What Is Predatory Towing?

Towing is a vital industry, full of helpful service providers that offer safe and effective vehicle transportation solutions. They help with breakdowns, auto accidents, and all types of roadside issues with integrity. Unfortunately, there is another side to towing that is less than honest, known as predatory towing.

In a predatory towing situation, the towing predator seeks to take advantage of someone by removing their vehicle without a contract, direct dispatch, or otherwise legitimately requested service, and effectively holds the vehicle hostage, sometimes for exorbitant amounts of money. They have been known to use false signage and other deceptions to trick drivers into either parking illegally or convincing them they have.

With the rising prices for used vehicles in today’s market, the goal of a predatory towing company is no longer to extract exorbitant fees – it is to take ownership of your vehicle and sell it. It is critical to stay educated on the risks of predatory towing and know what to do should one of these situations arise.

Tips For Protecting Against Predatory Towing

Luckily, there are things you can do to protect your fleet and your drivers from these encounters. Here are tips drivers can do to minimize the risk of predatory towing:

Tip #1 – Familiarize Your Drivers with State and Local Parking and Towing Laws

The first step is to educate your fleet drivers on all relevant state and local parking and towing laws. Having this knowledge helps drivers avoid the risks of parking illegally and accruing unnecessary fines. They should also be aware of their rights to access their vehicle in a towing situation. Different states and jurisdictions within each state have varying predatory towing laws, so check your government’s DOT website for details.

Tip #2 – Be Aware of Parking and Towing Signage in Unfamiliar Areas

Before parking a fleet vehicle in an unfamiliar lot or a location, it is vital for your drivers to be alert for all local signage for lots, sidewalks, and driveways. There are plenty of valid reasons to tow vehicles, such as blocking a fire hydrant or emergency access route or at the request of a business or property owner. But in aggressive towing situations, even an inch of encroachment in an access way is enough for a vehicle to be towed. Be sure to adhere to all posted signage at properties to minimize the chance of parking illegally.

Tip # 3 – Be Alert in Urban Areas

In urban areas, your drivers run an increased risk of encountering these agencies. These environments have more parking ordinances than other territories, and legal parking can be more complex. If your driver is travelling to an unfamiliar urban area, they may be able to find out if they are visiting any hot spots for aggressive towing. Websites for the city or local parking authority may have information that is helpful.

Tip # 4 – Call Your Fleet Provider

When your vehicle is disabled call your fleet provider immediately to request a tow. Your fleet provider will engage a reputable towing company and provide you with the identification of the towing company. Keep in mind, if your vehicle is impeding traffic, the police will dispatch a local towing company with whom they have a contractual arrangement for quick arrivals.

Predatory towing companies sometimes listen to police dispatch and show up at the scene of an accident and pretend they were dispatched for the tow. If the company that arrives does not match the identification provided by your fleet provider, call the fleet provider again and provide them with updated information. They can act quickly and remove the vehicle from the tow yard if needed.

Your fleet provider will also act to prevent the tow company from placing a lien against a title for vehicle abandonment, which can happen in as little as 14 days. Once they take ownership of the title, they sell the vehicle and keep the proceeds.

Tip # 5 – Get Information During a Tow

If you are present when a towing company is removing your vehicle, ask where they are taking the vehicle. Ask for a business card. If they don’t have one or it doesn’t match the branding of their truck, take a picture of the truck signage and license plate of the tow truck. This can help you locate your vehicle, or for the police to track them down if needed. Do not get into a confrontation with a predatory towing company, as they can use intimidation tactics to gain your compliance.

Tip #6 – Don’t Sign Anything

If a tow is assigned by a police officer your driver is not required to sign to authorize the tow. It has been authorized by the police. If your fleet provider or insurance company dispatches the tow, they are the ones who have authorized it, you are not required to provide additional authorization. One of the tricks a predatory towing company uses is to put verbiage in a tow authorization form that guarantees them the right to repair the vehicle. If the vehicle is moved from their shop the verbiage provides for a punitive amount of compensation for the loss of repair revenue. If they will not tow the vehicle without a signature, contact your insurance company/fleet provider for assistance.

Tip # 7 – Contact Local Police

If you believe you are a victim of a predatory towing company, contact the police as soon as possible to confirm that the towing company has not violated any local ordinances by moving your vehicle. You may immediately file a complaint with local law enforcement and have the vehicle returned quickly.

To combat predatory towing practices, many cities have programs in place that require tow companies to adhere to service and pricing standards.  There are legal and financial consequences for companies that violate these rules. For example, in Philadelphia, unless a tow truck has been dispatched from the city’s rotational towing program, it is illegal for them to:

  • Tow your car from an accident scene involving an emergency response on a city street
  • Tow a disabled vehicle blocking the right-of-way

Tip # 8 – Review All Charges & Dispute If Needed

If one of your fleet vehicles has been towed, review all charges to ensure they are legitimate and accurately match your legal responsibilities. Some states require towing companies to provide an itemized bill of all services rendered. If you do not receive one, make sure to request it.

If you believe the charges for a tow you have received, whether requested or not, are unfair, you may be able to dispute the charge. Most tow service ordinances state that fees must be “reasonable” and align with prices in the area. Once again, consult local and state laws and DOT regulations as these laws can vary by state.


Stay Informed

Keeping drivers educated about trends happening in the industry not only protects your vehicle assets but protects their personal safety as well. We invite you to explore our DriverCare suite of products to help drivers to become safer on the road and drive down the overall cost of your fleet operations.

Contact us today to talk with a CEI specialist.

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