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KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) -
KCTV5 News Investigates how tow companies operate in Kansas City.
When a wreck occurs, numerous tow trucks rush to the scene. Companies operating in the Kansas City area have wide latitude when it comes to charging fees to hook up and remove your vehicle from a crash scene.
For years, Kansas City has been known as having some of the worst "wreck-chasing" practices in the United States. One AAA executive called Kansas City "the Wild West" of the towing industry.
Kansas City officials hope new regulations will help erase that reputation.
Joe Harrington told KCTV5 that his towing experience was "just flat thievery." Harrington skidded off the highway and wrecked his pickup. He says that disaster was nothing compared to the what happened after his crumpled truck was towed.
"He said it's gonna be $75 to flip it over, $150 to hook it up plus mileage to wherever you want me to take it," Harrington recalled.
The maintenance manager estimated his fee would be $300. Then the driver for the tow company called.
"He said that when he got up to the lot he noticed my toolbox in the back of my truck wasn't locked," he said. "So he unbolted my toolbox from the truck, loaded it on his tow truck and took it home with him."
When Harrington tried to get his 200 pound mounted toolbox back, he says he and the tow truck driver exchanged heated words.
According to Harrington, that's when the driver changed his tune and said, "I'm hitting you with the (expletive) charge. It's gonna be $700 instead of $300."
The driver told KCTV5 that he does not recall making such a comment.
But even if he had, such a fee is legal.
"Whatever they can think up, they can put on the bill," said Gary Majors, manager of Kansas City's Regulated Industries Division. "If you haven't pre-approved the amount, then you're pretty much stuck with it."
Drivers whose vehicles are towed to the city impound lot instead of a private one are charged a flat fee of $165. Majors is pushing for the same rates all across Kansas City.
The Kansas City Council is expected to take up new rules as soon as Thursday. Under the proposal, drivers intending to tow in Kansas City must be licensed by the city and agree to charge a set of flat fees. Instead of a horde of wreckers rushing to a wreck scene, a new GPS rotation system will be used to dispatch the tow truck closest to the crash.
"We want it done for a fair price," Majors said. "We want towers to make money, just not all on one person's back."
Santa Fe Tow's owner supports the proposal. Jon Kupchin has owned the Lenexa-based company for 29 years.
"It'll give the consumer peace of mind," Kupchin said.
Until the council acts, Kupchin has some advice.
"You should ask what is the hookup fee, what are any additional charges and why and what's your mileage rate? And then if it's going to a storage lot, what is your fee per day for storage?"
These are questions Harrington wishes that he had asked. He refused to pay the $700 bill. Instead, he paid $300 to get his tools back and agreed to let the tow company have the title to his crumpled truck to make up the difference.
"If it happens again, I'm gonna sit, it's gonna sit there upside down on the highway ‘til I get the tow truck driver that I want out there to do the job and charge me what he said he's gonna charge me when I talked to him to him on the phone," he said.
The new city ordinance would apply only to wrecks and scenes to which police are called. The flat fees would not be used when, for example, your vehicle dies in your driveway and needs to be towed to your neighborhood mechanic.
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