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Beware of Car Towing Companies That Patrol Private Parking Lots | Press "Enter" to skip to content

Beware of Car Towing Companies That Patrol Private Parking Lots

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Scrutinize any signs on the lot that provide information about parking and any restrictions, he advised, and resist the urge to park and run errands at additional locations if the spot is dedicated to a specific store. If you have any doubt, find another spot. It may help to take a picture of your car, noting the time and any relevant signs with your phone, in case it can be used to challenge a towing fee, he said.

Here are some questions and answers about towing fees:

What should I do if my car is towed?

If a phone number is posted in the parking lot, call it. Otherwise, call the nonemergency number of the local police department. In many places, local rules require towing companies to report a vehicle to the police before hauling it away.

There’s typically little you can do to get back your car until you pay the fee. “It’s a highly unusual transaction from the get-go,” Mr. Friedman said, in that you have to pay the money and challenge the fee afterward.

Ask for an itemized bill when you retrieve your car. “Fees can stack up,” Ms. Brombach said. You may be charged a “release” fee, and an “after hours” fee, and you’ll want to be sure you weren’t overcharged.

If you can prove that your car was illegally towed, you are eligible for reimbursement in 27 states, the report notes. In 17 of those states, you are entitled to collect damages as well as reimbursement.

What if I return to my car while it is in the process of being towed?

In 18 states, tow truck drivers must release your car at no charge or for a smaller “drop fee,” if you return to your car before it has been removed from the lot. In some areas, however, you may have no recourse but to visit the storage lot.

What if I left medication or important items, like a laptop, in my car when it was towed?

In 20 states, the towing storage facility must grant you access to all personal items in your car, even if you can’t pay to get your car back right away. Nine more states allow retrieval of emergency items, like a wallet or medication.


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