An Ottawa couple was billed more than $4,000 to have their car towed from the scene of a collision, only to have their vehicle held "hostage" until the matter was finally resolved.

Margaret Roberts was involved in a car crash at Baseline Road and Centrepointe Drive around 3 p.m. Wednesday.

By the time her husband George Hollo arrived at the scene, a tow truck from Jonny's Towing was already there. Hollo arranged to have his 2016 Civic towed to Lallier Honda in Gatineau, where he'd leased the car, but he didn't get a written estimate from the tow truck operator.

'In effect, they are holding our car hostage.' - George Hollo 

"All they said is, 'Don't worry about it, the insurance company will pay for it,'" Hollo said. 

When Hollo called the dealership the next day, he got a shock.

"They were asked [by the towing company] for $4287.50 plus tax, plus money for storage," he said. "They weren't willing to sign that because they figured the insurance company wasn't going to pay for it."

The towing company then towed the car away to a lot for storage until the bill was paid.

"In effect, they are holding our car hostage," Hollo told CBC News Friday morning. "There doesn't seem to be any regulations, or doesn't seem to be any sense about what they could charge. Well, it's just unbelievable."

Bill reduced

Jon Kadir, a manager with Jonny's Towing, said his company was dispatched as a subcontractor to do the job for another firm, Big City Towing, which was responsible for the billing. Kadir said Big City Towing paid Jonny's Towing $100 for the tow service. The owner of Big City Towing told CBC he would get to the bottom of the billing issue.

towing bill

The itemized bill sent to Lallier Honda by Big City Towing on March 9, 2017.

Later Friday afternoon, Guy Lamoureux at Lallier Honda Hull confirmed the car was being towed back to the dealership and the bill had been reduced to $1,594.

Lamoureux said the towing company cited a billing error, while Big City Towing said the issue had been sorted out with the insurance company earlier in the day.

The president of the Provincial Towing Association of Ontario said while it's common practice for towing companies to impound vehicles until bills are paid, he can't understand why Hollo's original bill was so high.

"It isn't unusual for that to have happened, but how it gets to [over] $4,000 boggles my mind," Joey Gagne said.

Gagne said a basic tow from a collision scene usually totals approximately $800, depending on the distance and other factors.

New rules for tow truck operators

Under a new provincial law that came into effect Jan. 1, operators are supposed to show potential customers a rate sheet at the collision scene. Gagne said consumers should also get a written quote to avoid a nasty surprise later on.

"The tow truck driver has a lot of responsibility," he said. "The consumers are considered to be vulnerable in this sort of situation because they've been traumatized by having an accident."

Hollo said the tow truck operator neither showed him a rate sheet nor offered him a quote before towing his car.

Gagne said that could be grounds for a complaint with Ontario's Ministry of Government and Consumer Services.

"The Consumer Protection Act related to tow trucks is very clear that you have to make it clear to the consumer what they're in for for the rates," Gagne said.

Gagne said his association has held several meetings across the province to educate members about the new rules, but he'd like to see the province do more to educate the public