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RTTO Tow Truck

Learn about our industry

Why Does It Cost More For Emergency Police Towing?


In Washington, in order to tow from accident scenes, you have to be a Registered Tow Truck Operator (RTTO). These RTTO’s are a specially classified group of towing companies that are able to recover and hold wrecked or impounded vehicles and process them through Washington’s legal impound system. This system leads to mandatory public auctions for vehicles that go unredeemed. Because this system changes the ownership of vehicles, it is very heavily regulated and monitored by the Washington State Patrol and Department of Licensing.

To become an and remain RTTO there is a large list of requirements, obligations, and duties, and costs which are monitored and inspected regularly by the Washington State Patrol.


RTTO trucks must be of a certain size and specification to be considered for RTTO work. It must have an approved towing unit that meets the stringent specifications laid out in Washington law.


A lot of specialized equipment is required by the Washington State Patrol in order for RTTO’s to be equipped to perform whatever type of towing, recovery, cleanup, road closure, etc. service that may be needed at the scene of a collision or impound. For example, a light duty (class A) truck MUST have a certain number, length, and grade of chains. The regulation even tells us how many individual wires are to be in our wire ropes on our winches. Every tiny aspect of our equipment is laid out, required, and verified by inspection. This includes carried equipment, emergency lighting, ancillary truck equipment, cleanup supplies, etc.


The WSP must specifically approve EVERY employee at a towing company whether they operate a truck or sweep the floor. They must go through a rigorous background check before being approved to work for an RTTO. Any felony or any crime whatsoever against people (read forgery, theft or assault) will render that person unemployable at an RTTO. This restriction on hiring creates a shortage of qualified operators, thereby forcing RTTOs to pay more for good employees. Quality employees and employee retention is one of the largest costs for a RTTO towing company.  


The Washington State Patrol and Department of Licensing have very specific requirements for RTTO insurance and licensees. The addendum to our regular business license costs money and can only be obtained after an extensive application process and inspection with the Washington State Patrol. RTTO’s are re-inspected annually and whenever the WSP feels it’s necessary. This process involves maintaining and securing an impound yard with 8ft fencing, accurate records that must be maintained for years. RTTO’s must also carry a multi-million dollar insurance policy and a large bond.



Washington State did an extensive study of tow rates in 1989 because they expected to find that towing companies were overcharging, but the study showed quite the opposite. Many towing companies were operating below cost which we now know is a huge safety risk and an obvious problem for business longevity and public service.

The study was then used to set the rates for RTTO towing in Washington. So currently the Washington State Patrol sets the rates for towing from an accident or impound in Washington state. The rates are tied to the Seattle area transportation index and each year the price for RTTO towing can go up or down based on the actual cost of transportation industries in our state. The rate is hourly and inclusive of virtually all services the rendered at the scene of an accident or impound. Additional fees such as after hours release fees, storage rates, extra man fees, etc. are also regulated and set by the Washington State Patrol and often must be approved by a trooper on scene.


Its interesting to note that the hourly payment scheme created by the Washington State Patrol rewards time consumption. In other words, if you are a company that drives a great distance to get to a scene, something we see on city and county rotation lists, you will accrue a larger bill for your service, likewise if you are poorly trained and it takes you longer to do your job, you will earn more. These are both things that we think are very unfair to consumers, especially considering the fact that Bill’s Towing employs ONLY Wreckmaster certified professional operators.

Its also interesting to note some of the costs associated with an RTTO Compliant truck. We just ordered another RTTO compliant flatbed (Class E) tow truck. These trucks must be on a medium duty or larger chassis, which is why so many f-450 flatbeds are available on the used market, they cannot be used in RTTO towing. Our flatbeds must also have a side puller add-on if they want to be primary responders to WSP accidents. This truck was just under $200,000.


The cost difference between a simple breakdown tow to a repair shop and a tow from an accident or impound comes down to our legal requirements as an RTTO.  Our duties and responsibilities are so massively increased for accident/impound towing that Washington State has stepped in to set the rates to protect consumers.

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