Towing FAQ's for Drivers and Vehicle Owners
!!Click here for what every Fairbanksan should know when the thermometer drops!!
(also applies to other extreme weather conditions)
A list of Towing & Recovery Companies Available to Alaskan Drivers
Why does the towing industry need an association, anyway? Why do I care what's happening in the towing industry? Does a City Towing Ordinance affect me? Extreme weather changes everything!
When something bad happens on public streets and highways, it usually involves one or more vehicles that need towing services. Tow trucks are therefore an integral part of Emergency Response on Alaska's roads, just like the State Troopers or the Fire Departments or EMTs. But unlike those other groups, towers work independently of each other, and are often in direct competition with other towing companies in their immediate areas. A towing association creates the opportunity for towers to work together on all kinds of issues that impact towing and the motoring public.
For the most part, you wouldn't. And you shouldn't need to. But some things that primarily affect the towing industry have a secondary effect on the general public. For example, the planned Fairbanks ordinance will possibly have a direct impact on the cost of a tow, and how easy or hard it will be to procure towing services when you need them. It may also have a direct effect on property owner's rights in respect to others leaving broken-down cars on public and private property. So some of the issues that affect towers might be important to a car owner or property owner.
It could. If the proposed licensing requirements are very expensive, towing costs will increase, as towing companies must recoup this cost by raising their rates.
If the proposed licensing requirements are too restrictive, some small towers may be unable to meet the requirements, which would limit the number of towing companies drivers can choose from when they need a tow. Not only could this drive up the price the remaining companies could charge you for a tow, but it could mean that during really cold or snowy conditions, there simply wouldn't be enough licensed towers available to provide tow services to everyone that needed them.
And finally, if impound towers can't work within the proposed ordinance requirements concerning private property impounds, property owners and landlords may find they have only very expensive options for removing unwanted vehicles from their property and parking lots.
Why does it cost so much to get my car towed?
Many factors affect the cost of a tow, but the biggest factor is that a tow truck is a very expensive vehicle to operate.
Although most tow truck operators do enjoy the opportunity to help motorists, the fact of the matter is that a tow truck must earn it's keep, which means a tower's rates must cover the cost of operating the tow trucks, and it makes little difference whether a company operates only a few trucks or many.
Tow trucks are extremely expensive vehicles to purchase, and they are expensive to operate. They require daily maintenance for safe and reliable operation, and are subject to State and Federal safety inspection criteria on an on-going basis.
Legitimate towers carry extremely high levels of commercial towing insurance, and pay enormous premiums for the privelege of operating a tow truck.
And although the manufacturers are beginning to build more efficient trucks, in general, tow trucks consume enormous amounts of fuel, and therefore current fuel costs affect towing rates directly.
A towing operator is NOT an entry level employee, despite the common stereotype of a tow truck driver. Tow truck drivers are generally highly trained commercial truck drivers, with hours and hours of towing training. Additionally, their jobs often involve long work hours in terrible weather, and they must frequently work along the roadways in dangerous situations, literally putting their lives at risk on a daily basis. Not unreasonably, tow truck operators earn a respectable wage.
The operating costs of a tow truck do vary depending on tow company, of course, which is why not all towing companies charge the same rates. In general, the amount of distance, time, labor, equipment, and operator knowledge required to respond to your location, safely load, and then deliver your vehicle to it's destination will all affect the total bill.
What kind of vehicle you drive can impact the cost as well, as different vehicles have different requirements for safe towing, such as special equipment, or a specific type of tow truck.
Removing a vehicle from an accident scene or the ditch requires more time, labor, knowledge and equipment than simply loading a vehicle on level ground, and this may also impact the price of the tow.
Off-road recovery requires very specialized knowledge and equipment, is more time consuming, and generally hard on towing equipment. As a rule, an off-road tow is far more expensive than one on paved roads.
And of course, Alaska's weather has a direct affect on towing rates. When drivers everywhere are struggling to stay between the ditches on icy roads, or fighting to keep their vehicles running during a cold snap, or creeping through heavy snow or ice fog, tow truck companies are doing the same. These extra costs of keeping a tow truck operational in harsh conditions get averaged into every towing bill.
What does "impound" mean? What does "private impound" mean?
"Impound" is the name of the process where your car is legally towed without your consent, and secured in a locked enclosure. Any police entity can have your vehicle impounded for a wide variety of reasons, from driving offenses to investigation of criminal activities. DUI arrests or lack of insurance are two common reasons for impoundment after a traffic stop.
A "private impound" is a short term for private property impound, or PPI. A PPI is impoundment of a vehicle from private property where the owner or the agent of the property requests that the vehicle be removed. Normally, PPIs are requested for parking violations on private property, or when a vehicle is apparently left or abandoned on private property. Alaska property law allows for the impoundment of any vehicle parked on private property without the property owner's consent.
I broke down on the highway, and my car got towed before I could get back to it. Why?
Police, State Troopers, and other law enforcement agencies will impound a vehicle left on the side of the road if an officer feels that the vehicle is a road hazard, or if they feel it's likely to be vandalized, and therefore become a road hazard. The choice to impound a vehicle or not depends entirely on the officer that runs across it, so if you have to leave your car on the side of the road, you risk impoundment. Notify law enforcement immediately, along with when you expect to have it removed, and you may be able to avoid getting it impounded.
I had an accident, and the police called a towtruck for me, but the bill was really expensive. Why are police towers so much more expensive?
They really aren't. They may be slightly more expensive due to the requirements they must meet to be part of the the police towing rotation list, but the price of the tow primarily reflects what kind of tow is performed. In this case, an accident response. Emergency towing is always more expensive due to the type of work, equipment, training, insurance requirements, response time, and hazardous conditions involved in the service. A tower never knows what to expect when called to an accident scene, and they must not only respond immediately 24 hours per day, but they must be prepared to handle any scenario they encounter when they arrive. Then, a wrecked vehicle must be transported to a secured location and usually held for several days until ther the owner can retrieve personal items, the insurance adjusters can investigate the vehicle, etc.
I was in an accident, and the cops had my car towed? Where is it?
The tower who responded to your accident should have given you a business card. If they did not, or you left the scene before the tower arrived, you can call the police department involved, and they should be able to give you or a relative that information. Your vehicle will be secured until you are ready to deal with the situation.
I had an accident, and the police impounded my car. Why was it impounded, and not just towed?
Usually, vehicles involved in a collision or other incident become the responsibility of the police when the driver is injured, or just so shaken by the experience that they are unable to make decisions regarding their vehicle. If an officer at the scene of an accident takes responsibility of your vehicle, it is considered non-consensual towing, or impound.
Why is impound towing more expensive than other towing?
There are a lot of reasons, but the short answer is because impound towing is done without the vehicle owner's consent, usually without keys to the vehicle, and because the tower cannot schedule impound work. Therefore, an impound tower has to have more insurance, better towing skills, more equipment, more staff available, and be willing to perform their duties 24/7 in more hazardous conditions at all hours.
There is a excellent and very thorough answer to this question from a towing company called Towing Experts in Texas, on their Information page:
While some of Texas law may be slightly different than in Alaska, the same concepts described in their description apply to impound towing anywhere.
I left my car somewhere and it got towed. How can I find out who towed it?
If you left your car on a city street, it may have been towed by the city police, so check with them first. If you left your car on a street or road outside a city, you can check with the Alaska State Troopers to find out who they requested to impound your vehicle.
If you left your car in a business' parking lot, such as at an apartment building or a grocery store, look for signs posted in the parking lot that inform customers which company will be used to tow unwanted cars.
If that company does not have your vehicle, or there are no signs where you left your car, check with the property owner. The property owner or agent must request the impound before your vehicle can be towed.
If the property owner is unavailable or unhelpful, you can call the law enforcement agency that has jurisdiction over where you left your car, such as the Alaska State Troopers or your city police department, and ask if a private impound has been reported for your vehicle. Reputable towing companies report all PPIs to the appropriate police agencies. If law enforcement has no report of your vehicle being impounded or repossessed, you should file a stolen vehicle report. However, it is very important to determine whether or not the vehicle has been legally impounded prior to claiming that it has been stolen.
I just had an accident, but I'm OK...can I choose what towing company I want, or do the police get to choose?
If you are involved in a collision, you are welcome to call your own towing company. Tell them if you're vehicle is in the roadway, and whether or not law enforcement has been notified or is on scene. Tell the officer on scene if you have already requested a towtruck. If the accident scene is not a hazard to other drivers, the officer may take the time to ask if you have a preferred tower. However, if your tower does not respond to the accident quickly enough, the officer may override your choice in favor of one they believe will arrive sooner.
During any kind of extreme weather conditions, the towing industry starts working overtime. Snow, ice, wind, and cold weather all cause issues for motorists, and the work volume for a towing company increases tenfold. But when it's thirty or forty degrees below zero in Fairbanks, there's only so much the tow companies can do.
As stressed out as you are because your car won't start or has a mechanical problem, remember that towing driver is also tired, stressed out, maxed out, and totally overwhelmed. Their jobs are to help you with your vehicle problem, and so they literally work around the clock when the weather gets bad, because they know there is no other choice. There are only so many tow trucks in Fairbanks.
Here is what you should know:
Accept that you are likely going to have to wait a while.
Every tow truck around is working to full capacity, and many are booked for hours ahead, if not for days. It really doesn't help to call every single tow company in the phone book just to find out how long it will be until they get to you. Chances are, if the first one you call is busy, they all will be. Just be honest about what you really need, as opposed to what you would like, and the dispatcher will do their best to help you out. But if your car is sitting in your driveway, cold and frozen but safe and sound, please understand that you will likely have to wait longer than someone who has broken down on the roadway.
If your car is on the side of the road, say so, and your tow company will try to prioritize the call, but it is VERY UNLIKELY that they will be able to reach you while you wait. Get help for yourself first, then make towing arrangements for your car. Don't call a tow truck and beg them to come get you before you freeze...they don't need that added stress! If you do leave your car, call the police and let them know you are making arrangements for a tow truck.
Provide clear location information
Always be prepared to give a DETAILED description of your vehicle and it's location, even if you are with the vehicle, but especially if you are not near it. "I'm in a pickup on the Richardson, you can't miss me" doesn't work...you'd be surprised what someone can miss in the dark and ice fog.!
So be specific--Give the year, make, model, and color of your vehicle, and the license plate number if possible. Provide detailed location instructions that include cross streets, major landmarks and/or compass headings, such as "southbound on the Steese Highway, near Trainer Gate intersection, in the breakdown lane."
If the location is a residence address, be prepared to provide the actual address and basic driving instructions from a major street. Remember, the driver will get there sooner if he/she doesn't have to stop to check their maps or call for more information!
Provide valid contact information
The dispatcher or tow driver will probably ask for a contact number--be sure to give them a number where you can be reached! It does no good to provide a home telephone number if you won't be there.. It also does no good to provide your cell number if you don't or can't answer your phone.
Usually, the truck driver will call the contact number to validate the tow service when he/she finishes the previous job. Or, they may need more information. Either way, if they receive no answer, or only get a voice mail, they can't continue to respond, and must move on to the next tow on the list. This is pretty standard policy, but especially true when tow calls are stacked up for hours.
So be sure to answer your phone, and remember, the driver will be calling from a phone in the truck, which is probably not the same number you dialed when you ordered the tow. If you screen your calls for unknown numbers, you may lose your opportunity for tow service, because the tow truck driver's message may very well be that since he was unable to reach you, he's moved on to the next customer.
When they are busy, tow truck drivers cannot afford wait on you, because there are too many people waiting on them. If you can't be contacted, you may lose your time slot.
Leave the key with the car!
Even if it's in your driveway! Don't expect the truck driver to come to the door and ask for the key. They are on very tight time schedules.
Most vehicles can be towed without a key, but it requires more time and equipment. When there are dozens of tow calls waiting, a tow truck driver might just drive off and leave a vehicle that has no key available.
If you have to leave your car somewhere, such as in a parking lot, stash the key in or on the vehicle somewhere, and tell the driver where to find the key.
Don't tell them you will meet them with the key, unless you are willing to wait right with the vehicle for an undetermined amount of time. If you do make arrangements to meet the driver at the vehicle, BE THERE! Most drivers will have instructions NOT to wait on you, even if you are just inside. If nobody is around, they may drive away.
There is no such thing as a discount tow at 40 below. Or when conditions are bad in general. Some companies raise their rates to cover the overtime they are paying out. Even if you just need your car moved a short distance, you will be expected to pay full price.
So ask for a quote when you set up your service, and don't be surprised if it seems overpriced. It may seem like the tow company is trying to take advantage of your dilemma, but it's simply a matter of too much demand for the supply of service available.
If you absolutely MUST have your vehicle towed immediately, but the best you can get is a spot on a list, ask if the tower has a "Right Now" price. There are some companies that will put you next on the tow schedule and guarantee service within 30 minutes if you are willing to pay an outrageous tow fee, but you have to find them. You may have to call several different companies to find one willing to bump you to the top of the list, and you should count on having to pay double or triple the market price, but "right now" service is usually available from somebody if you're willing to pay for it.
If you are truly not in any kind of time constraint at all, wait for the weather to warm up. You might also save more money setting up a "whenever" tow job. Some towing companies will give deep discounts to jobs that can stay on the schedule until they have absolutely nothing else for a truck to do.
Don't count on your Roadside Assistance or Insurance towing service
Here's why: When you call your insurance company or other roadside assistance, they gather your information and call one of their "Towing Providers." A Provider is a tow company they have contracted with in your area. In order to procure these contracts, the towing company has to agree to provide services at hugely discounted rates.
Many companies do have contracts with your insurance company or road service club, but the discounted rate barely covers expenses. So if they have anything else to do, they will put the motor club or insurance tow on the bottom of the job list. And that is IF they even agree to provide the service at all when they are otherwise very busy. Some companies will assign one truck to the "club calls" as the industry refers to them, and use all their other trucks for "private" calls. But that still means you could be waiting for days.
It seems unfair, since you probably pay for your roadside assistance whether you use it or not, but it looks totally different from the tow company's end. The towing company knows that if you called your roadside assistance company, you don't care who tows your car, as long as you get the "free" tow that came with your warranty or insurance package. So the tow company just got randomly "picked" by your insurance company this time around.
And no matter what they do, they can't win you over and gain your loyalty as a future customer. You may not even know the name of their company. You won't call them the next time you need a tow. Instead, you will call your roadside service company again if you need another tow, who in turn will assign your tow to the next provider on the list.
So, since motor club tows pay poorly, and give no opportunity to develop potential customers, towing companies would rather give priority to private individuals who call them directly for service.
If you simply cannot afford the cost of a tow, or you don't mind waiting a long time for your tow during extreme weather, then call your roadside assistance number, and utilize your free towing service. You will get the same quality of service, it will just probably take longer.
But if you need a tow done sooner rather than later, consider paying for your tow out-of-pocket, and getting reimbursed from your towing insurance later. You will get a lot closer to the top of the list if you call for a tow yourself and pay on the spot.
Don't expect to get a jumpstart
In severely cold weather, if your battery is dead, it's also possibly frozen. Jumpstarting a modern vehicle with a fully frozen battery can damage very expensive components in your vehicle. Even if the vehicle starts, the battery may not accept a charge, and operating the vehicle this way can cause serious electronic problems. Tow companies know this, and they also know that if the battery was run down because the car was too cold and could not start, a jump probably won't help start the car anyway. And, just messing around with the battery cables can cause damage at extreme temperatures.
So most reputable towers will not bother trying to jumpstart your car until the temperature raises considerably, and/or you have had the vehicle plugged in for at least 8 hours, with a battery blanket or similar in addition to engine and oil pan heaters.
If they do offer a jump service in extreme cold weather, it may be no cheaper than a tow, since the truck's time must be paid, so if you are trying to save yourself a tow bill, you could be disappointed. And if your car still won't start, you may be expected to pay for the jumpstart time and a tow. So ask about pricing ahead of time.
Instead of a jumpstart, consider having your car towed somewhere to be thawed out, like a shop or garage. It might be easier on your car, and your wallet.
Don't expect to have a tow truck put your vehicle inside your garage
Many residential garages are too low or too narrow for a tow truck to set your vehicle inside the garage. Some are not, and some drivers will do it if they can, but some companies simply have policies against it due to the likelhood of hitting the sides or door of your garage. Plus, it takes a lot of time while your garage door hangs open, which can put your pipes and possessions at risk of freezing.
So ask if the vehicle can be set inside a garage when you order the tow, or you might end up with a frozen vehicle blocking your garage door! Since time can be a factor of the price, remember to ask if there will be an additional fee for unloading it in the garage, too.
Don't expect to get lockout service at 40 below
Un-lock services are performed by sliding a metal tool inside your vehicle's door between the seal, window, and door panel, or by putting pressure on your door to create enough room to slide a metal tool between the door and and door frame. At 30 or 40 degrees below zero, the plastic and rubber seals on your car door can crack, split, or completely shatter, causing permanent damage. For this reason, it's a bad idea to call for lockout service in extreme temps.
When you add in the fact that using these tools is a rather delicate procedure that's hard to do while wearing gloves, you can understand why many tow companies just won't offer un-lock services at extreme temperatures. Any that do offer the service may refuse to accept liability for any damages.
If you lock your keys in your car, have a friend take you to the dealership or a locksmith with your Vehicle Identification Number (it's on your title, and registration, and on the dash where it can be read through the windshield) and have a new door key made. It will probably be cheaper, and won't cause damage to your vehicle.
Don't expect a tow truck to come out and change your tire
Obviously, nobody wants to work outside on the ground when it's super cold, and tow truck drivers are no different than anybody else.
But more importantly, it can be a bad idea to change a tire in extreme temperatures. Jacks don't work correctly, and can drop your car unexpectedly. Metal becomes brittle in extreme cold, and the lug nuts and wheel studs can actually snap and break when pressure is applied, requiring costly repairs. Towing companies go out of their way to avoid anything that has a good chance of causing damage to a vehicle, and since changing tires is both miserable work and risky, most won't do it in the cold.
If one does accept the job, plan on paying a lot more than you expected. Towing bills are based, in part, by the amount of time the truck is involved in a single job. Tire changes can be time consuming, and even more so in the bitter cold. They can therefore be expensive.
A better option is to have your vehicle towed to a shop, where it can be warmed up before the lug wrench is applied.
Last but not least, let your driver know you appreciate your tow!
Tow truck drivers don't get much appreciation for what they do, and they really should. Tow truck drivers are out and about helping motorists through ugly winter weather every day, and during extreme weather, it's a never ending task. If you appreciate their assistance, say so! Most towers like to help people, or they wouldn't be working a tow truck in the first place, but it's hard to keep a good attitude if it seems like nobody appreciates it!
Why does the towing industry need an association, anyway? Why do I care what's happening in the towing industry? Does a City Towing Ordinance affect me?
Why do I care what's happening in the towing industry?
Does a City Towing Ordinance affect me?
Extreme weather changes everything!
Every tow company in Alaska is independently owned and operated, and there are no state laws that govern towing prices, response times, or towing procedures.
The information above is offered only for the purpose of helping the public understand how the towing industry works in general, and does not necessarily reflect the position or policies of any particular towing company.