Progressive Roadside Assistance Won’t Tow My Car After It Caught Fire

Matthew and his family were having a great day in the country until their car caught fire. First they noticed an odd smell…and then the smoke and flames. Eventually the fire department showed up, but their insurance company, Progressive, wouldn’t tow the car because the damage was caused by a fire. Sure, a fire caused by an electrical problem with the car.

After spending a great day with the family at a farm we needed to head the 42 miles home. No more than two miles up the road my Fiance and children complained of a smell in the car. I downplayed the smell and kept driving our 2008 GMC Acadia. That was until the headliner was billowing smoke and flames.

I immediately pulled over and we got the children out of the car. We had to argue our exact location because the Fire Department jurisdiction varied depending on whatever side of the road we were on. Eventually the FD arrived (after the fire burnt a hole through our roof). We had our three children in the extremely hot Florida sun with no shade for almost 30 minutes. After things settled down the FD allowed us to put the children in the fire truck to cool off. My fiance called Progressive for an emergency tow.

Denied. We were denied a tow and they refused to send a tow truck because it was “due to a fire.” The fire started from the driver’s side visor mirror light as it shorted out it caught the headliner on fire.

We personally paid for a 42 mile tow back to our home, but while on the way I googled progressive’s towing policy. In it they will provide a tow due to “mechanical/electrical breakdown.” Apparently if your electrical breakdown causes a fire you’re better off to call and say your vehicle broke down.

It sounds like Matthew has roadside assistance from Progressive as part of his plan: he wasn’t calling for a tow based on just having comprehensive coverage. Indeed, the roadside assistance covers the things you would normally call AAA for that don’t involve an accident or other catastrophic event. Maybe if he had called to start his claim, or contacted the dealer or body shop where he planned to take send the car to repair the damage.

In Progressive’s defense, the roadside assistance kicks in when the vehicle is “disabled.” It sounds like the car was still perfectly drivable except for the fire and smoke damage, the hole in the roof, and there’s probably some water inside from putting out the fire. And whatever electrical problem caused the fire. Totally drivable other than that, though!

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  1. Blueskylaw says:

    I once called Mercedes assistance (dealership) because I couldn’t open my gas cap to put gas in (I was almost empty) and I told them about the cap. The guy said I’m sorry but we don’t send out people for that kind of mechanical problem; if you had just told me that you needed gas we would have sent someone out with a can of gas and he also could have showed you where the emergency release was buried in the wheelwell somewhere. So basically if I lied they would have gladly helped me and gone above and beyond, but I didn’t so I got no help at all. I was then sent a customer feedback survey from corporate and guess how many stars I gave them? Go ahead, try and guess.

    Useless programs based on fine points and splitting hairs.

    • homehome says:

      I would’ve just called back and said that then lol. It seems like he was giving you a hint.

      • Blueskylaw says:

        He told me that after I told him my problem; it was the first
        time I ever called them and the experience was not pleasant.

    • dush says:

      That’s why Mercedes is really not worth purchasing.

  2. comatose says:

    “We had our three children in the extremely hot Florida sun with no shade for almost 30 minutes.” Poor babies. I’ve been 10 hrs+ in that sun working outside in FL!

    • belsonc says:

      I’m going to go out on a limb, but I’m going to assume you’re not a child.

      • nicless says:

        I’m going to go out a little bit further on that limb and guess you don’t have children either…

        • thomas_callahan says:

          Sorry, I have children and I completely agree with the first commenter — 30 minutes in the sun? Heaven forbid. You had just spent a day at a farm and now suddenly 30 minutes is unbearable? 30 minutes in a tornado is too much, 30 minutes in the sun? Really?

          Plus why do these stories all include so much back story? Who cares where you were or who was there, the only thing that matters is that your car caught fire and Progressive denied the tow. The half hour in the sun wasn’t even progressive’s fault, it was the fire departments and their jurisdictional BS.

          Don’t get me wrong, Progressive was wrong here and I could add more similar stories but leave off the sob story.

    • Blueskylaw says:

      Those damn poor babies; always cryin, fussin, and throwin a sh*t fit.

    • ChuckECheese says:

      The man locks ya in a tin box under the punishing Florida sun after cutting sugarcane all day soaking in your own filth. The smell was ridiculous!

    • chargernj says:

      I seem to remember my mom (and my friends mothers too) forbidding us from being in the house during the summer. Even when it was hot. Of course being poor we didn’t have air conditioning anyway.

    • TheMansfieldMauler says:

      Extremely hot Florida sun LOL. Go live in Texas or the southwest, Nancy.

    • Jawaka says:

      Yeah.. that line had be playing the baby violin as well.

  3. madanthony says:

    Years ago I had the wheels and tires stolen off my car. I got replacement ones from a dealership and called AAA to put them on. I explained it to them, they said they would send someone out – and the person who came out claimed it was impossible to put them back on without 2 tow trucks and multiple people.

    ended up calling the dealership for a recommendation, called that towing company, and guess what, the one guy who came out was able to do it.

    When I wrote to AAA to complain, they said that it wasn’t their problem because it was something that should have been covered by insurance, not roadside assistance. Which I actually don’t have a problem with – the problem I have was that 1) they didn’t explain it over the phone despite the fact that i made the situation clear and 2) that their driver completely lied about not being able to do it.

    • Blueskylaw says:

      Just because one person can’t do something doesn’t mean that another
      person can’t. This is the reason some people make more money than others.

  4. nickmoss says:

    Now what, exactly, did the 30 minutes in the “extremely hot Florida sun” have to do with Progressive Insurance? I also doubt that the OP had to “argue” his location with fire dispatch.

    Why do so many posters feel the need to embelish the facts of the consumer complaint with useless information?

    • Bladerunner says:

      While the OP may be embellishing, it is very true that fire jurisdictions can depend on the side of the road. And often, if you’re on the wrong side of the road, you don’t get the fire station 1 mile away, you get to wait longer for whatever unit the other jurisdiction can send.

      • AustinTXProgrammer says:

        Most of the departments around here have mutual service agreements and you can get the closest unit no matter which jurisdiction you are in.

        Now what happens if you are driving through a part of the country without fire service. You can’t get the nearby municipal department because you don’t subscribe? Do they respond to protect neighboring property and watch your car burn to the ground?

    • Jawaka says:

      Because they’re trying to convince us that they suffered such hardship and that we should all pity them and shame the evil corporation that’s surely to blame. It actually however has the opposite effect and I end up thinking that the person is a whiny asshat,.

    • Tunnen says:

      I love jurisdictional issues. I once called 911 to report an erratic driver that was weaving all over the highway, including into oncoming traffic lanes. The operator transferred me to the highway patrol. As I was explaining the issue, the driver ended up drifting over to the off-ramp. The highway patrol had to transfer me over to the municipal force. I was explaining to the issue to the new dispatcher and when we got to explaining our location and direction, they said they needed to transfer me to another municipality’s force since we were crossing the boundary. Luckily the 2rd municipality’s force managed to get all the information from me and an officer showed up just as the guy ended up going off the road into the ditch.

      We also have a small stretch of road that falls between two jurisdictions. If you were to crash there, theoretically neither jurisdiction would respond.

      • skloon says:

        I live on a road that has 2 different names depending on which end you enter it on, the local municipality is continually changing their mind as to where I am and berating me for getting it wrong, that is when they don’t think I live in the neighboring county as it is across the road too

    • originalread says:

      Jurisdiction issues in Florida can be deadly. I read a story recently that I can’t find right now that had a woman waiting an extra 30 minutes for a private EMS to come even thou a county EMS was on there already. They begged dispatch to let them take her, but it went no where. She ended up dying and the family even lost the court case. The legally contracted jurisdictions were more important then saving her life.

  5. CrazyEyed says:

    I personally don’t care about the erroneous info in regards to her children and the heat but in my opinion, Progressive is in the wrong for being unwilling to tow her vehicle. If the roof has a giant hole from a fire that spontaneously combusted, then who’s to say it won’t catch flame later on down the road. Not to mention its a bit rediculous to expect someone to drive their car home after it caught on fire. Whoever she delt with at Progressive is a dimwit.

    • jvanbrecht says:

      The person called Progressive Roadside Assistance.. not the same as calling the Insurance Claim side of the company, which the owner should have done. They would have towed the vehicle had he called the correct people.

      • CrazyEyed says:

        While I agree with you there, Roadside Assistance under the Progressive name could have been a little more accommodating. Not saying this chicks a winner in the IQ department, but the representative could have done a better job explaining the difference between towing for a claim and towing for assistance. Maybe offer to get her in contact with the right person who could help her.

        The OP was probably was operating under the logic of: Get my car towed now, file the claim later which is reasonable. I have progressive and they boast about roadside assistance all the time so I can see the confusion between roadside assistance being a completely separate service/entity and calling to make a claim. In addition, how fast will calling Progressive Claims get you a towtruck? She was looking for immediate relief from the sun and Roadside Asistance in her mind at least, was the quickest way to that.

      • CrazyEyed says:

        Meant to say “him” not “her” in my previous posts. Forgot this was a man. For some reason I pictured a dumb blonde.

      • Republicrat says:

        Roadside assistance provides towing service. He did not call the wrong department.

        Nowhere in this story is it indicated that he called the wrong number; he was simply told that they are refusing to provide the service he paid for because the vehicle was not in their opinion to be disabled due to a mechanical or electrical breakdown, even though it obviously was.

    • castlecraver says:

      Your usage of “erroneous” is erroneous. “Superfluous” or “unnecessary” are the words you’re looking for.

  6. RipCanO'Flarp. says:

    “Fiance and children complained of a smell in the car. I downplayed the smell and kept driving”

    I blame the OP- you don’t ever keep driving when something smells funny- ie…weird electrical smell, coolant smell, burning smell, gas smell, etc etc etc….. what a moron.

    • homehome says:

      depends on the weird smell, he didn’t actually describe what it smelled liked. I drive and I smell weird smells all the time that are non car related, even burning, electrical burning smells. My parents live in the country somebody is always burning something.

      • DJ Charlie says:

        Would it be bad of me to say “I make my own weird smells at home”?

      • CrazyEyed says:

        We all do do this. Fart, act like the other person did it and ignore the strange faces everyone is making while trying to figure out who the culprit is.

    • Chmeeee says:

      If I stopped every time I smelled a burning odor, I’d never get anywhere. Exhaust, wood smoke, somebody overcooking their brakes, etc. Until I see secondary evidence that indicates that something is wrong with my car, I ain’t stopping.

  7. MrEvil says:

    Definitely not a job for roadside assistance. Hold onto your invoice from the wrecker Matt, you should be able to attach it to your comprehensive claim and get reimbursed.

    Seriously though, Progressive’s roadside assistance TOTALLY could have told Matt to hang up and call the claims department and tell them he needed a wrecker.

    • Republicrat says:

      Providing a wrecker for a disabled vehicle is part of the “roadside assistance” service. I don’t know why you think otherwise.

    • AustinTXProgrammer says:

      I doubt the roadside assistance is even progressive. They probably contract it out to another company and they just get a screen pop so they know how to answer. If they were the insurance company I would fault them more.

    • who? says:

      Towing due to mechanical failure is a roadside assistance job, not an insurance claim.

  8. Bladerunner says:

    I would never buy roadside from Progressive again. 2 years ago, I was doing a lot of out of town trips, so I signed up for their roadside assistance, just in case, since I had a motorcycle and I knew it could be unpleasant. Then I had a blowout on the highway and crashed my motorcycle. No other cars were involved and a sheriff was pretty close behind me so showed up quick.

    After multiple holds, Progressive roadside finally (and kind of rudely) told me they refused to send a tow or anything until I’d filed a claim, then I’d have to call them back with the claim number. Wouldn’t have to do that if it wasn’t an accident, they said, but they needed a fully completed claim (a process that was not fun on the side of the road in the heat while I’m still shaky, and took awhile) I thought it was ridiculous that they won’t deal with me at all until I’ve done that. I didn’t need another hoop to jump through, I needed them to send someone out while I sorted everything out. Progressive Insurance has been great and I’ve never had a problem with them as insurance, but their roadside was not there when I needed them.

    • AustinTXProgrammer says:

      My car got clobbered at a stop sign by a hit and run. I called the cops, then progressive for claims (at 1 am). Since I was blocking the road they just let the police select the wrecker and dealt with it the next business day.

      They insisted on opening it as a collision claim (to start the process) but let me change it to uninsured motorists after I submitted the police and accident reports. This halved the deductible and kept it from affecting my rates.

  9. mrvw says:

    He should have just called to start the claim. I’m not sure why he wanted to use road side assistance. Unless he doesn’t have full coverage, in which case he’s SOL and I can’t really blame Progressive for rejecting the tow.

    • Republicrat says:

      He paid for roadside assistance, that’s why he wanted to use it.

      Why should he have to spend extra time on the phone to start a claim when he could have just gotten the service he already paid for?

      On what basis do you side with Progressive in not providing the service they are contractually obligated to provide?

      • mrvw says:

        what extra time? All it takes to start a claim with progressive is to call, tell them what happened and have them get the repair shop sorted out. Done. maybe 10 minutes unless the insured is a moron or the phone rep is a dope.
        It would be a waste of time to call once for roadside assistance and again to start the claim and have the car towed again.
        Also, read Progressives roadside assistance information Consumerist links to. it’s pretty clear they keep comp stuff separate from standard road side assistance.

  10. TuxMan says:

    Good, now we know how to work the system: “The car is disabled” & “I need the car towed to my mechanic of choice under my roadside assistance policy, the car is disabled, I don’t know the details, I am not a mechanic”

    No need to be a Drama Queen. 30 min with NO ac? Spoiled brats you are. In the end, the OP did the right thing and paid for the tow and alerted the media to the loop hole in the policy.

    • ajaxd says:

      The tow truck will show but you will be on the hook for paying it when they see why the car is disabled. You would be better off telling the truth, paying upfront and then getting reimbursed when you file a claim.

  11. vastrightwing says:

    Customer: Hello, I have a question.
    Progressive: Sure.
    Customer: Hypothetically speaking, of course, would you possibly send a tow truck if my car had caught fire?
    Progressive: No.
    Customer: How about if there was an electrical problem?
    Progressive: Yes.
    Customer: OK, would you please send a tow truck to my location? My electrical system shorted out and now I can’t drive my car anymore.

    • Republicrat says:

      The irony is that car fires almost always start because of a mechanical or electrical failure. The only other reason would be is if you were smoking or something and dropped a cigarette.

      Under their stated guidelines there is absolutely no reason why they could have denied a tow under those circumstances.

  12. Mknzybsofh says:

    Matthew: Oh my god! My kids were near death because the sun was touching them for THIRTY WHOLE MINUTES! How dare it think that it has the audacity to shine on my children! I’m calling my lawyer!

    YOU JUST SPENT THE DAY AT THE #*!&%$ FARM!!! What, did the whole farm have AC?!? Was there a thirty degree temp difference in the two or three miles you drove from the farm to where you stopped? This is what gets me about it, you felt the need to provide this information to get a greater sympathy vote based on the ‘problems’ your children went through.

    -1 OP whining about his kids getting sun and -1 Progressive for clamming that the vehicle is disabled.

    Love how you told us that you ‘personally paid for a 42 mile tow back to our home’ I was wondering how you were going to get it back there. At least you went the economical route and didn’t rent a Chinook to get it home. Note save yourself some money next time and drag/push it back.

    • CrazyEyed says:

      OP’s lose a lot of credibility playing the sympathy card. It makes them out to be entitled or high maintenance when they have to explain some form of suffering as a prerequisite to their complaint.

  13. No Fat Chicks says:

    I never trust anything progressive!

  14. incident_man says:

    Standard insurance company M.O., I’m afraid. They love taking your money, but when it comes to doling it out in claims, not so much. I can see the possibility of a conversation like this:

    insured: Hi I need to file a claim.
    Rep: Tell me what happened.
    insured: Well….we were driving along and the vehicle caught fire so I pulled to the side of the road and….
    Rep: You pulled to the side of the road?
    insured: Yes, and I need to use my roadside assistance.
    Rep: I’m afraid we can’t accommodate you, sir.
    insured: Why? My policy says I have free roadside assistance.
    Rep: Well, you do, but you had to cross the fog line to pull to the shoulder of the roadway and that invalidates your coverage.
    insured: What the hell?!?….
    Rep: Yes, I see here in your policy, under Article 313a, section 4, paragraph 4(e)3, subsection 2q, sentence 55(m), that IF you cross the fog line en route to the shoulder of the roadway, then any and all coverage is rendered void.
    insured: &$#@*&!

  15. syxx says:

    idiots shouldn’t have kept driving

  16. qwerty017 says:

    Strange. I had Progressive when an electrical fire destroyed the engine compartment and they came right out and towed it to the repair shop.

  17. shepd says:

    Cars that have been involved in a fire have to be handled specially. There are gaskets and other things, which, once burned, turn into an incredibly strong and toxic acid.

    I imagine that the roadside assistance doesn’t cover a wreckers that does hazmat cleanups.

    • atomix says:

      If the fire department was willing to let them tow the car, apparently it wasn’t a hazmat situation.

  18. There's room to move as a fry cook says:

    Seems Progressive won’t tow a car that’s been in an accident. This would fall under accident not a breakdown. If the fire was started by a dropped cigarette should Progressive tow it? Next time don’t mention the fire until the trick shows up. I’m having visions of Del Griffith & Neal Page.

    Scary that a fire would start in a 2008 Acadia in the driver’s visor. An overheated light by the vanity mirror? My 2006 T&C visors used to really heat up. Check if there is recall & figure out where to report this.

  19. El_Fez says:

    Come on people – edit your letters for heaven’s sake. The second paragraph is full of completely irrelevant information – who cares that your snowflakes had to endure hot weather and/or which fire department had jurisdiction over your burning car.

    Brevity, man!

    I immediately pulled over and we evacuated the car. After the fire department extinguished the blaze, my fiance called Progressive for an emergency tow.

    There – MUCH better, and it doesn’t mess about begging for sympathy that your children were in tears watching firemen argue while standing on the surface of the sun for 19 hours.

  20. zantafio says:

    I blame the OP for not having a fire extinguisher in the trunk

  21. zantafio says:

    I blame the OP for driving a 2008 GMC Acadia

  22. zantafio says:

    I blame the OP for living in Florida

  23. yossi says:

    There is no such thing as “progressive roadside assistance” – just so everyone knows.

    They contract out with Cross Country Automotive Services , a roadside assistance vendor that does private label roadside assistance for dozens of insurance companies, auto companies etc. The same guy that answers the phone when you call “progressive roadside assistance” is probably the same guy who answers when you call “Taco Bell roadside assistance”

    Not saying what they did was right, but cross country has policies about what qualifies for roadside assistance. Just keep that in mind before bashing progressive as a company.

  24. TD99 says:

    I called my auto insurance company last year to report a claim. A golf ball-sized object was kicked up while on the highway and struck my passenger door. Left a nice dent and gash. Since the vehicle was in motion, it was classified as a COLLISION and therefore I had to pay my $300 deductible towards the $1000 repair. Had I simply said it happened while the vehicle was parked, it would have been classified as COMPREHENSIVE and therefore I would have only had to pay a $100 deductible.

    Consider that a $200 lesson learned.

  25. SecretAgentWoman says:

    Progressive sucks.

    You should get USAA insurance.

    Truly, if it has not been yet pointed out in this thread (I’m too lazy to read 50+ comments):

    USAA…all the way.

  26. gman863 says:

    I blame the OP for having a secret crush on Flo.