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.

Need towing cover? Get roadside assistance from $7 a month

Name Product Call-outs (Unlimited/4 per year) Joining Fee Fuel Replacement Locksmith States Available
NRMA Roadside Assistance
No joining fee
From $9.99 per month. 24/7, nationwide coverage available.
Budget Direct Roadside Assistance
No joining fee
15% discount on first year's premium when you buy online and use the code SOLVED15 by 30 June 2021. T&Cs apply.

Compare up to 4 providers

Name Product Roadside Assistance Accidental Damage Choice of Repairer Agreed or Market Value
Coles Comprehensive
Agreed or Market
Finder's summary: With Coles comprehensive car insurance, you could earn double flybuys points at Coles supermarkets and you can get $10 off your Coles grocery bill every time you redeem 2,000 Flybuys points. Also, get up to $200 for damaged or stolen groceries.

⭐ Current offer: Get 10% off your first year's premium when you take out a policy online. T&Cs apply.

Who it might be good for: Coles customers and Flybuys collectors.
Virgin Comprehensive
Agreed or Market
Finder's summary: Finalists for the 2019 Finder Awards for Best Value Car Insurance, Virgin Comprehensive provides a good level of cover for a decent price.

⭐ Current offer: Get 15% off on your first year’s premium when you purchase a new eligible comprehensive car insurance online. T&Cs apply.

Who it might be good for: People who'd like to manage their policy online 24/7.
Budget Direct Comprehensive
Agreed or Market
Finder's summary: Awarded the 2019 Finder Award for the Best Value Car Insurance, this policy offers solid coverage at a low cost. Budget Direct's claims service has received a 4.2/5 based on nearly 5,000 customer reviews.

⭐ Current offer: Get 15% discount on first year's premium when you take out a policy online. T&Cs apply.

Who it might be good for: People who want a comprehensive policy without breaking the bank.
Qantas Comprehensive
Agreed or Market
Finder's summary: You'll be able to choose how comprehensive you want your cover to be with optional extras like choice of repairer and the option of agreed or market value.

⭐ Current offer: Earn Qantas Points for joining and paying your premium. Sign up today and earn up to 20,000 Qantas Points (points awarded will be based on your premium). T&Cs and eligibility apply.

Who it might be good for: People who'd like to earn Qantas Points.
Stella Comprehensive
Agreed or Market
Finder's summary: Stella’s a female-focused insurer. It'll cover you if your car is damaged as a result of domestic violence. It offers higher cover for baby gear than most, with up to $2,000 cover for prams, strollers and child seats.

⭐ Current offer: Get $50 cash back when you purchase online until 30 June 2021 using the code STELLA50. T&C apply.

Who it might be good for: Someone who wants a female-centred car insurance policy (it will cover men too).
Huddle Black Comprehensive
Agreed or Market
Finder's summary: Huddle's black comprehensive is its cover with highest limits and exclusive benefits. It includes roadside assistance. You can also get up to $2,000 for emergency travel and accommodation and up to $30 million legal liability cover.

Who it might be good for: Someone who wants a 24/7 claims processing.
PD Comprehensive
Finder's summary: PD comprehensive car insurance policy lets you buy, manage, and start your claims process online. It includes cover for emergency repairs up to $500 and free windscreen chip repair. Ability to customise your extras cover.

⭐ Current offer: New policyholders can enjoy 15% off on their first year's premium. T&Cs apply.

Who it might be good for: Those with low claims history and the only driver.
Youi Comprehensive
Agreed or Market
Finder's summary: Youi Comprehensive Car Insurance is one of the few providers to include roadside assistance in its policy. You'll also get access to YouiRewards which gives you discounts on furniture, parking and more. Youi also has a live chat feature on its site to talk through any questions.

Who it might be good for: People over 25 who want comprehensive cover with a focus on customer service.
Real Comprehensive
Agreed or Market
Finder's summary: Real Comprehensive Car Insurance provides similar coverage to other insurers for the important stuff like looking after your car if it's stolen or you crash. They're also one of the few insurers who offer a Pay As You Drive policy, so you might be able to save big if you don't drive much.

Who it might be good for: Those that don't drive much can take advantage of their Pay As You Drive policy.
Woolworths Comprehensive
Agreed or Market
Finder's summary: Woolworths has some unique perks like a price-beat guarantee where it'll beat any current comparable comprehensive renewal notice if you're over 25. You can also get 10% off your grocery shop once a month and can add roadside assistance onto your policy for just $7.35 per month.

⭐ Current offer: Save up to 15% when you buy online. T&Cs apply.

Who it might be good for: Woolworths shoppers and those that want to take advantage of its price-beat guarantee.

Compare up to 4 providers

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:

StateTowing 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

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