Just like any other business, tow truck operations in West Virginia are regulated by law. The state sets maximum charges for towing and storage, regulates who can do business as a towing company and ensures that all towing carriers are registered. Knowing the tow truck laws in West Virginia is an important first step for all towing industry workers, as well as for people interested in starting a towing company of their own.
Under the West Virginia Code, anyone carrying wrecked or disabled vehicles, as part of a business, must have a common carrier certificate and be registered as a towing company before beginning operations. If this registration is revoked or suspended, the towing company must stop its operations immediately. The Public Service Commission may revoke or suspend registration based on complaints from the public but can only suspend it for 30 days for the first violation. For the second violation, the Commission may revoke registration for up to a year, and for the third violation, it may revoke registration permanently. Any business owner whose registration is threatened has a chance to defend it in a hearing before the Commission.
The Public Service Commission also sets the maximum allowable towing rates. These rates vary according to the type of vehicle being towed. For instance, for passenger cars and trucks weighing less than 7,500 pounds, towing operators may charge no more than $70 per hour. If the towing operator has a minimum charge, this charge is also limited to $70. Trucks weighing more than 7,500 pounds may be towed at an hourly rate of no more than $90. If the towing company charges by the mile, the rate may be no more than $4 per mile. The law prohibits businesses from charging both hourly and mileage rates for the same job. If a towing company wants to add other charges not listed by the Commission, it must first specify these charges and then apply for Commission approval. Towing companies may charge an additional $15 per hour on weekends, evenings and federal holidays if workers receive overtime pay.
Many towing companies store vehicles which have been towed, usually at an additional cost to the owner. West Virginia state law permits the Public Service Commission to regulate these charges as well. For a passenger car or truck weighing no more than 7,500 pounds, towing companies may charge $15 per day for outside storage or $25 per day for inside storage. These maximums rise to $25 for inside storage and $30 for outside storage when the vehicle is a truck weighing between 7,500 and 10,000 pounds, and increase accordingly for larger vehicles. The storage fee accrues at the beginning of each day, but the carrier may not charge a storage fee for the day the vehicle arrives at the facility. If a vehicle is delivered to a storage facility after 1 p.m., the carrier cannot charge a fee for 24 hours.
If the owner arrives while the vehicle is hooked to a tow truck, or loaded by a wrecker but has not yet been towed, the owner may take possession of the vehicle. The owner must be able to produce a key and immediately remove the vehicle. However, the towing company can still charge the vehicle owner. West Virginia tow truck law specifies that the carrier may charge up to one-half the minimum charge for an ordinary tow. If the tow truck has left the premises, the owner may not retrieve the vehicle until it reaches the storage location.
G.D. Palmer is a freelance writer and illustrator living in Milwaukee, Wis. She has been producing print and Web content for various organizations since 1998 and has been freelancing full-time since 2007. Palmer holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in writing and studio art from Beloit College in Beloit, Wis.