What to do if your car needs towing after an accident

It's easy to pick the first tower you see. But give it a bit more thought, or else you might get dragged into a bad deal.

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After an accident, the last thing you want to deal with is all the administration that goes along with it: exchanging details, calling up the police and figuring out where your insurance leaves you in all of this. But after taking care of yourself and anyone else involved in the crash, you need to take equal care of your car.

There are plenty of bad towers out there who will pounce on an accident as a chance to make some quick cash out of unsuspecting victims. In some states, companies will pay a "spotter's fee" for people to report a crash to them so they get in first. Read on to find out what you need to know to avoid getting taken in.

What should I do when I need a tow following an accident?

It's hard to keep your wits about you when you've just been involved in a harrowing crash on the road. But if your car is damaged enough that it can't go anywhere by itself, chances are you'll need a tow to get it off the road and have it seen to. To avoid the potentially predatory practices of questionable tow truck operators, here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Contact your insurer. Before agreeing to anything, call up your insurer and find out what they actually cover. Towing costs may not be covered by your policy. Either way, your insurer may be able to arrange a tow for you with somebody they trust.
  • Ensure the tow service isn't dodgy. Just because they were the first to show up on the scene doesn't mean they're what you need. Depending on what state you're in, there may be particular identifiers of legitimate businesses. For example, in NSW, all licensed tow trucks will have "TT" as the last two characters on their registration.
  • Know what you're signing. The only thing you should ever sign from a tow company is a standard towing authority form. Double check the fine print! If the form looks more like a contract or some kind of pamphlet, don't sign it. You have the right to contact anyone you need to before agreeing to the service to make sure it's legitimate. It shouldn't ask anything more than details about the car and contact information. Keep a copy of whatever you sign.
  • Know where your car is going. Make sure you know who is towing your vehicle and the address where it will end up. This will help prevent it being "carnapped" by an unscrupulous provider.
  • Empty your car of valuables. If you're able to, remove anything of value from your vehicle. It's very easy to rob things from a wrecked car hooked on the back of a tow truck or stored inside a yard.

Where should I have my car towed?

When getting a tow, you decide where it will end up, unless the police request to have it taken in. You can usually pick between a few locations, including your own home, a mechanic's workshop and the towing company's holding yards.

Be careful when having it taken to the towing yard. Depending on your state, you might have somewhere around 2 days before you start accruing expensive storage costs of $40-$60 a day. If there are any delays in dealing with your insurer or arranging repairs, these storage costs can add up real quick.

If you're ever unsure and it's practical to do so, have it taken to your own home. Assuming you have somewhere to put it, you won't have to worry about any extra storage fees when it's sitting in your garage or driveway. However, keep in mind that you may have to arrange for a second tow in order to get it repaired.

Towing regulations in different states

The rules around towing differ depending on where you are in Australia. Some places are highly regulated and some have barely any rules at all. Here's the geographical breakdown:

State Towing Regulations
  • Fees are regulated
  • Contact anyone you need to before signing an authority form
  • Decide who tows your vehicle and where
  • Tow truck drivers must have an accredited towing certificate and accident towing vehicles will have a registration plate with four numbers followed by TT, for example "0357-TT"
  • Tower must provide a complete quote of all fees and charges
  • The regions of Melbourne, Geelong and the Mornington Peninsula have a crash allocation system – tow trucks are assigned to particular accidents
  • There are regulated fees in Melbourne and the Mornington Peninsula
  • Standard towing authority forms
  • Decide where your vehicle is towed
  • Accident towing vehicles will have "TOW" in their registration
  • Neither fees nor accident towing practices are regulated
  • A tow roster system operates throughout the state
  • There are regulated fees and practices in urban and densely populated regions; this might not be the case elsewhere
  • Fees are capped at a fixed maximum for the first 50km of towing, with the price including 60 minutes of on-the-scene work preparing the vehicle
  • Free storage at the yard for the first 72 hours
  • Tow truck drivers must have an accredited towing certificate
  • No fee regulation
  • Darwin has a crash allocation system; elsewhere you'll have to arrange your own tow
  • Standard towing authority forms
  • Tow truck operators must disclose the towing fee before towing your vehicle
  • Fee negotiation is allowed
  • No fee regulation
  • Companies pay "spotter's fees" to ensure they get there first
  • Long history of dodgy practices
  • Standard towing authority forms
  • Never sign anything that doesn't show the total cost of the service
  • Fees are regulated
  • Crash allocation system in Adelaide; organise it yourself elsewhere
  • Standard towing authority forms
  • Decide where your vehicle is towed
  • Must settle any outstanding fees before you can pick up your car
  • Neither fees nor towing practices are regulated
  • Arrange your own tow or have the police arrange it
  • A towing roster exists in the territory

Consider adding roadside assistance to your policy

Name Product Roadside Assistance Accidental Damage Choice of Repairer Agreed or Market Value
Coles Comprehensive
Agreed or Market
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Budget Direct Comprehensive
Agreed or Market
Buy online and save 15%.
Youi Comprehensive
Agreed or Market
Emergency roadside assistance included in Comprehensive policies.
Real Comprehensive
Save up to 10% when you buy online.
Virgin Comprehensive
Save 15% when purchasing online. Plus earn 5,000 Velocity Points when purchasing a new eligible policy by 29 April 2020. T&Cs apply.
Woolworths Comprehensive
Agreed or Market
Buy online and save up to 15%. Price-beat guarantee for drivers aged over 25. T&Cs apply.

Compare up to 4 providers

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