If your car is not drivable after an accident, you will need to have it towed from the scene. For many of us, this can be a sad, emotional day. We love our cars. Being separated from them so unexpectedly after an accident can be stressful. To help answer some of your questions and get an inside look at how it all works, we sat down with the dispatchers and tow truck drivers at AM/PM Towing in Provo, Utah.

Where does the tow truck take your car?

In most cases, it goes to the tow company’s tow yard or a body collision repair shop. If you are too injured to speak with the tow truck driver and busy being treated by the paramedics, the tow truck driver will take your car to the tow yard. Your car will stay there until you or your insurance company tells the tow truck driver where to take it.
If you are not too injured at the scene and are up to it, you should tell your tow truck driver to take your car directly to the body repair shop from the scene of the accident. Doing this eliminates the trip to the tow yard then to the body shop, which can save on storage fees, administrative fees, and towing fees.
Most towing companies prefer to take your car directly to the body shop. If you have a body shop you prefer, then they will take your car to their location. If you do not have a preference, then they will recommend a repair shop.
According to AM/PM Towing, about 70% of the cars go from the scene to the tow yard, and about 30% go to directly to the body shop.

What happens if your car is totaled?

If you are in a bad accident and your car has severe damage, it may be clear that your car is a total loss. A total loss means that the cost to repair your vehicle is more than the actual value of the car.
For example, if your car is in a rollover, there’s a good chance it is a total loss. In these cases, the tow truck driver will just tow your car to the tow yard.
It may not be clear whether your car is a total loss. In these cases, your vehicle will be taken to the body shop where the repairs are estimated. If the repairs are higher than the value of your car, then this is a total loss, and your vehicle is taken to the tow yard or a salvage yard.
If you have insurance coverage, your insurance company will pay you for the value of the car in return for the title to your vehicle. The insurance company can then sell the parts and have the car scrapped for metal value (about $80/ton).
If you have a loan on the car, the insurance company will pay your loan company off, then give you what’s left over, if any. If you owe more on the loan than what the car is worth, you must pay the difference.
If you find yourself in this position (owing more than the value of the car) find out if you purchased gap insurance. Gap insurance covers the amount owed above the actual value of the vehicle.

How much does it cost to have your car towed?

Towing companies can charge up to $151/hour to tow your car. They also charge about $30 for administrative fees and $45 per day for storage fees. If your car is towed to the tow yard before 6:00 pm, they will charge you a storage fee for that day; after 6:00 pm, storage fees will be charged starting the next day.
On average, it takes about an hour for the tow truck to arrive on the scene, load up your car, then tow it to the destination, whether a body shop or tow yard. This can take longer if there’s a rollover or a car stuck in an embankment.
The car is usually stored no longer than 20 days at the tow yard before being moved to a repair shop or scrap metal yard.

Who chooses the tow truck company?

The police departments have a list of all certified towing companies in each city. The police department dispatcher rotates through the list of tow truck companies. If the next company on the list is not available, then the dispatcher goes to the next company on the list.
A tow truck company must be certified through an application process to be on the list that the dispatchers use.
Some time ago, the process of selecting a tow truck was quite chaotic. It was common for tow truck companies to have police scanners and listen for accidents. When they heard the report of a car accident over the scanner, the tow companies would race out to the scene. This is no longer necessary or useful because tow truck companies are on rotation. A towing company has to be invited to get the job.
If you want to avoid the cost of having your car towed from the scene, this may be possible. You may know someone that has a way to tow your car from the scene for free or at least much cheaper than the towing company. If you do not have insurance to cover the towing fees, then you may prefer this option.
If you want to have a friend or someone you prefer to tow your car, that person needs to act quickly. Any longer than 15 minutes for the tow truck to get to the scene is too long.
Just keep in mind that the police officer at the scene may not let you do this. There are safety considerations and traffic concerns.
If the accident, for example, happened on a busy road, and your car is blocking traffic, then the police officer is going to want your car towed away quickly by a towing company that follows safety protocols. However, if the accident happened on a back street or in a parking lot with very little traffic, he will likely allow you to arrange for your preferred towing company.

How long will the towing company keep the car in the tow yard?

While it may vary between towing companies, AM/PM Towing in Provo will hold onto a vehicle for about three months before it looks to impound and take title to the car. After three months, they contact the city to get permission to seize the car. Then, the tow company works with the city to obtain title over the car. Once the tow company gets the title, it salvages the vehicle.
Once the towing company obtains title, it will take it to the scrap metal yard where they weigh the car to see how much the metal is worth.
On occasion or about once every three months, a city official may come by the tow yard and impound cars that have sat there for a few months. This process makes it much easier for the towing company to obtain title to the car.

Be Respectful and Professional to the Tow Truck Driver

It pays to be respectful and reasonable. This may help get you a discount on towing fees, administrative fees, and storage fees. Tow truck driver deal with angry drivers all the time. They have no problem taking every dime you have that they can legally make. If you are kind and respectful, they are more likely to be flexible, accommodating, and even provide you with a discount.
Tow truck drivers will usually give you a ride to where you need to go after an accident. They will do this free of charge, so long as it is not too far away and so long as you are friendly to them.
Also, the tow truck driver will be more helpful and be accommodating when you need favors for your injury case. For example, he may make the car more available for you or an expert to inspect the vehicle. He may even have taken photographs at the scene of the accident that can be helpful to your case. If you are rude to him, it will be harder to get the photographs from him.

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Content checked by personal injury attorney Todd Bradford. I worked for a small law firm in Utah County, where I handled various types of cases. My main focus was personal injury and I decided that is what I enjoyed doing the most. I rejoined Siegfried and Jensen in 2012 where my focus is solely on helping personal injury clients. I take pride in helping personal injury clients and enjoy serving them. If you need an attorney for auto accidents or injuries of any kind in Salt Lake City, UT, Ogden, UT, Spokane, WA, or Boise, ID, contact us.