The National Council on Towing Parity[i] is asking towers to be aware of assisting stranded motorists who insist on beating them down on price during this year’s winter storms.
The agency says it’s normal for motorists who don’t plan ahead for these types of emergencies to complain about…even the lowest of charges. As the snow starts to accumulate they are warned to stay home but choose to brave horrendous road conditions and become stuck.
The council warns towers to be aware that these scammers are out there looking to take advantage of them. They’ll expect lightning fast service at break-even prices while wielding threats of negative reports to the Better Business Bureau or the Attorney General’s Office as blackmail over towers’ heads, should rates fall outside their unreasonable expected norms.
“Right at the beginning of a snowstorm we see misinformed motorists, having no idea as to the expenses towers incur, accusing long-standing, scrupulous business owners of gouging them.” Said Dave Talburt[ii], the Council’s Chairman.
Experts say if you believe you’re being taken advantage of don’t trek out into the snow, let your trucks sit idle and save your fuel.
They also suggest that you “know what you’re committing to ahead of time”. Get a credit card for payment before you head out. You’ll want to be sure you can recoup minimum expenses if you are forced to drive 15 or 20 miles in whiteout conditions only to find the once-stranded motorist missing, obviously freed by a passerby. Nothing’s worse than wasting your time and fuel on a “wild goose chase” when there are others in need of your services.
Motorists– who have no knowledge of the varying difficulties and methods of extrication required– will attempt to have you commit to an exact dollar amount when they find themselves in need of your services. The best course of action is to provide your minimum charges while informing them that the total cost can only be determined once the work is complete. Let them know that there’s a difference between a tow and a winch. And extricating a vehicle safely, without unavoidable damages is not something you take lightly.
Although most will push back against any attempts at education…Instead choosing to align their thinking with that of the ill-informed media (as they again trash an easy target)…you should, nevertheless, persist.
One suggestion is to make comparisons they might understand. For example you could say: ‘Giving you an exact price is like asking a fire fighter to tell you exactly how much damage he’s going to do before allowing him to respond to a fully engulfed house-fire.’
‘Or asking a doctor to diagnose and prescribe a cure for your illness, over the phone…before he’s even seen you.’ It can’t be done even if you were well-versed and trained in those professions.
Finally be sure you know your expenses and can recite them to perfection when put on the spot. Motorists…having lost any trace of the value of a dollar, will accuse you of “highway robbery” claiming you’re overcharging them. When the reality is they have no concept of what it costs to maintain availability throughout the year, let alone service the huge influx of calls you receive during peak snow events.
You could start by explaining that a brand new tow truck costs $100,000 and will depreciate quickly–And that your modest fleet of ten requires replacement every 3 to 5 years. You could mention that, new or used, they must be kept in peak condition lest the tower becomes one of the stranded, yes repair bills add up.
Then talk about the numerous insurance requirements: Umbrellas, Liability, Collision, Cargo, On hook, Garage Keepers, and Worker’s Compensation.
Be sure to point to your largest expense—Payroll. Explain that you need to retain trained operators (year round) so as to maintain availability during peak times…this can eat up as much as 50 % of gross revenues.
Of course there’s your fuel bill and facilities– With diesel fueled trucks that get 10 miles per gallon, at best, they’ll consume as much as 25% of your gross revenue. And don’t you dare forget to mention your 6500 square foot storage facility on 4 acres. It’s lighted and secured with barbed-wire topped, 7 foot fencing on the perimeter in a prime location– so as to be eligible for City contracts and meet state requirements to respond to law enforcement calls.
And be sure to remind those who question your rates that…you too…must pay your dues. You must “Render unto Caesar” licenses, fees, and all manner of taxes. You must give the fruits of your labor to those who have– hands out and– guns ready…demanding you pay. One by one they take their turn- City, County, State and Federal. They hit you with business licenses, merchant’s licenses, and required annual registration renewals.
Then Payroll taxes, real estate taxes and personal property taxes on your trucks. And…as if that’s not enough…they want a portion of the money you’re trying to live on, income taxes.
They’ll get their money by any means, even gaming the rules…calling money paid on debt– income.
Towers you need to have the ability to explain that even when you pay down the principal on your truck loan, basically throwing money at a truck that’s losing value, the payments you make are classified as income.
If anyone remains through your tirade of facts you could further explain that you’re also being penalized because you have employees. The Feds and the State demand you pay a percentage of the dollars paid to employees– to them– out of your own pocket. They call it unemployment security, Social Security, and Medicare but it’s just more taxes.
And if you are able to wade through the muck put in your way…and can afford to offer health care as an added perk to retain good employees…you’ll be, once again, stymied. Yes thanks to Obamacare, you can tell them, you’ve seen a 24% increase in premiums this year and can expect 16% more next year because Washington has deemed your plan substandard.
Then after you’ve lain out as much as you think they can stomach stand back and ask if the pittance you’re asking for the service provided is really so great?
If the answer is yes you’ll never get through so cut your losses put away your chains and move on.
[i] Established in 1989 as a voice for the Towing Industry throughout the nation, this purely fictional agency would represent the thoughts and feelings of thousands of towers if given a chance.
[ii] As one of the original founding members of the National Council on Towing Parity, Dave spends most of his time these days lounging in the mind of the article’s author, Don Archer.