What happens when your car gets towed
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What happens if your car gets towed? Finding that this has occurred while you were parked can be a disconcerting and unpleasant experience. You may think it will never happen to you, but it’s more common than you think: perhaps you didn’t see a fire hydrant and parked next to it, or accidentally blocked traffic in some way. It could be an innocent mistake, but that doesn’t alter the fact that your car is gone and you need it back.
Why your car got towed
There are a number of reasons why your car may have been towed, some more egregious than others. Although it may have been accidental on your part, the police and tow companies aren’t interested in that. They need your car moved from a space that it’s not allowed to occupy, and you’ll have to pay the price. Some common reasons for being towed include:
- You are blocking a fire hydrant. In every state in the U.S., it is illegal to block a fire hydrant that may be needed immediately in the event of a fire. Although each state has its own rules for how far you must be from the hydrant, it’s usually 15 or 20 feet in either direction.
- You are obstructing traffic. Perhaps you didn’t pull into a parking space far enough and the back end of your car is in the lane, or maybe you’re double-parked outside a store. The police will want your car moved quickly to restore the flow of traffic.
- You’re parked in a handicapped spot without authorization, or are blocking a handicapped ramp or other access point. Although laws vary from state to state on elements regarding access for people with disabilities, in most places it is illegal to block any handicap access point.
- Your vehicle is believed to be abandoned. If you are leaving your vehicle for a lengthy period of time — such as when you go on vacation — it’s best to have it off the street or in a designated parking garage or lot. Just parking it in a public lot or on the street may lead police to believe that it’s been abandoned and, thus, needs to be towed.
- Your registration is out of date or your license plates aren’t properly affixed to the car. Any violation that is visible to police or other traffic authorities may get you towed.
- Parking in an area labeled as “no parking” or a “tow zone”. This is a no-brainer; if you’re parked in an area that’s clearly labeled to prohibit parking, you’re at risk of a tow.
- Having unpaid parking tickets or moving violations. A police officer has the right to run your plates through the DMV system to check for violations. That stack of unpaid parking tickets sitting on your desk may earn you a tow to the city lot.
How to find your car after it has been towed
So your car is gone and you’ve determined that it wasn’t stolen. But you don’t know if your car is at a private lot or city impound lot. Your next question should be: where did my car get towed to? There are a couple of ways you may be able to answer this question.
How to know if your car got towed is easy. First, if there is signage prohibiting parking, check and see if it includes information on where cars are towed, or a phone number you can call for more information.
If not, your next step should be to contact the police. Do not call 911, which is reserved for emergency situations. Either find the number for the closest precinct online or call 411, information directory, to find out the number.
If you live in a large urban area, you may want to first check online and see if your city has a toll-free number to call for information. Some cities, such as Los Angeles, allow you to input your license number online and find your car’s location immediately.
How much will it cost to get your car back?
Once you figure out where your car is, you’ll want to know what it’s going to cost you to get it back. If you’ve been towed because you have unpaid tickets, you may have to pay for those before you can even think about the towing fees. These range greatly depending on your location, and tend to be higher in large cities. Some charge more for larger vehicles such as trucks, and you’ll also find price variation based on whether you’re paying cash or credit card (checks are generally not accepted).
Los Angeles, for example, charges the following for cars:
- First hour of storage: $137 (paying by credit card; it’s slightly cheaper with cash)
- Each additional half hour: $68
- Daily storage rate: $42.50
- Mileage rate: $7.50/mile
- Release fee: $115
- Parking tax: 10%
- There may be other miscellaneous charges, such as a boot removal fee
How towing will affect insurance rates
Although it may feel like having your car towed is all bad news, the silver lining is that it may not impact your car insurance costs — not directly, anyway, and not if it’s a one-time occurrence. Since you won’t be asking your insurance company to pay your tow fees, which in this case are not covered by your auto insurance anyway, there is no claim — and filing a claim is one of the best ways to get your premiums increased.
But if your car is towed because you’ve got a stack of unpaid tickets languishing at the DMV, or you’re a regular visitor to the city impound lot, your insurer will hear about it, and they may raise your rates because they view it as a sign of both financial instability and poor driving habits.
How to avoid getting towed in the future
We’d be willing to bet that many excellent drivers have faced a towing situation at one time or another, because we all make mistakes. But there are a few things you can do to avoid getting towed in the future.
- First and foremost, be aware of your surroundings. Whenever you park anywhere other than your own driveway, take a moment after you get out of the car to ensure that there are no tow zone signs or no parking signs, and no fire hydrant within 15-20 feet of your car. Even if a sign is half-obscured by bushes or trees, you may still be vulnerable to a tow — although if that’s the case, document the obscured signage with pictures so you have evidence if you decide to contest the ticket.
- Be diligent in keeping up with the paperwork associated with your car, especially your license and registration. Make sure that your annual inspection is done on time and the sticker is properly placed in your front window.
- Visually check your car regularly to ensure that your license plates aren’t hanging by a bolt or obscured in any way.
- Never park in a handicapped spot unless you have a handicap tag, even if you’re only running into a store for a moment.
- When you go on vacation, leave your car in your own garage and have someone drive you to the airport, or park in designated long-term parking at the airport or train station. Never leave your car unattended for days in a public lot, such as a grocery store or mall lot, that isn’t intended for long-term storage.
- Even if you’re in a tight spot financially, it’s worth it to pay your parking tickets or moving violations as quickly as possible, even if it means you need to borrow money from a friend or family member. The consequences of not paying them in a timely manner could be steep.
- Getting towed can happen to the best of us, if we miss a fire hydrant or no parking sign.
- Calling the local police (but not using 911) may help you locate your car, or check online if you’re in a sizable city.
- There are significant charges to getting your car back, including storage fees if you don’t move quickly.
- Your car insurance will probably not be impacted by your tow, unless it’s a repeated violation or you have multiple moving or parking tickets.
- Carefully checking your surroundings when you park is one way to keep from being towed.
It’s never pleasant to realize that your car was towed. The important thing to do is locate it quickly and rescue it so that you’ll avoid paying storage fees. Calling your local police precinct may help you locate it, but never call 911 for this non-emergency situation. You’ll probably have multiple charges to pay for the tow, and if it occurred because of other unpaid violations, you may have to pay those before getting your car back.