WILMINGTON — Let’s face it, having your car towed is never fun. Whether a driver breaks down on the side of the road or parks in the wrong parking lot, towing companies expect to deal with customers who might not be happy to need their services.
To make matters worse there are some companies that participate in what is known as predatory towing — which can leave a black eye on the entire industry. That’s why Tom Toby, owner of Thomas Towing and Transport, has spent the past nine years working to put customer service and customer satisfaction first — his reputation speaks for itself with back-to-back ACE awards for 2017 and 2018.
Toby has always been a gear-head, but towing and transport was not always his career — in fact, prior to getting into the towing business Toby served for more than 20-years as a firefighter in local departments.
A need for professionalism
While he worked as a first responder, Toby realized the need for a towing company that focused on customer service first, so nine years ago he began working as a towing operator full time.
‘I was a full-time professional firefighter here in the area before that and I did that for 26-years. Between working in the towing business part-time and seeing towing companies as I responded as a firefighter I saw that there was a need for a higher level of professionalism,” Toby said.
Professionalism, for Toby, means everything from ensuring drivers safety to his employees’ uniforms; he expects those representing his company to live up to certain standards.
“Towing is a lot like the fire service or emergency response. People have a problem they dial a telephone number, and they expect a professional to show up and solve the problem … I just decided that I could adopt a lot of my emergency response experience to towing and how we respond to towing … All of my drivers have to be clean cut, clean shaven, uniforms on — Identified so that when they get there, people know who they are, they aren’t some guy rolling out of a truck in dirty clothes and grease,” he said.
As for the so-called predatory towing companies, Toby said he stays out of that end of the business. In the towing world, there are several different realms including recovery and emergency towing, private lot towing, and repossession towing.
Most of the complaints that give the towing industry a bad name come from companies engaged in the latter two.
He also acknowledged that there are predatory towing companies, but for the most part, when it comes to having a vehicle towed off private property the driver is just doing what they were hired to do.
“For the most part that is an end of the industry, I don’t get involved in. I have several friends that are in that end of the industry and I think there is a lot of misconceptions out there. There are some predatory towing practices and it has been a problem in Wilmington and Carolina Beach for years … but it’s private property impound service, they are doing what they property owner asked them to do.”
Planning ahead can help prevent any unfortunate run-ins with so-called predatory towing companies, using reviews from social media and online search engines can help drivers select the best towing service, Toby said.
And selecting a qualified towing company is important, especially for those who get stuck in the sand in Carolina Beach.
Toby urges residents to be careful if they are stuck off-road and someone offers to tow them out for $20.
He can think of several instances where people with Jeeps or other off-road vehicles have offered to tow a car out of the sand at Carolina Beach with a winch for a few dollars just to have thousands of dollars worth of damages done to their vehicle.
Thomas Towing has a large, army-green off-road recovery vehicle known as Brutus that can be found in Carolina Beach on weekends ready to help recover vehicles that get stuck in the sand. This is not simply waiting for people’s misfortune, rather, the Town of Carolina Beach and the police department have specifically asked the company to provide services.
“We do a lot of the off-road recovery down in Carolina Beach … Some people have this misconception that we are out there on the beach and we charge a ton of money, and there are people down there telling people we charge a ton of money and we don’t. We are down there at the direction of the Carolina Beach Police Department to provide a service to people to ensure they don’t get gouged,” he said.
Beyond fair pricing, Toby is fully insured and trained in off-road recovery — so if anything bad does happen, it is covered.
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