A Caroline County man who was shocked to receive a hefty towing bill for a short ride is sharing his story in hopes that you can avoid similar sticker shock.
“This is all I have left of the Honda Civic,” Gordon Unterbrink says holding a crumbled-up license plate. It’s all that remains from a recent crash that left his vehicle totaled.
Unterbrink, who at the time was a cash-strapped college student, was stunned when the towing company handed him a $578 bill for a four-mile tow.
“The main thing I was thinking is, ‘how am I going to pay for it?'”
It all started when Unterbrink was driving through his neighborhood in late October and looked down for a second.
“The next thing I know, I run into a boulder and I totaled my car,” he recalled. He was shaken up but OK and no one else was hurt — it happened on a residential street in a gated community in Caroline County.
His idle car wasn’t blocking the roadway or stuck in a ditch.
“It was just off on the side of the road,” Unterbrink explained.
Yet the front of Honda was damaged, the airbags deployed and he needed a tow.
“Some people were there to see what happened and told me to call the police,” he says.
Virginia State Police responded and called him a tow. Anytime Towing pulled up, hooked up the car and hauled it away in a matter of minutes.
“They didn’t have to do much work to get it out of where I was. It took them maybe two minutes to get it up on the truck,” Unterbrink said.
He said no one told him up front about the costs, so when the 19-year-old got that big bill, he didn’t know what to do. He called a family friend, Robert Barry.
“My reaction was, ‘there’s got to be something wrong here,’” Barry explained.
When you break down the bill, the actual towing fee was only $16 and the mileage fee was $7. The biggest and most baffling charges: a $125 administrative fee and a $350 accident recovery fee.
“They backed the rollback truck up and hooked the chain up and pulled it on the truck and drove away four miles. What justifies a $350 charge? I just couldn’t imagine,” Barry added. “It makes no sense, how it can cost such a high price?”
The state actually sets limits for towing hook up and storage fees. However, 8News has learned there’s little oversight for the accident recovery and administrative fees — the towing companies get to set the price.
Anytime Towing refused to speak with 8News for this report, but over the phone explained that $350 is a standard fee they charge for responding to any accident, no matter how big or small. They also tell said it’s to help cover the million dollar liability insurance they’re required to carry.
Barry, meanwhile, wonders, “can’t they give a poor kid a break every once and while?”
As for that $125 administrative fee, Anytime says that’s to cover DMV costs and staffing for taking ownership of a car. Although, the DMV tells us the charge for that paperwork is only $9.
“Oh, I definitely got robbed,” Unterbrink said.
8News found five consumer complaints — all billing disputes — have been filed against Anytime Towing with the State Attorney General’s Office. Although, 8News did some checking and Anytime’s rates are comparable to other towing companies in the area.
Your car insurance may cover it or offer a discount and may have a tow company they work with. If not, often for just a few dollars it can be added to your policy.
“Insurance companies also offer their own roadside assistance packages,” Dehn said. He adds that policy holders should really shop around every six months for the best deals.
“AAA exists all over the country. We see that annual membership can be anywhere from $50 to $75 dollars that’s for family plans too,” says Dehn.
You can also avoid racking up storage fees at the tow lot but towing the car to your home or mechanic. Remember, you have the right to an itemized list of charges as well. Dehn says ultimately, knowing your options before you need that tow could save you hundreds.
“It is probably best to create a plan,” he says.
As for Unterbrink, he turned over the car to Anytime and the tow company knocked the bill down to $400, but he still feels he got taken for a ride.
“I think that is a lot of money I worked hard for that just got stolen from me,” says Unterbrink. He currently is taking 18 credits this semester and really needs a car to get to class. He got a used one with the help of the Barry family, but he’s having some problems with it. They’re hoping Anytime may consider a refund.
If you ever have a dispute with a towing company, you can file a complaint with the Attorney Generals office here.