Sell your car to settle bill - towing company

Published Nov 19, 2008


By Louise Flanagan

A Johannesburg man had to sell his crashed car to a towing company to pay a towing bill which he has denied authorising.

But the police said he signed the towing papers, so it was legal.

Thando Stuurman crashed his 14-year-old Uno Fire in Louis Botha Avenue on a Saturday night at the beginning of this month. His car was removed from the scene, although he said he had only agreed that First Road Emergency could tow it to a garage 20 metres away.

When First Road Emergency reopened on the Monday, Stuurman found his vehicle at the towing company's premises. He was slapped with a bill of R6 840.

Stuurman, a plumber, could not pay and unhappily agreed to sell his car to the towing company to cover the bill.

Stuurman bought the car just weeks earlier for R16 000 after saving for four years.

He insisted he had not been told how much it would cost to tow his car the agreed 20m, and that he had not agreed to its removal to the towing company's premises. His brother had been on his way to help him move the car when the towing company took it away, he said.

Stuurman's R6 840 bill included: R3 950 for towing; R750 for storage; R750 for administration; R550 for security and R840 for VAT.

Stuurman said the towing company signed the authorisation to tow, a form which listed costs on the back. Stuurman said he was not shown the back of the form.

The back of the form lists costs as follows: R3 950 for the initial towing; R9,50 per kilometre for a distance of more than 40km; a vehicle recovery charge of R2 500; further towings at R995 each; storage at R295 per day and an administration fee of R950. The charges exclude VAT.

Tow-truck driver Gavin Sacks said that before the car was moved, the price of R3 950 had been mentioned and Stuurman had agreed to sell them his car to cover the cost.

"He knew what he was doing and he knew where his car was going to," Sacks said.

The towing company's Tyrone Brighton said they were doing Stuurman a favour by setting the value of his vehicle high enough to cover the bill, as it had been badly damaged in the crash.

"This car's not worth that amount of money," Brighton said, adding that clients often sold their vehicles to the towing company as scrap metal.

Brighton said the book retail value of a 1994 Uno Fire was R14 600 and the trade value R9 550. He said the salvage value of the crashed vehicle was calculated at 25percent of the average of the retail and trade prices, giving a value of R3 018.

Brighton said the towing company bought the Uno from Stuurman for R6 840, then sold it to Hallmark Auto, which shares the premises, for R3 705. Hallmark in turn sold it for R4 000. This was confirmed by Hallmark.

A form details the sale and indicates the routine nature of such sales. Stuurman laid a charge of theft under false pretences at the Norwood police station, but the police said there wouldn't be a prosecution.

Captain Phillip Maganedisa said Stuurman had signed the form authorising the company to tow and store his vehicle.

A senior prosecutor at the Johannesburg regional court, Mienke Erasmus, said she had not seen the case but that "technically speaking, it is possible to charge them with theft".

SA National Consumer Union vice-chairperson Ina Wilken said the incident sounded unfair. She said people involved in accidents were often in shock, so charges should be carefully explained.

The Consumer Protection Bill, which has still not been passed, says charges must be explained to the consumer.

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