auto

Do I have to pay for an unneeded car tow?

Tara Baukus MelloDear Driving for Dollars,
I recently experienced a flat tire while I was driving. When roadside assistance arrived to help me on the side of the road, the driver told me that my car did not have a spare tire and he would have to tow me.

I thought all cars had spare tires, but he insisted mine did not. Rather than argue on the side of a highway with traffic whizzing by, I agreed to the tow.

Well, it turns out I did have a spare tire! To make matters worse, my mechanic was farther than the mileage limit of my roadside assistance, and now I have a bill for the additional miles I was towed. Do I have to pay it when I shouldn't have been towed in the first place?
-- Ashley

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Dear Ashley,

It's not a huge surprise that the roadside assistance driver told you that you didn't have a spare, though he certainly was remiss in not double-checking. Thanks to increased requirements in federal fuel economy standards as well as tire pressure monitoring systems as required equipment in new cars for several years now, many newer cars no longer have spare tires.

Those that don't have a spare typically have a tire repair kit that only is effective for certain types of flats, not a blowout or damage to a sidewall. Some luxury brand cars are equipped with so-called run-flat tires, which can travel with no air for up to 50 miles.

To your question of whether you should have to pay the tow bill, I would certainly call the towing company, ask to speak to a manager and explain the situation. They should be aware that one of their drivers is misinformed -- or perhaps lazy -- and hopefully they will want to save their reputation by waiving the fees.

That said, knowing your car is your responsibility. Take a few minutes to read the owner's manual to familiarize yourself with the location of your spare tire and any equipment necessary to use it, such as a jack. It's also a good idea to read the towing recommendations for your car, since some cars have specific tow points or other limitations on towing. While you may be relying on a roadside assistance service to help you during a breakdown, it would be wise to observe what it's doing to ensure your car is properly handled and no damaged is caused.

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If you have a car question, email it to us at Driving for Dollars. Read more Driving for Dollars columns and Bankrate auto stories. Follow her on Facebook here or on Twitter @SheDrives.

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Tara Baukus Mello

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