An illegally parked car can be towed away. If you don’t pay your car loan, your vehicle can be repossessed. These facts aren’t in question. But what happens when you’ve done nothing illegal and are current on your auto loan, yet still get a tow truck called on you? Aren’t you protected from these sorts of shenanigans?
Well, that depends on where you live — or at least where you’ve parked. Towing laws vary from state to state, city to city, and can seemingly be changed and enforced by private property owners.
Or talk to the people who were defrauded out of thousands of dollars by a Houston tow business running an elaborate “flipping scam.”
Or speak with the victims of the Florida towing company whose owners have been accused of, among other nefarious acts, illegally repossessing dozens of vehicles in North Lakeland.
It’s called “predatory towing,” and millions of Americans across the country experience it every year. The only way to combat it before it hits your wallet is to understand your state’s laws and how they should protect you.
Today, we’re diving into towing laws in Florida, our home state. Here’s everything you need to know to avoid getting conned by a predatory tow company.
Property owners can tow your vehicle away…
…But there cannot be any payments made between the property owner and tow company. Doing so is a crime that could force the towing company to lose its license and put the property or business owner into legal hot water.
If you know or even suspect that this is occurring, you should report it right away to the local authorities. You may even want to hire a lawyer that specializes in private property towing laws.
Click here to file a consumer complaint in Florida.
Police must be notified
When a vehicle is towed, it’s mandatory for the towing company to notify the local police within 30 minutes. All pertinent information must be provided, including the time of the tow, the location, where the vehicle is being stored, the costs or rates, and the vehicle’s make, model, color and license plate number.
If, after 30 minutes, you still cannot find out where your car is, and the local police do not have that information on record, you should request an officer to assist you in person; you may be the victim of a predatory or illegal tow, or your vehicle could have been stolen. (Read more about what to do if your car is stolen.)
The storage location must be nearby
It is illegal for a towing company to haul your vehicle to a storage or impound lot that’s too far away. This will depend on the county’s population — for instance, vehicles towed in Miami must be stored at a spot no more than 10 miles away — though you should expect to drive no more than 10-20 miles to retrieve your vehicle.
It must be released to you within one hour
Once you find your towed car and pay for its retrieval, the storage facility has to release it to you within one hour.
You can retrieve your car, 24/7, with notice
Although storage facilities for towed vehicles have operating hours, they are required to open up for you to retrieve your car within one hour after a phone request. An emergency contact number is required to be posted prominently at the storage facility.
Don’t sign any waivers
When you go to pick up your impounded car, you should always inspect the vehicle and take photographic evidence of any damages incurred by the towing company or at the storage facility. Do not pay any fees or charges before you inspect the vehicle!
It is against the law for Florida towing companies to require customers to sign any waivers that would release the company or storage location from damages caused by the tow service. If you are asked to do so, you should contact a lawyer immediately.
You can retrieve possessions for free
While your vehicle is being held, you are legally allowed to access and remove any personal belongings from inside. Never pay to do so, as this is against Florida law.
There is a maximum amount you can be charged
Towing and storage rates are maxed out at a certain amount, which is set by the Troop Commander, and must be provided to the local police. Rates cannot be different from what law enforcement has on record.
Storage facilities are not required to accept credit cards
Paying to get your car out of a towing yard can be difficult and costly. Florida doesn’t make it easier, as there are no consumer protection laws in place that require towing companies to accept credit cards. Always ask the facility if they accept credit, and what types of cards (Visa, Mastercard, etc.) are accepted.
Get all the info you can in writing
When the tow truck arrives after an accident, request the name of the towing company and get the cost of the tow in writing, as well as the facility in which your vehicle is being stored. Most states have a law stating that the cost of a tow must be provided to you, and that number cannot change after the fact.
You can request an itemized bill…
…But tow companies are only required to send you one by mail.
Towing companies are not required to provide the condition of the vehicle before a tow
In some states, tow truck drivers must take photos and make note of any visible damage before they even touch the vehicle. Not in Florida.
You cannot be towed if the area does not include clearly marked “Tow-Away Zone” signs
Any privately owned property, like a parking lot, must have designated tow-away zones that are clearly marked with signage. You cannot legally be towed away if these signs are not visible. The signs must also have towing rates listed.
If you’re uncertain, always take a photo of your parked vehicle before leaving it unattended. It could save you a lot of money and headaches.
You can stop mid-tow
If you see your vehicle being towed, the company is required to release your vehicle to you for a fee of no more than half the posted towing rate. Any payment made at the time of service must be accompanied by a signed and detailed receipt (provided by the tower).
You’re entitled to money if the vehicle was damaged during a tow or illegally repossessed
Any evidence to support that the towing service or storage location was responsible for vehicle damages will enable you to be reimbursed for any repairs. If the towing company illegally towed your vehicle, you are also entitled to compensation.
Free legal assistance may be available
If you believe you’re the victim of predatory towing, or if you need help navigating the waters of retrieving a towed vehicle, you may be able to get free advice and assistance through the Community Legal Services program. Check www.clsmf.org for more details.
Compared to many other states, Florida has fairly good towing protections enacted for consumers, though they’re not perfect. For towing laws and protections in your state, visit the US PIRG Education Fund website or contact your state attorney general.
Contact your lender if you need help avoiding a repossession
Never assume that you have no one to turn to if you’re having trouble paying for your auto loan or lease. In many cases, especially during the COVID-19 era, your lender or leasing company is there to help you catch up. Give them a call to discuss your options.
Florida’s Honda Financial Services Regional Office: 800-543-5636.
About South Florida Honda Dealers
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