Reader Question: My car recently broke down late one night and I did not know what to do or who to call. A tow truck finally stopped and helped me out, but I was stuck taking my car to "his" shop. Could he have taken me to my normal mechanic, or is it standard practice to do what he did? He did stop and help me, so I was not going to argue with him, but I would like to know what to do next time.
Dear concerned car owner,
There are a few things you can do to help relieve "roadside break down anxiety." You should ask the following of your current mechanic that you feel comfortable doing business with. Does the shop have towing service available 24 hours a day? Make sure that you get their after-hours number so that you will be prepared for any breakdowns. If they do have to tow your car at night or on weekends, find out how/where it will be stored until the shop opens for business.
If the towing company is a different company than the repair shop, make sure to tell them that you are a customer of the repair shop, and not just someone who looked up their number in the phone book. Also, you want to convey to the tow truck dispatcher that you WILL be with your car on the side of the road waiting for the driver to come to your rescue.
Go ahead and allow them to place you on hold while the dispatcher reaches the driver on the radio and gets his exact location and ETA. Waiting on the side of the road in rush hour traffic, in the heat or in the rain, for someone you do not know and who may not know you are waiting with groceries in the car (and you have to go to the bathroom) is not fun! Does the shop take responsibility for your car when they pick up your car? Find out.
Get the name and/or unit number of any persons providing towing services for you. Document the time and condition of the vehicle as the tow truck driver is loading your car. A good tow truck driver will walk around the vehicle prior to towing and document any body damage. I would encourage you to walk around the vehicle with the driver and have him sign the tow slip that your car was received in good condition. You should sign it as well.
You might not get a copy of the towing invoice at that time, and that is normal. The shop you are using will usually have an account with the tow company and the shop might mark up the invoice a few bucks to cover their related costs. It is worth a few bucks if the shop is going to be liable for your car and store it until they are able to repair it.
Since your vehicle will be out of your control I would also find out the following:
What type of insurance does the shop have? Most shops have signs that read "not responsible for fire or theft to your vehicle." Did you leave your gun in the car? I live in Texas, and there are a lot of guns in cars. Did you leave your cell phone out in the open, or that five-dollar bill that you found under your seat? Don't give anyone the opportunity to steal from you.
So what type of liability does the shop have if you leave your vehicle over the weekend for repairs? Most repair shops have you sign a work order before beginning repairs to your vehicle. In many cases you are signing over your right for vehicle repossession due to nonpayment. This form also releases the shop for any liability for your vehicle, even from fire and theft. I would not like to sign this work order in a shop that I felt was unsatisfactory, or does not have adequate protection. Is the building protected by a security system? Are the customer vehicles left outside at night or locked up in the shop?
Taking a little time now to gain information to help protect yourself against fraud and abuse can save you a lot of frustration in the future.
Austin C Davis
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