Towers Beware Motorists Wanting Something For Nothing

The National Council on Towing Parity[i] is asking towers to be aware of assisting stranded motorists who insist on beating them down on price during this year’s winter storms.

The NCTP says it’s normal for motorists who don’t plan ahead for these types of emergencies to complain about…even the most reasonable of charges.

As the snow starts to accumulate, motorists are warned to stay home but instead, some choose to brave horrendous road conditions. And many times, what results is they become stuck in the snow and need emergency assistance.

The council warns towers to be aware that there are scammers among these motorists looking to take advantage of towing companies. These people expect lightning-fast service at break-even prices. And wield threats of negative 1-start reviews and reports to the Better Business Bureau as a bludgeon, should you charge what you’re worth.

Some of these less-than-scrupulous folk may even suggest that the Attorney General’s Office might need to get involved if your rates fall outside their unreasonable expected parameters.

“Right at the beginning of a snowstorm, we see misinformed motorists, having no idea as to the expenses towers incur, accusing long-standing, trustworthy business owners of gouging them.” Said Dale Talburt[ii], the Council’s Chairman.

Experts suggest that if you believe you’re being taken advantage of, don’t trek out into the snow, and “…let your trucks sit idle and save your fuel.”

Save Your Fuel Motorists Wanting Something For Nothing

They also suggest that you “know what you’re committing to ahead of time.”  Get a credit card for payment before you head out.  You’ll want to be sure you can recoup minimum expenses if you are forced to drive 15 or 20 miles in whiteout conditions only to find the once-stranded motorist missing, obviously freed by a passerby.  Nothing’s worse than wasting your time and fuel on a “wild goose chase” when there are others in need of your services.

Motorists– who have no knowledge of the varying difficulties and methods of extrication required– will attempt to have you commit to an exact dollar amount when they find themselves in need of your services.  The best course of action is to provide your minimum charges while informing them that the total cost can only be determined once the work is complete.   Let them know that there’s a difference between a tow and a winch.  And extracting a vehicle safely, without unavoidable damages, is not something you take lightly. In fact, there are many facets of the towing business where damage may occur. Take, for example, the difficulty in avoiding damages while retrieving keys from a locked car.

Although most motorists will push back against any attempts at education…and will instead choose to align their thinking with that of the ill-informed media (as they again trash an easy target) …, nevertheless, you should endeavor to persist.

One suggestion is to speak slowly and make comparisons they might understand.  For example, you could say: “Giving you an exact price is like asking a firefighter how much damage he’s going to do before allowing him to respond to a fully engulfed house fire.”

“Or asking a doctor to diagnose and prescribe a cure for your illness over the phone…before he’s even seen you.”  It can’t be done even if you were well-versed and trained in these professions.

Finally, be sure you know your expenses and have the ability to recite them to perfection when put on the spot.  Motorists…having lost any hint of the value of a dollar, will accuse you of “highway robbery,” claiming you’re overcharging them.  When the reality is they have no concept of what it costs to maintain availability throughout the year, let alone service the huge influx of calls you receive during peak snow events.

You could start by explaining that a brand-new tow truck costs in excess of $100,000 and will depreciate quickly–And that your modest fleet of ten requires replacement every 3 to 5 years.  You could mention that new or used, your trucks must be kept in peak condition lest the tow truck operator becomes the one stranded. Explain that repair bills take their toll on your bottom line.

Then talk about the numerous insurance requirements: Umbrellas, Liability, Collision, Cargo, On Hook, Garage Keepers, and Worker’s Compensation.

Be sure to point to your largest expense—Payroll.  Explain that you need to retain trained operators (year-round) so as to maintain availability during peak times…this can eat up as much as 50 % of gross revenues.

Of course, there’s your fuel bill– With diesel-fueled trucks that get 10 miles per gallon, at best.  These costs consume 25% or more of your gross revenue.

And don’t you dare forget to mention your 6500 square foot storage facility on 4 acres.  It’s lighted and on a secured lot with barbed wire-topped 7-foot fencing. It’s located in a prime location so as to be eligible for City contracts and to meet state requirements for responding to law enforcement calls.

Then remind those who question your rates that…you, too…must pay your dues.  You must “Render unto Caesar” licenses, fees, and all manner of taxes. You must give the fruits of your labor to those who have– hands out and– guns ready…demanding you pay.

One by one, they take their turn- City, County, State, and Federal.  They hit you with business licenses, merchant’s licenses, and required annual registration renewals. Of course, there’s also the fact that towing company rate caps are bad and exist in many of these places. So, if towing rate caps hinder your profitability, mention it.

Then Payroll taxes, real estate taxes, and personal property taxes.  And…as if that’s not enough…they want a portion of the money you’re trying to live on as income taxes.

They’ll get their money by any means, even gaming the rules if need be.

If anyone remains through your tirade of facts, you could further explain that you’re also being penalized because you have employees.  The Feds and the State demand you pay a percentage of the dollars paid to employees– to them– out of your pocket. They call it unemployment security, Social Security, and Medicare…but it’s just another way to feed their bloated bureaucracies and justify their existence.

Then after you’ve laid out as much as you think they can stomach, stand back and ask if the pittance you’re asking for the service provided is really so great.

If the answer is still yes, you’ll never get through, so cut your losses and move on.

[i] Established in 1989 as a voice for the Towing Industry throughout the nation, this purely fictional association would represent the thoughts and feelings of thousands of towers if given a chance.

[ii] As one of the original founding members of the National Council on Towing Parity, Dave spends most of his time these days lounging in the mind of the article’s author, Don Archer.