Having your vehicle towed may not only be stressful and inconvenient, but can also lead to a very expensive recovery process. Fortunately, there are many laws and legal remedies that can protect you and your vehicle from being wrongfully towed.

The following article provides a brief guide on the most common towing regulations and protections offered by the majority of states.

When Can a Car Be Towed?

In some instances, a car may be towed because it has been in an accident or if one of its parts failed and caused it to stall in the middle of a busy roadway. For the purposes of this article, however, the discussion will focus on situations in which a person’s car may be towed without their permission and/or without any expectation that their car would be towed.

Some examples of when a car may be unexpectedly towed without a person’s consent include:

  • When a car is parked illegally, such as in front of a fire hydrant, in a zone for emergency vehicles, in a tow away zone, or in a handicap parking spot when it does not have a valid handicap pass. A car may also be considered to be parked illegally when it is double-parked on a street or if it is sitting in front of a parking meter that has expired. 
  • Vehicles that have been abandoned on the side of the road or overnight in a restricted area can also be towed without a driver’s permission. The maximum amount of hours that a person can leave their car stranded for before it gets towed is usually around 72 hours.
  • If a person’s driver license or vehicle registration has expired, law enforcement may order that their car be towed against their wishes. Depending on the circumstances, a person may also need to show proof that they renewed their license or registration in addition to having to pay the requisite towing fees. 
  • A car can also be towed when it is blocking a private resident from accessing their own driveway or if it is obstructing other patrons from entering a business’s parking lot. 
  • A vehicle may also be towed if it is parked in an area where there is a clear sign which indicates that parking is not allowed there and the sign contains the contact information for the towing company. 

    • It should be noted, however, that it is not necessary for a property owner to put up a sign that warns drivers about their towing practices. Basically, if a vehicle is illegally parked and on privately owned property, it usually can be towed.

What If a Car Is Wrongfully Towed?

If the car owner believes that their car was wrongfully towed, then they should gather as much proof as possible to avoid having to pay towing fees. This can include providing copies of items, such as: 

  • Parking receipts to show that a meter was fully paid for and not expired; 
  • A complaint that was filed with local police as well as a copy of the police report that was generated based on that complaint; and/or
  • Photos or videos of the surrounding area where the car was situated to show that the car was in fact legally parked.

The items in the above list are only some examples of the types of documents that a person can collect to prove that their vehicle was wrongfully towed. Eventually, this evidence may need to be used to file a claim for damages or to be reimbursed by a tow truck company who was at fault for the damages. 

Finally, it should be noted that a person who fails to comply with the law and has their vehicle towed may be liable for two times the amount of towing fees, whereas a tow truck company who violates the law can owe up to four times the amount that a car owner was charged to retrieve their car. Additionally, a tow truck company that intentionally violates the law may be subject to fines and could face up to three months in jail. 

Where Can My Car Be Towed?

In general, it is standard practice that a car may not be towed to a location that is more than ten miles from where it was initially parked. However, this may not hold true for all jurisdictions since each state and county may have enacted its own separate towing statutes. Thus, it is best to check the rules of the state or local jurisdiction in which a car was towed. 

In most cases, a car that has been towed can usually be found at a nearby impound lot. A person will have the option of either calling local law enforcement to see if they can check or already know which impound lot has their car, or by calling local impound lots to see if they can locate it themselves. In some areas, the place where the car is towed from may have signs posted that provide the name and contact information of a particular towing company.

What If My Car Is Damaged?

If a person’s car is intentionally or negligently damaged when it is being taken to the impound lot, then the tow truck operator may be held responsible for any resulting property damage. A person can attempt to recover damages in one of two ways. They may either contact their auto insurance company to handle the matter or they can consult a lawyer to find out if they may file a lawsuit against the tow truck company in court.

In most instances, the tow truck company will only be required to reimburse the car owner for the amount it costs to repair the car.

When Is a Tow Truck Fee Excessive?

Tow truck fees may be set by local statutes where a car was towed. If the tow truck was more than the amount prescribed in the local statute or goes beyond what is normally charged for tow truck fees in a certain area, then a person can either consult a lawyer who is knowledgeable about tow truck issues or file a claim in their local small claims court.

What If I Catch Them Before They Tow My Car?

If a person is able to catch up with a tow truck before the car has been completely towed away, such as if it has only been hooked up to the truck, then the tow truck company generally cannot charge more than half of the total towing fee. 

On the other hand, if the car has been towed, already removed from the truck, or is stationed in the impound lot, then the person will be liable for paying the full towing fee. 

What If I Retrieve My Car Immediately?

Tow truck fees are usually based on the amount of time or gas it took to travel to an impound lot and how long the vehicle sits in the impound lot. If a person is able to retrieve their car immediately, then the tow truck company or impound lot may not charge them more than what it would cost to store the vehicle for 24 hours.

Can I Pay with a Credit Card?

There are no uniform laws regarding what types of payments a tow truck company must accept. While many states may have laws that require a tow truck company to accept credit cards as a form of payment, not every state may enforce those rules and some tow truck companies may refuse to comply with them. 

Thus, if a person discovers that their jurisdiction has a statute that requires tow truck companies to accept credit cards as a valid form of payment, they may want to gently remind the tow truck operator of the law. If that does not solve the issue, then they should contact local law enforcement or a lawyer to find out what they can do about tow truck-related payment issues. 

Aside from knowing the law, a person should also carry cash on them in case they need to retrieve their car quickly. Most tow truck companies prefer that individuals pay in cash, even if the law says otherwise. 

Seeking Legal Help

If you believe that your vehicle has been wrongfully towed or if a tow truck company has caused damage to your vehicle in the process of towing it, then you may want to consider contacting a local personal injury lawyer as soon as possible. An experienced personal injury lawyer will already be familiar with the towing rules in your jurisdiction and thus will be able to determine if you have a viable claim that you can bring against the tow truck company. 

Your lawyer can also assist you in filing a lawsuit and collecting relevant evidence that will help support your argument. Additionally, your lawyer can protect your rights by providing adequate legal representation in court and petitioning for a sum of damages that would be appropriate based on the circumstances of your case.

Finally, if you are unable to afford the fines to recover your car or if you believe that a towing fee is unreasonably high, your lawyer will be able to recommend some possible options to resolve these issues as well.