Here’s a case to celebrate – a tow-truck operator who did not want to waste public resources

It’s a pity an Auckland tow-truck boss has refunded a motorist to avoid a Disputes Tribunal hearing. Alf would have preferred the claim had been put to the test and a considered judgement made.

He happens to harbour a low opinion of tow-truck operators whose business includes hauling illegally parked cars away (fair enough) but then charging an arm and a leg for the owners to get their vehicles back.

Having an operator come off second best would have been hugely cheering, although – to be sure – the outcome could have gone in the company’s favour.

We’ll never know. Tow-truck operator Craig Burrows has simply refunded $230 because he is public spirited.

He coughed up to spend time with his son and avoid wasting public resources, according to what he told the NZ Herald, although he believes he would have won the case easily.

This story began when Burrows’ company, an outfit called Vehicle Recovery Group, towed Dan Dwyer’s Toyota Corolla, which was parked in a Mt Eden fruitshop’s carpark.

It so happens this Dwyer feller is a lawyer, and he took the matter to the tribunal on the basis that $230 to retrieve a car that was towed less than 5km to a Grey Lynn yard did not accurately reflect the true cost of towing.

Mr Dwyer has behaved admirably. He wants motorists to act on Consumer New Zealand’s opinion that towies should charge only “expenses reasonably incurred in removing an unlawfully parked vehicle”.

But guess what?

The day before the tribunal was scheduled to hear the case, Vehicle Recovery Group offered Mr Dwyer his money back.

The company was given an opportunity to comment before the NZ Herald published an article about this matter.

He declined.

But Herald readers – inevitably – wrote in about their experiences with tow trucks and Burrows changed his mind.

“Bottom line is: I was away that day and I didn’t want to waste the public’s time and energy.

“I had a thing for my son’s school which I had committed to … I wasn’t going to pull out of that to go to court for some guy.

“We did the nice thing and gave him his money back to save any drama, and he goes to the public.

“Now we’ll have every Tom, Dick and Harry wanting to take us to public court.”

So how does a $230 fee reflect his company’s costs?

Burrows said fees took into account his business costs, which included rent, maintenance, supply of trucks, wages, fuel and after-hours fees.

They also covered occasions when towies turned up for a job but the car had already left.

“It’s a cost of running a business … You think we sit here like King Farouk or something? It costs six to eight figures to run a business. We don’t just pull a figure out of the sky because we feel like it.

“We don’t sit here rolling in all this cash, because our overheads are horrific.”

Burrows proceeded to point out that illegal parking often cost businesses thousands of dollars, by denying customers access to the privately owned carparks.

And he said it was frustrating some motorists felt they should get a pat on the back for the lack of respect they showed for others’ private property.

“At the end of the day, people shouldn’t even have had to put a sign up to say you shouldn’t park here.

“It’s always someone else’s fault. There was a sign there; he [Mr Dwyer] chose to take the risk. For every time he’s been caught, there’s 500 times he hasn’t.

“Why do people expect to park at someone else’s property and not pay for it?”

Burrows has a point.

But it’s the way tow-truck firms too often deal with motorists when they become involved that results in their slump in public esteem.

The Herald today regales us with examples.

They include complaints from a 65-year-old whose car was towed while her dog and wallet were still inside, and another from a woman charged a $100 fee by a towie who was just about to drive away.

The article also includes a list of motorists’ rights.

You should read about your rights and remember them.

You never know when the knowledge could come in handy.

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