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Accident on your roadtrip - Towing in a safe and responsible way

Pieter Niemand, national director of the Motor Industry Workshop Association (MIWA)

With just a couple of weeks left before schools close and many South Africans pack their bags for the coast or the bush, the last thing anyone wants to be worrying about is the  sinking feeling of breaking down on the side of the road or being involved in a fender bender where your car cannot be driven to a workshop. How to responsibly tow your car to safety is always the big question.  Is calling a friend/family member the best option or using a towing service to shuttle your vehicle to a workshop the best option?

Pieter Niemand, national director of the Motor Industry Workshop Association (MIWA), a proud association of the Retail Motor Industry Organisation (RMI), says being involved in an accident or having a roadside breakdown are traumatic experiences, to say the least. “There is no right answer as it all depends on your circumstances. It is advisable that motorists have a plan for this unforeseen situation as towing could end up being a costly encounter if you don’t do your homework.”

He says if you are insured then there is only one option to consider. Most insurance policies include two complementary covered tow-in opportunities as part of your annual premium. All you need to do is contact your insurer immediately and explain your predicament. They will then generally undertake to find a tow-operator, who will get in touch with you and load your vehicle onto a flatbed truck and take it to your workshop of choice.

Remember it is always advisable to use an accredited MIWA workshop. “In fact if your insurer approves, you can utilise the services of any of our accredited workshops to tow your vehicle to their workshop. There is normally an average charge in and around the city. Further afield, it would depend on the distance. The service is a proper Roll-back pick-up-and-drop off, of the vehicle. By far the safest option. This service is usually covered in your motorists policy cover, but again very important to check before making that call”

“Being covered by insurance is the best option and provides peace of mind,” says Niemand.

Remember it is up to you and your insurer which towing company you use. In the case of the car owner being incapacitated, the police or emergency service will make a call on who should tow the vehicle. “It is important to confirm whether the insurer would pay the full service amount, or whether there is a limited insured amount,” says Niemand.

In the absence of insurance coverage, when a towing service is needed, it is important to ensure the driver and or operator of the towing service is (if in Gauteng) licenced and registered as a Tow-truck operator as per GAUTENG PROVINCIAL TOW TRUCK REGULATIONS, 2016. It is important to read the towing contract carefully, including the fine print,  especially all costs, i.e. per kilometre rate, along with storage and administration costs. Preferably get this in writing and ensure that you have the contact details and other information of the tow-truck company, before signing anything or letting your vehicle go. Finally, remove all valuables from the vehicle and double check all storage spaces.

If you are using a friend or family member to tow your vehicle, be sure to follow the guidelines as set out by the National Road Traffic Act, 1996 (Act No. 93 of 1996) and the National Road Traffic Regulations published in Government Notice No. R.225 of 17 March 2000.

Some of these guidelines include among others:

  • If a rope or chain is used, do not exceed 30 km/hour.
  • A rope should not be longer than 3.5 metres. It could be shorter, but leaving sufficient room for the car being towed to stop in time. The best option is a tow bar or a professional weight-rated tow strap.
  • Both vehicles should be under control, with towed vehicle having a driver behind the wheel in possession of a valid driver’s licence.
  • When towing at night, the towed vehicle should have at least one red back-light functional.
  • The towed vehicle should be in neutral while being towed.
  • Never tow a vehicle with an automatic transmission while the drive wheels are on the road.  The drive wheels must not be allowed to rotate if being towed (it will damage the gearbox)

“Ultimately it comes down to staying calm, being sensible, and relying on your insurer or authorities on the scene to proceed with safety,” concludes Niemand.