It is important to know what to do if your car needs to be towed, as this is something that happens to most of us at some point in our driving career. Getting stranded at the side of a road with a broken-down vehicle, whether due to an accident or mechanical failure, can be a stressful and unpleasant experience.
In addition to your physical safety, your immediate priority must be to get assistance or arrange for your car to be moved to a safe place until it can be repaired.
“If you are insured, there is a good chance that your insurance company will offer a free towing service from a selection of authorised providers as part of your cover. You can usually phone the insurance provider’s call centre for help or connect to their emergency assistance from the app,” says Ernest North, co-founder of Naked, a digital insurance platform.
A mechanical or electrical breakdown
Access to 24/7 emergency assistance is one of the benefits of having comprehensive car insurance and the emergency benefit usually covers sending somebody out to take a look and help you with your car, such as jumpstarting your car or bringing you a litre of petrol and possibly towing you to the nearest repair centre or panel beater.
“However, it is important to check what your insurance provider’s policy is when it comes to breakdowns due to mechanical faults. Most policies will have a cap on what they will cover: either the cost of the tow, such as R500 or the number of kilometres per tow, such as 25km.”
If your car is under warranty, you can also contact your car dealer and they should send a tow truck driver out to you. Insurers usually do not cover the costs of repairs or replacements when it comes to mechanical issues, North says.
After an accident
If you cannot drive your car after an accident, North says you must contact your insurer via its app or call its toll-free 24/7 emergency assist line immediately for assistance to arrange a tow truck to fetch your car as soon as they have all the details.
The call centre agent will provide the tow truck’s details and expected time of arrival. “Even if you can start your car, it is usually wise to avoid additional damage and rather arrange for a tow if you can pick up any internal or external damage after a crash,” says North.
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Dealing with tow truck companies
North says tow truck drivers are not allowed to tow your car without your permission, which you usually give by signing a form. Before you sign, ensure the tow truck driver is from your insurer. The only way to be sure that your car does not end up in the wrong hands, is to contact your insurer and arrange the tow with them directly.
“However, if you get badly hurt in the accident, there is a good chance that your car will be removed by the first tow truck driver that arrives on the scene. Therefore, it is a good idea to put a sticker from your insurance provider on your car.”
Perhaps someone will help by contacting your insurer and arrange for one of its approved tow truck services to help. Alternatively, the tow truck driver should phone your insurer and let them know. If the tow truck driver does not have your details or those of your insurer, it will usually trace the owner of the car through eNatis.
What to do if your car is towed without your permission
If your car is towed without your permission, it is important to not pay any tow truck services directly. “Rather contact your insurer and let them deal with it. It is best to phone your insurer yourself if you are able to.”
North says if a tow truck driver demands payment for the tow, ask for an invoice showing the cost of the tow and location of the car and pass it to your insurer to sort out, but remember, there may be a limit to what your insurer pays if you do not use the appointed service provider.
Arranging towing for others involved in the accident
Although it could seem like a caring thing to do, North’s advice is to let the third parties take care of their own towing arrangements.
“Before you leave the scene of the accident, get the details (names, car registration, contact details, insurance information) from other drivers involved in the accident, as well as contact details from any eyewitnesses.”
He says you must not offer to pay for the third party’s tow, since it could be interpreted as accepting liability which will make it harder for your insurer to fight in your corner.
10 things to do and avoid at scene of car accident
- Stop, stay calm, keep a clear head and take a few deep breaths. This is the single most important thing you can do, as emotions often run high at the scene of an accident and remaining cool, calm and collected could literally save lives.
- Stay at the scene, take a look around you and assess the situation. Do not move inured people on the scene as this could put them at even more risk. Rather wait until professional help arrives and therefore get an ambulance on scene as soon as possible. Your insurer’s emergency roadside assist can help with that. Remember, do not move your vehicle unless you are told to do so by the police or if it poses a safety hazard to other people on the road.
- Call the police if anyone was injured and this will also be needed if an offence was committed or if a state vehicle or property was damaged. Stay there until a police officer says you can go.
- Make sure your car is still safe to drive. Check on the state of your car. Is it safe to drive and will it get you home or to the nearest police station? Sometimes the answer is obvious, but if you are not entirely sure, rather play it safe and contact your insurer’s towing services.
- If your car is not driveable, call your insurer’s towing services. You can quickly find yourself encountering pushy tow truck drivers when numerous tow truck drivers arrive on the scene in minutes. Knowing who to deal with can be intimidating but remember the most important thing: do not use the first service provider who appears on the scene, even if he claims to be from your insurer. Call your insurer’s emergency roadside assistance line directly and ask for towing assistance and make sure they tell you exactly how to identify the tow-truck you should use.
- There will never be a better time to get your phone out and snap some pics. Take as many photos as you can of your own car and also any other vehicles or property involved, including number plates, licence discs, street names or any other landmarks close by. Ask any other driver involved for photos of their drivers’ licence. Your memory of the incident may become a bit fuzzy once the initial shock wears off, but your phone will remember important details weeks after the incident.
- It is important to capture every detail. Take down names and contact details of any and all witnesses, as well as other parties involved in the incident. This will really help you if you feel the accident was the fault of another individual and you want your insurer to help you recover your excess.
- Check if there are any cameras pointed at the scene. Random CCTV cameras covering the scene of the accident could also be helpful.
- If someone was injured or a third party or their property was involved, go report the incident to the police within 24 hours as this is a requirement of the Road Traffic Act. Make sure you jot down the case number and that you take pictures of the completed report. It is a legal requirement to report accidents where people or animals were injured or other people’s property was damaged. As a bonus, it will also help you with possible recovery from a responsible third party later in the process.
- Let your insurer know about the accident immediately. Towing reports can take time and speaking to your insurer directly will help speed up the process. Share all the information and pictures you were able to gather from the scene, arming them with all the information that will help the process move forward as quickly and painlessly as possible.