Snow tow: With no local regulation in the county, wrecker charges vary widely

Snow tow: With no local regulation in the county, wrecker charges vary widely

How much does it cost to have a car towed during a snowstorm? In Albemarle County, it can vary by hundreds of dollars because, unlike the City of Charlottesville, which caps wrecker fees, the county has no ordinance regulating towing. After the recent storm, that meant at least one county car owner paid $465 for a five-mile tow—nearly triple the amount another towing business said it charged for towing cars from the same location the following day.

Trina Nelson, was driving on Sunset Avenue Extended soon after the snowstorm hit on Wednesday, February 12. Nelson had been visiting her boyfriend at UVA hospital where he was recovering from surgery and was headed to his apartment when her Ford Taurus slid off the road and got stuck in a ditch.

With snow falling heavily and the road unplowed, Nelson left her vehicle overnight and walked the rest of the way. She returned the next morning, she said, and a man with a four-wheel drive truck pulled her car out. A plow still hadn’t come through, so she left the vehicle on a flat area on the side of the road where at least half a dozen other cars had also been abandoned.

“There was nothing I could do,” she said, noting that she thought she’d left enough room for plows to pass by.

When she returned that afternoon, a plow had gotten through—but her car had been towed. When she tracked it down to FBR Towing and Recovery on Harris Street, she said, she was shocked at the $465 charge. In addition to a $150 fee for towing, the itemized receipt shows $125 for recovery, $100 for inclement weather, and $90 for two days storage, although she got it the day after it had been towed.

“They can charge whatever they want,” said an outraged Nelson, who was further frustrated to learn that another wrecker service who removed cars from Sunset Avenue on Friday, February 14, charged far less.

“We charged $165,” said Marcie Llera, manager of Taylor’s Wrecker Service, which is owned by her parents. Taylor’s did not charge for storage, said Llera. Numerous other towing companies C-VILLE contacted declined to comment on charges.

The amount Taylor’s charged is still higher than what the City of Charlottesville allows its contracted tow trucks to charge within city limits: $50 plus $25 a day in storage fees, no matter what the weather. Of course, the county, with its remote roads, is more labor intensive for tow truck operators. FBR owner Wayne Hayslett defended the more than $450 charge as a reflection of the amount of effort and expense involved in retrieving Nelson’s vehicle at official police request. He points out that the tow trucks from Taylor’s came the day after his trucks had done the heavy work of clearing the road. In addition to using his own snow plow, he purchased four sets of tire chains at $200 per set, and there was the additional expense of shoveling. “We spent hours,” he said, adding that if drivers used common sense, many towing situations would be avoided in a winter storm.

“Stay put. You don’t have to go to the grocery store. Everyone wants to wait for the last minute, and then they get towed and they want to complain about it,” he said.

Hayslett suggested that roadside assistance plans or auto insurance might reimburse the cost of weather-related towing.

Albemarle County police spokesperson Carter Johnson said the police department is working on creating a towing advisory board and an ordinance that will limit and regulate towing charges in the county. Hayslett and Llera agree such an ordinance would be beneficial to prevent confusion and frustration.

Nelson hopes it happens soon so others don’t face unexpectedly high fees for towing.

“You feel betrayed,” she said. “You feel like you have no power.”