Many Arizonans can relate to that sinking feeling in your stomach when you return to your parking spot, only to find your car is gone. Was it stolen? Did you forget where you parked? Or was it towed? In the final case, you may not know where your car has been taken, how much it will cost to get it back, or what legal protections you have.
Consumer protections for towing vary greatly by state, and sometimes, by municipality. Whether your car was towed, or you want to be prepared for a predatory tow by learning your rights, here are basic tips to protect yourself:
- Learn your rights: PIRG’s search tool at uspirg.org/feature/usp/getting-hook-predatory-tow will answer questions about consumer protection laws for towing in Arizona and in states across the country, which can help you recognize predatory or illegal towing practices.
- Contact the local police department: Some states require towing companies to notify the police if your car is towed. While this isn’t in Arizona law, several municipalities in Arizona require towing companies to notify the police, and in those cases, a call to the local law enforcement’s non-emergency number can help you find your car quickly.
- Review all charges: Read your bill very closely. As of 2018, Arizona requires a detailed bill for towing- and storage-related expenses following a wreck. Allowable rates and charges for towing vary significantly by state and, in some cases, by municipality. Glendale, Phoenix, Scottsdale and Tempe are among the cities that each have their own maximum fees. Make sure the charges match what you legally owe.
- Dispute any damages: Every state has a department that’s responsible for addressing cases of predatory towing practices or damages to vehicles during the towing or storage process. In Arizona and many other states, you could receive a full reimbursement or even additional compensation for an illegal or careless tow.
- Be proactive: Try to avoid a day-wrecking tow. Pay attention to signs in private or public parking lots and on city streets. Note how long you can be parked in a retail area and whether a municipality may restrict parking on public streets when, for example, street maintenance or cleaning is taking place.
- Make a call: If your vehicle breaks down, won’t start or has a flat tire, either on private or public property, put a big note on your dashboard or under your windshield wiper (or both) and notify the property manager and/or police (by calling the non-emergency number) that you’re having car trouble and you’re getting help. This can head off a tow.
- Update your information: If you moved or changed phone numbers since you last renewed your vehicle registration, make sure the Department of Motor Vehicles has your current contact information. These would be the records law enforcement would access if your vehicle is towed or found stolen and abandoned.
Editor’s note: Teresa Murray is the consumer watchdog for the Arizona PIRG Education Fund. The Arizona PIRG Education Fund conducts research and education on issues in the public interest. The report and consumer tips can be found at ArizonaPIRGEdFund.org.