Extortionate Roadside Service Charges 280,000 Yen for Stuck Car in Snow | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Extortionate Roadside Service Charges 280,000 Yen for Stuck Car in Snow

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Last December 13th, when Mr. X lost control of his car on a gentle downhill slope, crashing into a snowbank and getting stuck, he received an invoice from a roadside service he called for assistance.
Mr. Y, employed at a maintenance and towing company in Asahikawa, Hokkaido, presented a roadside service fee table. It is stated that this is the standard pricing in Hokkaido.

Last year, there was a spate of roadside service companies that came to the scene of car trouble and charged higher fees than necessary, leading to some arrests.

In the coming season, the number of troubles such as getting stuck on snowy roads or running up the battery due to excessive use of air conditioners will increase.

The invoice in the above photo was obtained when a roadside service was called for repairs on December 13th of last year. It was after the car became uncontrollable on a gentle downhill slope, crashed into a snowbank, and became stuck (immobile).

The above invoice follows the familiar tactics of a typical overcharging roadside service provider. In conclusion, though there may be slight variations by region, when performed by legitimate roadside service providers, including JAF (non-members), the cost for this service should generally be around 25,000 yen.

Why, then, was Mr. X charged nearly ten times as much? Mr. Y, a representative of Company A, a maintenance and immobilization service provider in Asahikawa, Hokkaido, explained the tactics of this malicious road service.

“Mr. Y explained, ‘This is a common situation where the vehicle becomes uncontrollable on a not-so-steep road (frozen surface), crashes into a snowbank, and becomes immobilized. We called a towing service… It’s a typical operation. They charge exorbitant amounts for a single operation. The initial fee may seem cheap at first glance, but additional costs, including multiple charges and extra fees for snow-related assistance, can be more than ten times the base rate. The unit price for vehicle transport is also high.'”

Here are some specific examples of the questionable charges:

(1) Basic fee: 3,980 yen
→Basic fee is set relatively low to increase orders

(2) Dispatch fee for a loaded vehicle: 42,000 yen

(3) Empty car dispatch fee 1km@600 yen 42km Expressway use 48,000 yen

“Both of these are double billing. Costs for sending a tow truck to the scene, under names like dispatch expenses or relocation costs, are typically not charged. Additionally, charging 600 yen per kilometer for travel expenses is excessively high. The appropriate cost is around 200 to 300 yen per kilometer.” (Mr. Y)

(4) Vehicle transportation cost 1km @ 1200 yen 12km 71000 yen

“The cost to tow the immobile vehicle to the nearest factory (or their own factory) is quite high at 1,200 yen per kilometer. If using the roadside service included for free with car insurance, most insurance-specified factories offer free towing for 100km to unlimited distances. For JAF, towing is free for members up to 15km, and for non-members, it’s 730 yen per kilometer.” (Mr. Y)

(5) Loading/unloading (winch, manual push): 10,000 yen
(6) Two additional persons: ¥24,000 (7) Towing work (towing)
(8) Towing operation: towing arrival (before and after): 16,000 yen
(10) On-site response fee: 10,000 yen

Since (5), (6), (8), and (10) are also costs related to on-site work, they can be considered as multiple claims. Unless the work is very special, one worker and driver should be able to handle it.

(7) Hazardous work on the road (on a slope, on a highway, etc.) 32,000 yen
(9) (work in the rain, on snow, etc.) 10% increase: ¥24698

“Items 7 and 9 are also double billing. For a legitimate service provider, the cost for snow-related assistance is typically around 3,000 yen.” (Y)

A car stuck on a highway with heavy snowfall. Where to call after this is important.

If you are still faced with an exorbitant bill, here’s how to handle the situation:

First of all, the first thing is not to contact these crooks, and I recommend calling JAF at “#8139”. Even if you are not a member, you will never be charged an exorbitantly high fee, and JAF will always give you an estimate of the cost before the work is done. In addition, while non-life insurance companies offer free roadside service for such things as a dead battery, key stuck in the ignition, or a flat tire, be aware that non-life insurance companies do not, in principle, respond to problems caused by natural disasters (such as getting stuck in snow or immobilized by a flood).

Even if you are charged a high price that differs by tens of thousands of yen or more from a prior estimate, and you protest on the spot but are not listened to and end up paying, you may be able to apply for a cooling-off period under the Act on Specified Commercial Transactions for Door-to-Door Sales, etc.

In October last year, the Dispute Resolution Committee of the National Consumer Affairs Center announced a case in which a customer was charged 78,000 yen for a battery failure and paid the amount but received a refund. However, the company eventually refunded approximately 65,000 yen, which was more than the fair price of approximately 13,000 yen (equivalent to the price of a JAF non-member). If you think something is wrong, even after you have paid, please call the consumer hotline (no station number) 188 (no-ya) as soon as possible for advice.

Finally, we would like to tell you about the least expensive way to replace a battery. In most cases, even if an automobile battery is over-discharged (battery dead), it can be restored and used as before by recharging the battery. If you do not have the opportunity to drive a car on a regular basis, simply driving the car once or twice every two weeks, preferably for about 30 minutes during the daytime, will help prevent the battery from running down. However, there are cases in which the battery itself is so deteriorated that it is useless even when recharged, and in such cases, the battery should be replaced with a new one.

In such cases, a new battery is needed. Prices for this also vary among dealers, car accessory stores, gas stations, etc., and of course, depending on the type of car. The price at a dealer is generally 30,000 to 50,000 yen for the battery and replacement labor. This is quite an expense.

The recommended method is to buy a battery from a mail order site such as Amazon or Rakuten and replace it yourself or have JAF replace it. At mail order sites, batteries of the exact same brand and with the same specifications can be purchased for half to one-third the price of batteries at dealers or car accessory stores. If you are a JAF member, you can call JAF to replace the battery for free. Battery replacement is a task that can be easily done by yourself, but be careful not to hurt your back because the battery itself is very heavy (10 to 15 kg).

If the battery goes dead, it is recommended to call JAF with the number “#8139”.
  • Interview and text Kumiko Kato Photo: Courtesy of Kumiko Kato Courtesy of Kumiko Kato (1st, 2nd, and 4th photos), Kyodo News (3rd photo)

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