I am writing this in response to an event that recently happened to us involving roadside assistance. We believe everyone who travels and relies on roadside assistance should be aware of a potential scam we have recently learned about. This not only includes people with roadside assistance insurance but also those who just “Google” it and call random companies for help.
We have carried roadside assistance for many years including before full-time RVing. I have never needed it in the past personally. The only roadside assistance experience I have is when I owned my one repair shop and towing company many moons ago. When I did own a shop and tow company I had contracts with all the major insurance companies and motor clubs.
Here’s Our Story
As we often do on days off, we planned to go out exploring. On this particular day we decided to go to an old abandoned mining/ghost town. The day started off just like any other exploration day with Chris packing up some keto lunch and snacks and me getting the cameras ready. It was supposed to take about an hour to get there so we decided to leave between 11:00 am – 11:30 AM putting our arrival time between 12:00 PM and 12:30 PM. Our plan was to eat lunch when we arrived or shortly thereafter.
The trip out was going as planned and the road leading to the entrance turned out to be a very scenic road. Once we turned off this road it was approximately 11 miles uphill with the last few miles being dirt road. As we neared the last mile before the parking lot we encountered snow. We stopped momentarily and were deciding if we should drive through it.
We Quickly Realized We Were Doomed
As we looked it over we determined that the truck had made it through much deeper snow in the past and we should have no problem making it through. We put the truck in 4 wheel drive and off we went. After about 150 feet or so I quickly realized that this was not a good idea. If it were just snow we would have been fine but there was a layer of ice underneath the snow.
I stopped the truck and decided to back out through the same tracks I was coming in on. There was something in the road that made the truck go into a slide out of the tracks and into the snowbank on the side. Trying to move from there was no use. I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t even rock the truck back and forth. It literally did not move an inch in either direction.
As I got out of the truck and started assessing the situation a couple of people came over to help. One guy even tried to pull me out using his truck but my tow rope didn’t extend far enough for him to be on solid ground so his wheels just spun. Long story short after about an hour of trying with his truck and digging the snow from around the tire (I only had this tiny fold-up shovel at the time…doahhh!!!) I realized why the truck was not moving. The tires had dug into the ice which was at least 6″ thick!!!
No problem. I will just get my hammer from the toolbox and break up the ice. Oh no!!! My toolbox was back at the RV. We had taken it out to do the RV repairs. Oh crap. Ok, I guess it was time to call Progressive Insurance and use the roadside assistance. Did you ever try and explain to someone sitting behind a desk your location in the mountains when you’re not even a hundred percent sure yourself?…lol.
A Little Help From Google Maps
Well, we did it. With the help of google maps, we were able to describe exactly where we were. I explained to the agent all we needed was a truck with about 75-100′ of winch cable to pull us straight back. The agent put us on hold for a few minutes and when they came back on they said they couldn’t find anyone to get us out. They explained that they would call around and notify us when they located a company.
Lessons Learned To This Point
1- Never take for granted that an area of snow is pure snow. Make sure you get out and check for ice underneath that snow, especially in the mountains!!!
2- Always carry 100′-150′ of tow rope or tow strap.
3- Always carry tools, especially if going off-roading.
4- We were lucky to be in a spot with a good cell signal but make sure you carry water, snacks, and warm clothes in case you have to walk to an area with cell signal.
At this point, we were having our lunch and laughing at our stupidity so we didn’t realize that almost 45 minutes went by and still no call from Progressive with a tow company. We were just about to call them back when we received a text from Progressive stating that a tow company had responded and the wait time was going to be 60-90 minutes. They informed us the company would be Brooks Towing out of Missoula which is about an hour from where we were so it seemed about right.
About an hour later we received a call from the Brooks “dispatcher” informing us his driver was finishing up another call and would be heading out to us shortly. He wanted to verify our location so he said he was sending a text with a Google Map pin and if that was correct to put my name on the top and send it back to him. He then asked me to take a picture of the truck so his driver could see what he was up against…Hmmm. I thought that was a little sketchy but we needed him so I complied.
It Sounded Like A Good Idea
I actually thought the location thing was a pretty good idea. Back in the day when I had my company we used paper maps!!!…lol. This seemed like a sure fire way to get to the proper location the first time. Technology at it’s best.
About 45 minutes went by and the “dispatcher” called us back. He said he couldn’t send his driver until we called Progressive and had them call him because of some kind of payment discrepancy. That right there should have sent up some red flags. Why would he need payment before he even got to us? Again, we were the ones needing help so we called and explained to Progressive what was told to us. They seemed just as confused as us. Hence, another red flag.
Who Do We Believe?
The next couple of hours were back and forth with Progressive and Brooks with each promising that help was on the way. We would receive texts from Progressive stating how much longer it would be. Then we would call over to Brooks only to find out they were still waiting for Progressive to call. Ok, who is lying? Lessoned learned. We should have pulled the plug on Progressive and either called another local tow company or called our backup roadside assistance which is AMA.
But nope, we didn’t. We fell for the Progressive agent’s promise that Brooks was on the way. I guess I don’t have to tell you that Brooks never showed up. We were now on hour 7 and on with Progressive yet again and I insisted they find another company. After keeping me on hold for a couple of minutes she came back and said she couldn’t find anybody. What?!!!
The Last Straw
That was finally the last straw. We Googled local tow companies and the first one we called said he could come in about an hour. He told us he knew exactly where we were and what type of truck we had. What? How? We didn’t tell him. We asked him how we knew and he said earlier in the day a company called and asked him to take the call. They offered him a ridiculously low amount so he declined. He said they sent him pictures and our location!!!
He told us the name of the driver that would be showing up and he even texted us when the driver was 10 miles away!!! At $800 it was a very expensive lesson to learn. While we feel $800 was a little high they were the only company that would come and get us. Besides, the agent at Progressive stated that we would receive a full reimbursement.
Tow Truck Broker? Is There Such A Thing?
Now as we were waiting for his guy we started thinking about this whole thing. It led us to theorizing that Brooks Towing wasn’t a towing a company at all. They were a fictitious company that posed as a tow company. They would get calls in and get “X” amount of dollars for the call. Then they would call local companies and try and “dispatch” the call for a lower amount. The differance is what they would pocket. Not bad. They could make hundreds of dollars without even doing anything!!!
The next day we decide to check out our theory. We looked up Brooks Towing and got the address. It was listed as being in a shopping mall!!! The mall was only 15 minutes from the KOA we were staying at so we jumped on the bike and rode over. Naturally there was no towing company anywhere to be found. Chris even went into all the stores and spoke with the owners/managers thinking maybe they had moved recently. Nope, no one ever heard of them. Furthermore, there had never been a towing company in that shopping center.
Our Theory Was Right. Now What?
We left the shopping center and decided to take a ride as at this point we needed some serious wind therapy. We rode along a nice windy scenic road and had a great rest of the day.
When we got home I decided I would call Progressive, speak to a supervisor, and let them know what we found out. After all, wouldn’t you want to know if your company was getting scammed or scamming your customers? I know I would. To my surprise, I could not speak to a supervisor. The agents gave me the complete run-around and finally said to me the supervisor was unwilling to take my call. I was shocked.
One thing I don’t understand is when I towed way back when I had to give each insurance company pictures of my truck, info on each truck, and prove I had a million-dollar liability insurance policy. Have things changed so much that anyone who says they are a tow company can sign up with these large insurance companies?
Once home and after completing our wind therapy we sat and thought about what we could have done differently. What could we do to ensure we never sit around for over 7 hours on the side of the road again. Here is what we came up with.
- Have your own tools!!!…lol
- Once your roadside assistance carrier assigns you a company, do some research. Google them. Call them. Try and verify they are even a real company.
- If your tow company asks you for pictures and asks you to send back a Google Maps locator, start looking for another company. This should have been one of our biggest red flags. The only reason they are doing this is that they are not from the area and they need the info verified so they can find another company.
- If you are called by the tow company and asked to call your insurance company so they can call for payment, hang up and find a new company immediately. I should have realized this since I owned my own company. If someone is covered by roadside assistance the vendor that gets dispatched does the call and submits the bill to the insurance company. When the call is originally assigned the insurance company will state the benefit limits. If it does not cover the call guess who pays? Yup, you. You will be responsible for the balance at the time of service. I blew that one…lol
- After a reasonable amount of time (I would say about two hours) call your insurance carrier and ask them to provide another company or just call someone on your own and see how long it will take them. Most policies allow you to pay for the call and submit the bill for reimbursement. That is what we finally did.
- If you don’t have roadside assistance and just called a local tow company, never pay over the phone. A reputable company will not charge you until they show up to provide services.
- Call the local authorities (not the 911 number) and verify the tow company assigned to you actually exists.
You can bet we will be much better prepared the next time we travel on/off-road. We will also be shopping around for a new insurance company come policy renew time. Since we are full-time RVers our choices are limited. Progressive does have a great full-timers policy so if I can’t find another company we will be looking into different roadside assistance. Shame on Progressive for not checking out their vendors!!!
In Progressive’s favor, their agent had given us a website to upload the tow bill receipt to for reimbursement. We uploaded the receipt the next morning. Within 5 days the status went from “pending” to “approved” with the approval amount being the full $800!!! That is awesome!!! That being said my only disappointment with Progressive is the fact they did not want to be alerted to one of their vendors scamming their customers. That’s why we are letting you guys know!!!
Did you ever hear of any kind of roadside assistance “brokering” before? Have you had a similar experience being left on the road for so long? Let us know about it in the comments below.