Dear Consumer Ed:

I flipped my Jeep in a canal.  The towing company says it will cost $6,000 to recover the vehicle from the canal.  Are they allowed to charge this much for a two to three hour job?  I can hire a crane for $500 an hour to remove the vehicle.

Consumer Ed says: 

The short answer to your question is yes—towing companies are allowed to charge whatever price they deem appropriate when you hire them to tow your car.   When a person hires a towing company, the service rendered by the towers is called consensual towing.  Federal law prohibits states from setting price caps on fees for consensual towing.  States can, however, regulate the amount that towing companies charge to tow illegally parked cars.  The service rendered in this situation is called non-consensual towing.  In Georgia, towing companies may not charge more than $125 for the non-consensual towing of a vehicle that weighs less than 10,000 pounds.

As a Georgia consumer, however, you are protected by the Fair Business Practices Act, which prohibits unfair and deceptive acts or practices in the marketplace.  If, for example, the towing company originally told you that they would charge you $500 to recover your vehicle, but then charged you $6,000 after recovery, that act would probably be considered unfair and deceptive. The Governor's Office of Consumer Protection will pursue such violations if the Administrator determines there is a substantial public interest. You can contact us at www.consumer.ga.gov or by calling 404-651-8600 or 800-869-1123 (toll-free in Georgia, outside of the metro Atlanta calling area).

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