How much should towing a semi truck cost?

How Much Does Towing a Semi-Truck Cost? Avoid Predatory Towing.

How much should towing a semi-truck cost? There are a lot of factors that go into answering the question.

When a crash or breakdown happens on a roadway, there’s always a time crunch to get the vehicle out of the way. In that situation, you’re already stressed out enough as it is without having to think about the towing company charging you unfairly or taking your equipment for ransom.

Unfortunately, predatory towing is very real. So let’s take a look at how much a towaway should cost, what predatory towing is, and how you can avoid it. 

How much does it cost to tow a semi-truck?

The lack of regulation and standardization around pricing has led to a market where it can cost anywhere from a couple hundred to over a hundred thousand dollars to recover a commercial vehicle.

A study by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) analyzed 490 towing invoices and found pricing that ranged from $250 for a simple towaway to $110,000 for a recovery after a hazmat crash. The average bill amounted to $11,681.27.

Let’s face it: towing a semi-truck is never going to be cheap. 

Towing heavy-duty trucks requires expensive, specialized equipment, like a wrecker or rotator. Pair that with the fact that almost half of the towing companies in the US operate in counties where there are fewer than 12 towaways needed annually, and you put a lot of pressure on a towing company’s bottom line.

Also, factors including weather, distance, equipment needed, and cargo type can make towing a tractor-trailer more difficult and dangerous, thus making it more expensive. 

So, what is predatory towing?

Sure, towing a semi-truck isn’t easy. But all too often, towing companies overcharge unfairly for their services and engage in other unethical business practices.

According to ATRI, predatory towing is when a towing company “egregiously overcharges, illegally seizes assets, damages assets by use of improper equipment, or illegitimately withholds release of a truck, trailer, and/or cargo.”

Here are the scenarios that ATRI considers to be predatory:

  • Excessive rates: this is the most commonly experienced type of predatory towing incident. Prices may be set by the hour or per pound.
  • Unnecessary additional equipment or labor charges: sometimes a towing company deploys too much equipment or too many people than is necessary. This could happen intentionally to take advantage of the situation or unintentionally because of miscommunication. Other times, towing companies may charge for equipment or labor that was not present or for more hours than were worked.
  • Excessive daily storage rates: towing companies often charge over $100 per day to store the towed vehicle and sometimes charge more for storing the cargo, even if it doesn’t need to be temperature controlled.
  • Delays in vehicle releases: this often happens because of delays in payment, but can also happen because of procedural delays on the part of the towing company. This is particularly concerning for owner-operators and small fleets because they lose all or a significant portion of their revenue every day the truck is not running.
  • Delays in cargo release: most everyone agrees that the cargo inside the trailer should be released immediately. However, some towing companies continue to use the cargo as a bargaining chip to get payment from the carrier.
  • Vehicle seizure without cause: sometimes a towing company shows up at the scene of a crash or breakdown without being called and seizes the vehicle.
  • Misreporting tows: sometimes a carrier is pressured into signing a consent form so that the towing company can avoid regulations that apply only to nonconsensual towing.
  • Damage to vehicles: when towing equipment isn’t used correctly, it can result in further damage to a crashed or broken-down vehicle.

One reason for these practices is that towing companies are spread widely across the country. A truck can break down or crash just about anywhere and most counties don’t have more than two or three towing companies to choose from. That means the towing companies have little to no competition, i.e. a reason to lower prices or change billing practices without regulation.

Another reason is that the carrier often doesn’t have much of a choice in who tows their truck. In a crash, the police take over the situation and may not always allow you to call a preferred towing company. If your truck is being towed from private parking, the towing company has already been called by someone else.

Although insurance may cover all or most of the cost of many services, the rising and unpredictability of towing and recovery costs increase the cost of insurance premiums for everyone.

How common is predatory towing in trucking?

According to a study on predatory towing that the ATRI published in 2023, 82.7% of carriers had experienced excessive rates and 81.8% experienced unwarranted extra charges. 

The study also found that 29.8% of crash-related towing invoices collected over 2021-2023 included some form of predatory billing. 

This is an industry-wide problem that’s spiraled into a crisis in the last couple of years. 

How To Avoid Predatory Towing

So, how can you avoid becoming the victim of predatory towing? Here are some tips:

  1. Know your insurance coverage. Your commercial insurance policy likely has a limit of coverage for towing services and is subject to certain circumstances. 
  2. Find a preferred towing network with access across the country so you always have a trusted partner you can call.
  3. Understand the towing regulations on your routes. Some states, like Maryland and Colorado, have taken measures to address predatory towing practices, while others have little to no regulation in place.
  4. At the scene of a crash or incident, ask the police if you can call your preferred towing company.
  5. Take photos and video of the scene. Here are some important things to capture: the position of the truck, trailer, and cargo; the number of workers present; the type of equipment sent; and the time they arrive and leave the scene.
  6. Do not sign anything at the scene of the crash from a towing company. There’s no requirement to sign a consent form or a quote for the service. Signing something could help the towing company misclassify the tow.
  7. Get everything in writing. If you agree to something with a towing company over the phone, immediately follow up the conversation with an email, summarizing what you understood from the conversation, and ask that they confirm.
  8. Request an itemized invoice: this can help you find duplicate charges or additional service fees. Compare the fees with the evidence you collected at the scene.
  9. Don’t pay in cash. Requiring a customer to pay thousands of dollars in cash is unreasonable. Paying in cash gives you little evidence to contest any charges in the future. Instead, pay using a credit card or certified check. 

What should I do if I’m the victim of predatory towing?

If you believe you’re being unfairly charged or are unable to pay a towing invoice and so can’t recover your truck, here are some options:

  • Contact your insurance company to see if they can help you negotiate the bill down with the towing company. Your insurer may be in a better position to request information. 
  • Hire a law firm experienced in trucking issues to help you negotiate or send a demand letter.
  • File a lawsuit: this could result in a lengthy proceeding and high legal fees, so be sure this is something you are prepared to endure. 

[Related: Learn more about shopping for commercial trucking insurance here.]

A Glimmer of Hope

Fortunately, the towing industry is starting to see more reform at the state and federal levels.

Maryland, Colorado, and Arizona have already put regulations into place to protect consumers and businesses from predatory towing practices.

The FTC recently proposed a rule that would limit businesses’ ability to charge hidden fees by requiring all fees to be included in a quote for service.

However, a lot more needs to be done to protect trucking companies, especially owner-operators and small fleets from predatory towing.