“It is up to the consumer to stand up for themselves,” said Ms. Brombach, the author of the tow report. Most states have consumer protection agencies that can be a good first point of contact with a complaint.
It is helpful to be aware of the possibility of a towing service when parking. People assume a lot is public around a store or other business, Friedman said, but it’s usually private property – so act accordingly. “It’s a mindset that consumers need to have,” he said.
Check all signs on the property for information about parking and any restrictions, and defy the urge to park and run errands in additional locations if the space is dedicated to a specific business. When in doubt, find another place. It can be helpful to take a picture of your car, jotting down the time and any relevant signs with your phone, in case that can be used to challenge a towing fee, he said.
Here are some questions and answers about towing charges:
What should I do if my car is towed?
If a phone number is listed in the parking lot, give them a call. Otherwise call the emergency number of the local police department. In many locations, local regulations require towing companies to report a vehicle to the police before they tow it away.
Usually there is little you can do to get your car back until you pay the fee. “It’s a very unusual transaction to start with,” said Friedman, which involves paying the money and then challenging the fee.
Ask for a detailed invoice when you pick up your car. “Fees can pile up,” said Ms. Brombach. You may be charged a release fee and an off-hours fee, and you want to make sure you aren’t overwhelmed.
If you can prove your car was illegally towed, you are eligible for reimbursement in 27 states, the report said. You are entitled to compensation and reimbursement in 17 of these states.