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Seven ways to protect your trucks from predatory towing

Feb. 7, 2024
Fleets can protect themselves from predatory towing both by being aware of the legalese in place to help them and by following these seven steps.

When a fleet receives an invoice for a truck tow service, there is a good chance it’s excessive. Nearly 80% of fleet companies have received an excessive invoice for a tow service, according to a recent study from the American Transportation Research Institute. While interested parties are working to enact legislation to regulate the cost of tow services, there are steps fleets can take today to avoid becoming victims.  

What’s being done to combat predatory towing 

More jurisdictions across the U.S. are implementing legislation to end predatory towing practices for passenger vehicles, and those in the trucking and fleet industry are hoping for the same protections. 

“Many jurisdictions regulate passenger vehicle tows, but they fail to take up this same issue with medium- and heavy-duty trucks,” Louis Campion, president and CEO of Maryland Motor Truck Association, said of his experience working with Maryland legislators. 

In Maryland, MMTA and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association fought the practice of predatory towing by urging the state legislature to give truck owners and truck drivers a choice in which company provided the tow service. Previously, Maryland did not allow fleets and drivers to use their preferred tow company, which put these fleets at risk of excessive invoices. 

With the joint efforts of MMTA and OOIDA, along with the backing of the Maryland Retail Federation and an insurance association, Maryland passed legislation last year to protect truck drivers and fleets from predatory towing practices, with additional protections in the works.  

But not all states have those protections in place. 

Ways to protect your trucks from predatory towing 

Every fleet will need to have a truck towed at some point. Fleets operating in states that don’t have predatory towing protections can still protect themselves from falling victim to these greedy practices. 

Renee Bowen, a Maryland attorney and Trucking Industry Defense Association member, outlined steps fleets can take—both preemptive and remedial—to guard against predatory tow companies. 

Prepare your drivers before they need a tow 

First, have company-wide policies and procedures in place for incident response to ensure your drivers, equipment, and cargo aren’t at the mercy of a predatory tow company. 

Having steps in place is important, because in the event of a police-initiated tow, “time is critical,” Bowen said. After all, the longer a tow company is holding a vehicle or cargo hostage, the more storage charges will be added to the invoice. 

See also: How to spot and evade predatory towing practices

Build relationship with upstanding tow companies

Next, fleets should establish partner relationships with trustworthy towing companies in the areas they operate. This can help prevent an excessive invoice from ever crossing their desk. 

Even in the event of a police-initiated tow, Bowen said many jurisdictions require police to allow trucking companies to use their preferred tow company if they can arrive on the scene within a certain timeframe. 

Join your local trucking association

The final preemptive step to prevent an excessive invoice is for fleets to join state and other local trucking associations where they operate. These associations can be a resource for trucking companies that need a referral for a trusted tow company in an area where a relationship has yet to be established. 

Remedial steps to take after a tow

If a tow occurs where no tow company relationship is established and no trucking association-recommended tow company is available, protecting your fleet from predatory towing begins with the driver. 

“The driver is your first line of defense,” Gene Funk, VP of safety and general counsel at Cowan Systems, a Maryland-based trucking company, said, hearkening back to Bowen’s suggestion of having procedures and policies in place in the event of a tow. “Train the driver to report accidents ... to headquarters immediately. We always ask to speak with law enforcement on the scene when they get there so that we can confirm the facts of what happened.” 

Train drivers to take photos of the scene

Additionally, drivers should take pictures of the scene in detail, Funk suggested.  

“Photograph the scene, photograph the equipment, see how many people are on the scene, make a note of the time that they actually come and the time that they leave, and photograph recovery activities,” Funk stated. “All that information will help you confirm what you, later on, see on the invoice that you get.” 

It’s also worth equipping drivers with a smartphone or tablet to take photos. Photos taken with a smartphone or tablet are timestamped, which can help make a case when disputing what equipment was used and for how long as well as the total amount of time the tow operator was at the scene, Bowen said.  

Don’t sign paperwork at the scene

Further, drivers should be trained not to sign anything from the towing company while on the scene. 

“Do not sign any consent to tow or similar documentation, and you need to specifically instruct your drivers as to that and your owner-operators if you're using them,” Bowen explained. 

Formally demand equipment and cargo be returned

Bowen also suggested that drivers or fleet owners “immediately” demand—in writing—the return of their equipment and cargo. This will benefit fleets with towing events in jurisdictions with regulations that prevent towing companies from incurring storage charges if a fleet has requested a release of its property after offering to pay a “reasonable amount” for the tow services. 

At the very least, fleets should demand the release of their cargo, “regardless of whether or not (the tow company) might arguably be able to hold the vehicle,” Bowen said, “because in most jurisdictions, it is a violation of the law to continue to hold cargo.” 

If a tow company refuses to release the cargo, the fleet is within its rights to place the responsibility of the cargo’s handling on the towing company, according to Bowen. This allows the fleet to receive compensation for damages resulting from the loss of the cargo if it is mishandled while in the possession of the tow company. 

Formally object to excessive charges

Finally, if an excessive invoice is received, formally object to the excessive charges in writing. “Make it known that, ‘Hey, this is unreasonable, we're not paying that,’” Bowen suggested. 

See also: Predatory towing: How to protect your fleet

In addition to these steps, both Bowen and Funk suggested fleets “make as much noise” as they can when protecting their rights, exposing predatory behaviors, and enlisting change. 

“You want to complain to the law enforcement agency. You want to complain to the attorney general,” Bowen said. “You want to make sure you can get as many people involved as you can to help enforce your rights.” 


This article was originally published on FleetOwner.com.

About the Author

Jade Brasher

Senior Editor Jade Brasher has covered vocational trucking and fleets for the past five years. A graduate of The University of Alabama with a degree in journalism, Jade enjoys telling stories about the people behind the wheel and the intricate processes of the ever-evolving trucking industry.