle's owner can have their day in court, Nelson said.
One Ottawa man said a tow truck operator asked him for payment for a tow that hadn't even happened.
Don't pay tow truck drivers just for showing up
The operator showed up on Scott Annan's street after being called by the city to remove Annan's vehicle.
The tow truck operator demanded $90 just for showing up. Annan came outside to move the car before the operator hooked it up to the tow truck.
Nelson said that in cases like these, when a vehicle hasn't yet been hooked up, the driver "shouldn't have to pay anything."
Levac also suggests that people should look into the cost of having their car towed after an accident just to have the information for the future.