When you find out your car has been towed, it can really bring you down. It’s a problem because it costs time and money, and sometimes it’s not even your fault. We have seen cases where the towing company made a mistake. When you see a tow truck take your car, it feels so unfair. You get angry and think, “This can’t be happening. They’ve taken my car, and I have so many things to do.” Sometimes, if you are in a car accident and a tow truck arrives, it might seem like they’re there to help. However, sometimes this isn’t the case. Sometimes, it’s your car that gets predatorily towed and then stored, and you have to pay a lot of money to get it back. In this post, I will explain how this happens and give you steps on how to fight towing charges in California.
How Predatory Tow Companies Operate
Let’s say you were driving on the freeway when another car hit yours. Right after that, a tow truck driver will show up and may claim they are with your insurance company, quickly hook up your car, and tow it away. Obviously, this will leave you in shock and worried about your safety.
But later, you find out the tow truck company wasn’t really working with your insurance. They simply took your car to a shop about 20 miles away and charged you almost $1,000. Of course, you will feel really upset and helpless, like your car was stolen and is now being held hostage. The towing is just one problem—another problem is the body shop where these cars end up. They often charge car owners very high, sometimes even illegal, fees to get their cars back. They can even charge you $260 just for disconnecting the battery, even when you never approved any of it.
In another instance, a tow truck may just park behind a strip center where there are signs of towing enforcement. When they see someone park their car and then leave the area (as minor as going across the street), they immediately tow the car without giving any warning or asking questions. The tow company will claim they do this because it’s what the property owner hired them for. They believe that if they don’t do their job as per the contract, the property owner will simply hire another company that will.
These towing companies are predators who take advantage of people in bad situations. This is called predatory towing, and it’s illegal in California. The LAPD, for example, claims these tow truck companies listen for accidents on police scanners and then rush to the scene. Sometimes, some companies know they’re being watched by the police and will avoid the area.
The police know this and do handle some legal cases and charge towing companies with criminal offenses. I can’t understand how someone can do this kind of job and think it’s fine.
How to Fight Towing Charges California
If your car has been wrongfully towed, you can give it a fight and not pay the fee. I have listed 5 simple steps you can follow, so by the end of this article, you will be able to fight towing charges in California and win.
1. Document the Scene as Best You Can
To challenge a predatory towing charge in court, you really need to gather evidence at the tow scene. It’s simple; take photos of the place where you parked, showing the whole area and any signs. If there were no signs prohibiting parking, this could help your case. If someone was with you when your car got towed, ask them to testify in court. If not, look for a witness when you return to the spot. Get their contact details and ask if they’d testify about the lack of signs. Also, print out local anti-predatory towing laws and bring them to court. You’ll need copies for the judge and the other party.
2. Call the Towing Company
If your car has been towed and you think the towing bill is too high or unfair, call the towing company. You can get their contact details from the owner of the place where you parked or look for a sign with their information.
Let the towing company know that you have doubts about the fee. Be ready with reasons why you think the bill is wrong. Some valid reasons, recognized in some U.S. states, include your car being parked for less than an hour, no clear “No Parking” signs, or the towing or storage fees being too high. Suppose you were involved in an accident. The tow company must let you know how much they are going to charge you. Make sure to get this in writing. At the body shop, they can only charge for storage fees. Anything else, such as mechanic repairs, requires your approval.
3. Threaten to Take Legal Action if You Have Been Wrongfully Towed
If you have trouble over the phone about a towing bill and don’t get a good result, tell the towing company you might take legal action. Often, just saying you’ll go to court can make them offer something better. If they won’t cancel your ticket, tell them, “I’m really unhappy with this and might take you to court.”
If you think they did something wrong, such as not having signs or if someone saw you park only for a short time, this can really help your case.
Also, let the company know that you’ll report them to agencies such as the Better Business Bureau, local Chamber of Commerce, or consumer affairs office. This can work even if you don’t have strong proof for court, as companies care about their reputation. You can also claim to write bad reviews online on their website or social media to pressure them because they don’t want bad reviews where potential customers can see them.
4. Take Them to Small Claims Court
Talk to a lawyer or a small claims counselor. These cases usually involve a small amount of money, like $200 or less. But if you are considering small claims court, get advice from someone who knows the legal steps in your local area, an attorney. Or, you can check if your local small claims court offers free legal help. Just ask the court clerk if they have this service.
For example, in San Diego, California, the small claims court offers free legal advice. You can call the small claims adviser at 858-634-1777 from Monday to Thursday.
When you are ready to file your complaint, do it in the county where the person or business you’re suing lives or works. You have to file a complaint about wrongful towing in a small claims court. Make sure you file it with the right court. If you are not sure, ask the clerk’s office. Small claims courts usually have a simple form for you to fill out. Some might ask you to write your own complaint. You can visit the clerk’s office to see what you need to do, or sometimes you can find the forms online.
When filling out the form, you’ll need to provide the name and address of the company you are suing. If the company has different addresses for its office and its storage lot, have both addresses ready. You also need to provide your own name and address. In your complaint, explain why you think the towing company did something wrong. Share all the details that support your case. You don’t usually have to tell the other party about the lawsuit yourself. Just file your form with the court clerk. They’ll set a hearing date and notify you and the company.
5. Stick to the Court’s Decision
Once you present your case and evidence, the defendant will also present their case. The judge will then quickly consider everything and make a decision right there. If the judge decides in your favor and orders the towing company to pay a fine or restitution to you, you’ll get instructions on how to collect this money either from the judge or the court clerk. If the judge just cancels your bill, make sure to get a certified copy of this order from the clerk before you leave.
If the judge orders the towing company to pay you, you should contact them soon after the hearing to ask for the payment. Write a demand letter and include a copy of the court’s order, then send it to the company. If they don’t pay, you’ll need to go to your local sheriff’s office with your court order, and they will assist you in collecting the money.
So, these are just the few steps you need to take to fight towing charges in California and win. If you have been wrongfully towed, let’s say after an accident, no work should be done and no charges added without your permission. Dishonest tow companies exploit hardworking people who are just trying to get by, which isn’t right. Nobody deserves to go through this in CA.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, ask for the company’s name and the fee they will charge. They are required by law to inform you, and the price they quote can’t change later. Make sure to get this information in writing. At the body shop, they can only bill you for storage. Any other charges need your consent.
You can always look up your city’s tow laws or get in touch with an attorney to help you fight the tow charge if a sneaky tow company tows your car under the pretense of a parking violation.