Toronto man out $800 after he says tow truck driver promised CAA would cover cost

A Scarborough man is out $800 after trusting a tow truck driver who reassured him CAA would reimburse him for towing his pickup truck.

Tow truck driver allegedly told David Beeson he had to tow his pickup truck for safety reasons

David Beeson was taking his daughter to soccer practice in Mississauga when his truck broke down near Carlingview Drive on Highway 401. (CBC)

A Scarborough man says he is out $800 after trusting a tow truck driver who reassured him that his insurance would reimburse him for towing his pickup truck.

David Beeson's pickup truck broke down on the side of Highway 401 in Etobicoke on Aug. 10. He says the first tow truck driver who pulled up told him that he had a legal obligation to tow the vehicle for safety reasons — and that his insurance through the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) would cover the cost.

But Beeson has since found out that neither of those things were true.

CAA told the Scarborough man that they didn't have an agreement with the towing company, which meant they wouldn't reimburse him. And police told CBC Toronto that a tow truck driver has no legal authority to remove a vehicle unless they're directed to do so by an officer.

"He was just preying on the fact that I don't know what's going on. I don't know the law ... it's his world," Beeson told CBC Toronto about the driver.
The first two truck driver on scene of David Beeson's breakdown told Beeson he had to tow him for safety reasons. (David Beeson)

"It was just one panic threat after another. 'Oh it's not safe here, you're going to get in trouble. I'm a first responder, this is what I do — I have to take you.'"

A licence plate search revealed that the tow truck belongs to Pro Painting & Towing Inc., which also operates under the name Dynamic Towing. The company is licensed to tow in Mississauga — but not in Toronto where Beeson broke down.

It was just one panic threat after another. 'Oh it's not safe here, you're going to get in trouble.'- David Beeson

George Habib is the sole director of Pro Painting & Towing. CBC Toronto spoke to a man who initially identified himself as Habib and then later said, "George is not interested in speaking" about Beeson's allegations.

Beeson had been taking his daughter to her softball game in Mississauga when his truck broke down just before Carlingview Drive in the westbound lane of Highway 401.

He says he immediately called CAA and was told a tow truck was on the way. But while Beeson was waiting, he says that a different towing company arrived.

That's when Beeson says the tow truck driver told him that he was legally obligated to tow the vehicle — and that since Beeson had already called CAA, he would be reimbursed through his coverage.

"My truck's broken down, you know I've got this guy yelling at me. It's extremely loud on the highway. Traffic, cars are going by, so I'm like, 'Yeah, okay fine, take me,'" said Beeson, who works for CBC in a non-editorial position. 
CBC Toronto reached George Habib, the sole director of Pro Painting & Towing, by phone and he said he was not interested in speaking. (David Beeson)

Once in the tow truck cab, Beeson says he received a call from the driver of the truck sent by CAA. He answered the phone, but says that the Pro Painting & Towing driver took the phone from him.

"He starts getting into an argument with the CAA driver, he's telling me, you know, that I'm already into him $450, if he drops my truck I'm going to have to pay CAA a whole other fee because I've only got the basic coverage."

Beeson says the Pro Painting & Towing truck drove him to his home in Scarborough and then started drawing up the bill. After all his calculations, Beeson says the driver told him he owed $808.51 and the company only accepts cash. 

A drive to a bank machine later, Beeson paid the driver and then got on the phone with a manager at CAA. He says the manager was apologetic, but told him that they couldn't reimburse anything. 

A spokesperson with CAA told CBC Toronto that they are investigating, but it sounds like "this is a situation where a tow truck has taken advantage of someone who is vulnerable [and] in need of service."

In this particular case, CAA manager Elliott Silverstein says the tow truck driver was not authorized to take the call by CAA.

"In these circumstances we always encourage people to double check if necessary," said Silverstein.

Towing companies can't demand cash

Consumer protection laws also come into play when dealing with towing companies. Silverstein told CBC Toronto that if a consumer is being solicited on the side of the road the driver must provide them with a towing authorization form.

"You fill out a form in advance agreeing to where the location is going to be, what the price will be according to the municipal standards and that you can pay by credit card," said Silverstein.

"So if you're not getting those authorization forms in place when someone's soliciting on the road, they're already breaking the law."
OPP Sgt. Kerry Schmidt told CBC Toronto tow truck drivers don't have the authority to decide they have to remove a vehicle from a highway due to safety concerns. (CBC)

Consumers have the right to choose their own towing company under most circumstances, including Beeson's, according to police.

OPP Sgt. Kerry Schmidt told CBC Toronto tow truck drivers have neither the right nor the authority to decide to remove a vehicle from a highway due to safety concerns.

Only police can do so.

In some situations an officer will call for the first available tow when there's been a collision or a vehicle has broken down in a dangerous part of a roadway, Schmidt says.

Towing rates registered with municipalities

Private towing companies are required to register their service rates with the municipality in which they're licensed.

CBC Toronto checked what rates Pro Painting & Towing has registered with the City of Mississauga and was told that the rate for a basic tow is listed as $150, hookup on a roadway is listed at $150 and using dollies costs $100. The Mississauga bylaw caps general mileage charges at $3.10 per kilometre.
David Beeson's bill cost him a total of $808.51 instead of $582.90 per Pro Painting & Towing's registered rates and the Mississauga by-law. (David Beeson)

Beeson's towing invoice lists "hookup and dollies" in the work description costs. He was charged $450, however, instead of the maximum $400.  

The mileage charges are then added to that, but the towing invoice shows that Beeson was charged $4.50 per kilometre — rather than the city's mandated rate of $3.10.

That meant Beeson paid a total of $808.51, instead of $582.90, which is what would match Pro Painting & Towing's registered rates and the Mississauga bylaw.

"Any time you are getting your vehicle removed from the highway be very certain what you're paying, and what you're signing," Schmidt told CBC Toronto. "There have been stories in the past when drivers have been on the hook for thousands of dollars when that was not their wishes."

Take complaints to the city

The City of Mississauga told CBC Toronto that if consumers have complaints about a towing service they should contact the city where the company is registered because they control their licensing.

But if you're out on the road and don't know what to do, Silverstein says "the real lesson here is, as convincing as a tow truck driver may be, if you haven't ordered it, don't take it."


Have a news tip? Nicole Brockbank can be reached at 416-205-6911 or at nicole.brockbank@cbc.ca.

About the Author

Nicole Brockbank

Reporter, CBC Toronto

Nicole Brockbank is a reporter for CBC Toronto's Enterprise Unit. Fuelled by coffee, she digs up, researches and writes original investigative and feature stories. nicole.brockbank@cbc.ca