Driving

How much does towing a car cost: What to know before you tow

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You’re cruising down the highway five tracks deep into an amazing playlist when you hear a rattling sound from somewhere in your vehicle. Your car starts to sputter, so you safely pull into the breakdown lane to check it out. Now — you guessed it — your car won’t start. It’s time to call a tow truck.

But, how much does towing a car cost and who ends up paying the bill?

While the average cost of towing a car in the United States is $109, there are a number of factors that determine how much that sum actually amounts to, including the type of vehicle you drive, whether or not you’ve been in an accident and how far you need to be towed.1

Perhaps what's most important is who’s handed the invoice when you’re dropped at your final destination. Are you stuck paying out of pocket expenses or does your auto insurance cover the cost of towing?

Here’s what you need to know if you’re ever caught stranded on the side of the road. 

Key Takeaways: 

  • The average cost of towing a car in the U.S. is $109. 
  • The cost of towing varies depending on vehicle type, time of day, distance traveled and the type of tow truck required for the job.
  • Insurance covers the cost of towing if the policy holder has opted in for the carrier’s add-on roadside assistance program.
  • If you need a tow due to a collision, the at-fault driver’s liability insurance may also cover the cost of your tow.

Cost per mile for towing

While we’ve established that the national average cost of towing a car is $109, let’s take a look at how that breaks down per mile:

Miles Range Average cost
Less than 5 $35-$125 $80
Up to 40 $125-$275 $95
Up to 100 $275-$600 $145

The average cost per mile for towing is $4.75, ranging from $2.50 per mile on the low end to as much as $7 per mile on the high end.2 Many towing companies may also charge fees on a tiered scale based on how many miles you need to go. So, if you just need a local tow, it will be considerably cheaper than towing your vehicle halfway across the state.

The chart below shows that after 50 miles, the cost of towing will become significantly higher.

 

 

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In addition to cost per mile, other fees that you may be liable for include a hook-up fee or base fee for the service provided. If you’re stuck in snow or mud, there may be an additional fee for using a winch to free your vehicle.

Factors that determine towing costs

Factors that determine how much towing a car costs include vehicle type, whether you can be towed by a standard wheel lift or require a flatbed tow truck, the time of day of your tow, the distance traveled and whether or not you’ve been in an accident.3

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  • Type of vehicle. The type of vehicle you drive will be a key factor in how much your tow costs. Because of the strain that standard wheel lift tow trucks can place on a vehicle, weightier models like trucks and SUVs generally require a flatbed truck that offers better protection.
  • Type of tow. Is your car out of gas or have you been involved in an accident? Collisions may involve glass cleanup on the road, a non-standard hookup and other case-by-case needs, depending on the severity of the damage. If the car is totaled, storage fees will also begin to accrue. However, if you need a tow because of a breakdown or a dead battery, it tends to be a much more straightforward transaction.
  • Distance. Distance is another factor in determining cost, not just because of added gas required for the additional mileage, but also because traveling long distances isn’t recommended for wheel lift tow trucks. If you need a tow up to 100 miles, it may be advisable to use a flatbed to protect your vehicle’s infrastructure.
  • Time of day. With basic supply-and-demand principles in mind, a tow required during working hours is generally less expensive than a tow required in the middle of the night. If you break down at 3 a.m., when fewer tow truck drivers are available, it will likely add to your overall cost. 

Common towing scenarios

There are countless scary driving situations that may result in your car needing to be towed, but some of the most common scenarios include:

  • Empty fuel tank 
  • Dead battery 
  • Overheating 
  • Flat tire or damaged wheel
  • Oil leaks
  • Brake issues
  • Collision with another vehicle
  • Parking violation

Types of tow trucks

There are several types of tow trucks, but those most commonly used for towing passenger vehicles include flatbed, hook and chain and wheel lift tow trucks.4 The type of tow truck you need will be one of the biggest determining factors on how much your tow will cost.

1. Flatbed tow truck

Flatbed tow trucks are composed of a large, flat plank and a pulley which are powered by a hydraulic system. When a car requires a tow, the pulley is attached to the vehicle and the plank is angled down to create a ramp for the vehicle to roll on to. As the vehicle is pulled onto the ramp, the plank levels out. Once the plank is flat with the car resting on top, the tow truck driver secures your tires to the flatbed.

Flatbed trucks offer a safer, more secure option for protecting your vehicle in transit but are the most expensive type of tow for passenger vehicles. 

2. Hook and chain tow truck

With a hook and chain tow truck, the tow truck’s hook is secured to the vehicle’s bumper or axle, then chains are secured around the frame of the vehicle. A boom on the tow truck lifts the car’s two front tires up and off the ground with a winch, leaving only the rear tires to roll with the car in neutral gear.5

As they tend to cause damage to cars from the strain pulling on your vehicle’s infrastructure or bumper, hook and chain tow trucks are most useful for totaled cars after an accident or for freeing stuck vehicles from ditches, muddy terrain or snowy trenches in winter weather.

3. Wheel lift tow truck 

With a wheel lift tow truck, a heavy-duty metal yoke is used instead of hooks and chains. The yoke attaches to either the front or back two wheels of a vehicle, then slowly lifts the vehicle up and off the ground. 

Standard tows using a wheel lift are relatively simple transactions and a useful resource when maneuvering low-clearance or tight spaces like a city parking garage or a cramped parking lot.6

While it’s a simple and convenient procedure for many use cases, there can be some level of risk in damaging your vehicle’s suspension due to the strain of added weight. Wheel lift tows are convenient for lightweight vehicles and small spaces, and are generally less expensive than flatbed tows. 

When the option exists and it’s in your budget, it’s often safest to request a flatbed tow truck. 

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Does insurance cover towing?

While regular full-coverage auto insurance typically does not cover towing, there are a few ways you can still get your insurance to cover a tow.7 

Roadside assistance 

Roadside assistance is a program offered by a variety of sources, from third-party organizations like AAA to major auto insurance companies. The mission of roadside assistance is to either get you back on the road heading to your destination, or to remove your disabled car from the road as quickly as possible. 

Roadside assistance is typically available as an add-on service to your base coverage for a monthly or annual fee. 

How much is roadside assistance? 

The cost of roadside assistance will depend on your insurance carrier and how many vehicles you intend to cover, but when provided by insurance companies the service generally ranges from $14-74 annually, or from $5-$18 per policy period.

For third-party roadside assistance programs like AAA, pricing will depend on your geographic location and the level of coverage you’re looking for, but a membership typically costs $5-$10 monthly, or $60-$351 annually.

What does roadside assistance cover?

Not all roadside assistance programs offer the same services, but most programs do cover these core needs: 

  • Vehicle lockout 
  • Fuel delivery for empty tanks
  • Battery jump start
  • Tire change for flat and ruptured tires
  • Winching services for freeing a stuck vehicle
  • Towing a disabled vehicle to a repair shop

If your auto insurance plan is liability-only, and you do not have a third-party roadside assistance membership, you should expect to pay out of pocket for any towing services provided. Check with your insurance company to see how they handle towing costs and whether a roadside assistance program may be a worthwhile investment for convenience and peace of mind.

Roadside assistance vs. AAA

While AAA pricing tends to cost more than roadside assistance offered through insurance providers, the breadth of services offered is more expansive. It extends to vehicle inspection services and discounts on Carfax vehicle reports, as well as other perks unrelated to auto care, such as shopping discounts and identity theft protection. 

Reimbursement through insurance claim

Some insurance companies cover towing costs through reimbursement, meaning that you pay upfront for the costs associated with your tow, and then file a claim with your company to get money back in your pocket. Keep in mind that many companies only reimburse up to $50, which is well below the average cost of a tow at $109. 

At-fault driver’s insurance policy

If you were involved in an accident and do not have roadside assistance included in your coverage, the at-fault driver’s liability insurance may cover both your repairs and associated towing fees. 

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At one point or another, most drivers will need to call a tow truck, but you can set yourself up for success by knowing what you should expect to pay, the type of tow truck you need for your vehicle, and how you can avoid paying out of pocket by leveraging tools available to you.

Building roadside assistance into your base coverage or securing a membership to a third-party provider like AAA can offer both peace of mind and help you avoid unnecessary headaches down the road.

Want to see if your towing is covered under your policy? Compare auto insurance policies now.

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