In 2014, during the time I owned and operated my towing business, I wrote a couple of articles on my own website and created a short video on my own YouTube channel, which offered my opinion of AutoReturn’s San Francisco-based business model. I was not a fan.
In the town where I operated, we worked for every law enforcement agency around, doing both consensual and non-consensual tows. And our tow rates were not dictated by any outside interests.
We were not hamstrung by the city council, law enforcement, or any third-party interests. We were able to set our own rates (in line with what the market would bear.) We could collect storage, and…we were able to apply for title and dispose of abandoned vehicles should the vehicle owners fail to pay the charges.
In short, we had a good working relationship with law enforcement and were able to make a decent profit. And as my good friend, Luis Chacon, once said, “Profit is the power to serve.”
I then learned about a company that provided Third Party Police Dispatching services for the city of San Francisco, AutoReturn. From the information I was provided by reputable sources who were contracted with AutoReturn at the time, I learned that the conditions I enjoyed in my city were not the same for the towers in San Francisco. Of course, I did not want that business model in my town, and I suspected that other towers across the nation wouldn’t either. So, I decided to create the video and write the articles.
Fast-forward a couple of years to; late 2016 & early 2017, I’ve sold my towing business and am now employed by American Towman Magazine. I’m writing articles for both the print version and the online version of Tow Industry Week. I’m putting on seminars at the tow shows, and I’m exhibiting my company, The Tow Academy, on the showroom floors. Everything is going great.
One of American Towman Magazine’s advertisers was AutoReturn. But that wasn’t a big deal, in my mind at least, because I wasn’t offering my opinion of their San Francisco business model in the magazine. Remember, what I’d written about them was on my own platform.
I knew better anyway. I was fairly certain that if I did turn in a piece with scathing remarks about the company, it would only end up on the editing room floor, and it might cost me my job.
The static began when John Borowski, once also a staunch opponent of AutoReturn’s business model, now Vice President of Tow Industry Programs at AutoReturn, approached me at a tow show and attempted to sway me to his way of thinking. He believed that AutoReturn was exactly what the towing industry needed. Well, as many of you may know already, buying a tow truck at a tow show is not necessarily a good idea, and neither is signing up for companies that don’t have your company’s best interests in mind.
I graciously listened to what John had to say but was not convinced. My opinion stood firm. I believed that AutoReturn and other Third-Party Police Dispatching companies are not good for our industry.
Then, over the course of about nine months or so, I began receiving phone calls, not only from Mr. Borwoski but also from American Towman Magazine owner Steve Calitri. Both were asking that I take down the video and articles.
On February 13, 2017, Mr. Borowski sent me an email with the subject line; False Info. He was accusing me of spreading lies about AutoReturn. I refuted each accusation made, line-by-line, in a subsequent email. My response was sent to both Mr. Borowski and Mr. Calitri (from which I’ve yet to receive their response.)
And, again, I was pursued at the tow shows; Mr. Borowski would pull me aside and implore me to take down what I’d written, all the while accusing me of lying and providing misleading information.
So, finally, in the spring of 2017, I’d had enough. I’m sorry to say that with the pressure applied by both Mr. Borowski and Mr. Calitri, I gave in and took down the video and the articles, but with one stipulation.
In a phone conversation with American Towman Magazine owner Steve Calitri, I offered to take down my stuff if he would provide me with the contact information of some of the tow company owners currently working for AutoReturn. He agreed to the terms.
Here’s why I wanted the contacts.
A few of the claims leveled against me by the pair were that I hadn’t done proper research and that I was only using information garnered from disgruntled tow company owners. So, in order to provide a more well-rounded approach to the subject, I suggested that I use their sources and write a more objective article. But this never happened. Months went by, and I was never provided the names and numbers I’d asked for.
And life went on, I held no animosity toward either Mr. Borowski or Mr. Calitri. I continued to work for American Towman, and everything seemed fine.
Then, a few months later, on August 16, 2017, as I was landing in Dallas for the Dallas Tow Show, where I was slated to put on a couple of seminars, I received an email from one of AutoReturn’s attorneys. It was a “Cease and Desist Letter” demanding that I stop making false and defamatory statements about AutoReturn.
The Letter Stated:
“…We have evidence indicating that you have made false and defamatory statements concerning our client. In particular, you posted a YouTube video entitled “Tow Truck Operators Beware AutoReturn” in which you falsely indicated, among other false and defamatory representations, (1) that tow truck companies are forced to “work for” AutoReturn, (2) that AutoReturn retains title of towed vehicles, and (3) that AutoReturn keeps half of the revenue from each tow. You also called AutoReturn “parasites.””
They were threatening to take legal action if I didn’t take down the video and articles.
Well, as I said, I’d already taken my stuff down a few months earlier, so I wasn’t too concerned with the notice. I let it go for the time being and went to work.
Then on the last day of the Dallas Tow Show, as I was manning our Tow Academy booth on the exhibit hall floor, I was approached by a man who wanted my home address. (He will remain anonymous here so as not to muddy the waters much more.) The reason for the strange request, he said, was something having to do with his boss working only with people who are close, geographically, to his business. I was somewhat confused, I live in Missouri, and his boss, Bill, he told me, is based in Massachusetts. But I gave it to him anyway.
Then as I was taking a break and walking the showroom floor, I noticed that the anonymous guy who had requested my home address was manning his own booth, and it was located across the aisle from AutoReturn’s booth.
I put 2 and 2 together and began to suspect that this individual had requested my home address under false pretenses. My suspicions were later confirmed when John Borowski admitted that he’d sent him over to get my address.
Well, as you might imagine, I was a bit concerned. Why did AutoReturn want my home address? My wife and daughter were home alone at the time, and I was more than 500 miles away. I knew I was a thorn in their side, but I had no idea what this company was capable of.
The Answer Provided: AutoReturn just wanted to send me a certified copy of the Cease and Desist letter I’d already received.
Then Mr. Borowski and another AutoReturn representative began demanding that I take down the articles and video. When I told them that I’d already done so, I was told that I missed one. And they were right. I’d forgotten one article.
In my defense, the article in question was actually slanted more toward my disbelief that American Towman Magazine would allow AutoReturn to present at the 2014 Las Vegas Tow Show. It was one of those inviting a fox into the hen house sort of things to me, and it had to be said.
From that point on, the discussion became heated and turned into what each side believed was best for the towers, AutoReturn & 3rd Party Police Dispatching, or the type of relationship I enjoyed while I owned my towing business. Neither side was convinced of the other’s position, and it ended with threats of a lawsuit if I did not comply.
But that wasn’t the end of it.
When I arrived back home, I received a phone call from the owner of American Towman Magazine, Mr. Calitri. The first question he asked was, “Don, what are you doing to yourself?” Right off the bat, I could tell he believed I was the problem.
But I didn’t give up on him.
I wanted Mr. Calitri to understand that AutoReturn’s San Francisco-based business model wasn’t good for the industry. But try as I might, through more than a month of phone calls and exchanging emails, he was not convinced. He called me a crusader and again accused me of putting out misinformation. Then he began labeling my opinions as purely emotional, without reason.
In my opinion, the exchange deteriorated into what I can only describe as an attempt to marginalize me further. Pushing my opinions to the fringe.
So that was it. I decided that if working for American Towman Magazine meant that I could no longer have a dissenting opinion or enjoy my first amendment right to freedom of speech, then I’d have to cut ties. And that’s what I did.
That is why I no longer write for American Towman Magazine. There’s much to be said about opportunity cost and the cost of doing business with less-than-scrupulous people.
To be clear, I am not suggesting that American Towman Magazine hasn’t done a lot of good for the towing industry; it has. There are very few tow company advocates out there. But in my humble opinion, they are placing the interests of their advertisers above the interests of the tow company owners. Of course, that is their right, but I think many are seeing through the deception.
I hope that clears up the confusion.
I would love to hear your opinion on Third Party Police Dispatching companies. Love them or hate them, it doesn’t matter. All opinions are welcome here.
Did you ever show Mr. Calitri the Pennsylvania hearing video. My opinion on it is that when you get caught lying to a legislative unit, all credibility is destroyed.
Executive Director PTROI
I have always enjoyed your articles, they were written from a tower’s heart. American Towman magazine has lost a lot of credibility with the towing community because of their continued support of AutoReturn. I had the “privilege” of listening to John’s new spin on AutoReturn and call it what you will, it is NOT good for the industry. The fact that you stayed true to your convictions speaks volumes to your character as opposed to those who change their minds based on what it profits them.
Thanks Gwen, what you’ve said here means a lot. Third-party police dispatching “solutions,” in my opinion, have the potential to harm every party involved, except the company providing the “solutions.” What they’re doing is enabling cities to be irresponsible, while capitalizing on the same fear-mongering the motor clubs have used to steer motorists toward their offerings. And when this truth is swept under the rug, as we’ve seen an attempt here, the fear is that the main stream of the industry will slowly come to accept them as normal. They’ll be a pain in the ass, just like the motor clubs, but accepted none the less. Thanks again
There is an interesting similarity between the repossession forwarding companies and AutoReturn. Some might say the forwarding companies have destroyed all means of profit for the agency owner.
Mark, it seems everyone wants a piece of the tow company owner’s pie. Motor Clubs, 3rd Party Police Dispatching Companies, Repossession Forwarding Companies, and even Municipalities. If you have the time, I would be open to a guest post here on our site. Thanks
A third party police dispatching company is pitching their services in Utah at this time. I have been in the Towing business for 33 years now and have always resented 3rd party companies trying to get between small towers and their customers. Wish us luck as we attempt to fight this off
Utah Professional Towing Alliance
Steve, sorry to hear you’re having this trouble.
When a city or state entrusts a 3rd party police dispatching company to summon tow trucks during traffic accidents, I believe it’s an abdication of their responsibility to the people they’ve been entrusted to serve and protect, the traveling public. Besides the obvious logistics challenges, there’s no way a dispatcher located in another state can have a good grasp of the area. Traffic congestion, weather conditions, construction, and road-work are all necessary components of effective police dispatching. Think about the disconnect that would exist if the weather was sunny and warm where the remote dispatching company was located, while in the city they’re dispatching; they’re getting 8 inches of snow.
And, for heaven’s sake, who’s bright idea was it to charge the towing company for providing services. What other service businesses are required to pay a fee in order to provide services? Trash companies aren’t required to pay a 3rd party in order to pick up trash; cleaning companies aren’t required to pay a 3rd party to clean an office or a house. In no other private sector service business, are you required to pay a 3rd party in order to provide services. If anyone should pay, it should be the city or state. Where are the tax dollars that were going towards dispatching before the 3rd party became involved?
In my opinion, this is just another cash-grab business model that goes like this.
1. Blow a problem out of proportion
2. Develop a solution to the problem
3. Stir the pot. Agitate the problem further
4. Offer a solution
5. Place the burden on the towers
6. And, who knows, maybe even split the money pilfered from the towers with the city or state. (I don’t know if this goes on, but would sure like to know.)
I have a YouTube channel in which I have been very vocal about motorclubs. They have threatened me, I have been put on banned lists, I have even been offered money to take down videos. I applaud you for standing up for whats right. Auto return is a company I have been working on covering. These 3rd party companies are destroying our industry!!!!
I would love to hear from you.
On-Site Towing and Recovery
Thank you for contacting me. I have watched a few of your videos (Good Job), and I feel your pain. Unfortunately, as long as there are tow company owners who are willing to accept less than what they are worth, there’s going to be motor clubs taking advantage.
And, yes, the 3rd party police dispatching companies are chipping away at one of the last bastions of profitability towers have. But, rather than attempting to rally towers to join some sort of cause, or unionize, my goal now is focused on helping towers get more cash-paying customers.
And, I’ll admit, it’s an uphill battle, as many tow company owners still believe that every motorist has a roadside assistance plan. But, it’s simply not the case. Of the motorists who do have a roadside assistance plan, many have experienced extended wait-times. Which means, next time, they’ll probably go another route. Rather than waiting 3 hours for a motor club dispatcher to find the cheapest provider, motorists are choosing instead to use Google to find a tow truck.
I’m sorry to hear some of the clubs have banned you. It sounds like you’ve stirred up quite the hornet’s nest. But I’m sure you’ll overcome it, as you seem quite resourceful. Keep in touch; maybe we could collaborate on something.
Thanks and Good Luck
I agree with you wholeheartedly!!!! AutoReturn is no damn good!!! They keep trying to get into the Pa State Police Towing situation I’m just a small operation in N.E. PA. But watched the hearing that was held in Harrisburg Pa. with regard to Auto Return trying to get in !!
All it does is create an unnecessary 3rd party and it will end up costing the customers more money than they already can’t afford in most cases!!!! Battins Body Shop Towing and Recovery, Dushore, PA.
Thanks for commenting. Third-party police dispatching companies are not good for towing businesses, or the general traveling public. I hope that you have voiced your concerns about increased costs to the traveling public, locally. Contact the newspaper and local television stations and tell them that the State Police is abdicating their responsibility to the taxpayers, and entrusting their duties to a third-party for-profit company.
I have never been a fan of A.R. And after the issue with the Eerie FD, it’ll take a lot of persuading to get me to change my mind.
And basically, I see an umbrella trying to unionize an industry that has more national regulations and oversite than our nuclear power programs..
Never realized this was the reason why your name disappeared from AT. Really enjoyed reading, and sharing your articles on the NTL page, and now I have a new site to follow.
Keep up the great work!
Looking forward to helping