Maybe you parked in an illegal space without realizing it. Maybe you blocked a driveway. Maybe you’ve let one too many parking citations pile up unpaid. Unless you’ve called a tow truck yourself, getting towed can be a major headache. As part of our mission to make insurance — and many other things — surprisingly painless, check out these tips for what to do if your car gets towed.

Understand the local laws

Laws around towing vary between jurisdictions. Check with the local municipality or parking enforcement to get more information on the towing rules and regulations in your area.

If you see your car being towed

In many locales, if you arrive on the scene during the towing process, they legally have to release your vehicle to you. The tow truck driver may just require payment for some portion of the towing fee.

Locating your vehicle after a tow

If you think your car’s been towed but aren’t positive, look to see if you missed a restricted parking sign. Posted signs may have a phone number you can call. If not, call your local police non-emergency line to ask about a possibly impounded vehicle.

Check for tow authorization

Check with the towing company for a copy of any authorizations that may have been issued. Request copies of any photographs that were taken to document the violation. If the tow occurred on private property, owners are typically required to post “No Parking” or “Tow Away Zone” signs. They need to clearly indicate that anyone parking illegally or without consent will be towed at their own expense. In many states, there’s a limit on how far away your car can be lawfully towed, unless authorized by law enforcement.

Paying the fees

When a car’s lawfully impounded, the registered car owner is responsible for paying all related fees to get it out. These fees vary by jurisdiction. So if your car’s impounded, check with your municipality to make sure the fees are being fairly calculated. Try calling ahead and check with the impound lot to make sure you have everything you need to easily pick up your car. Things to ask about include:

  • Hours for pick up
  • All associated fees and acceptable forms of payment
  • What paperwork you’ll need (drivers license, VIN, proof of insurance).

Most towing companies must be available around the clock for claims. Again, rules and regulations will vary by locale. If you suspect the towing company operated in bad faith, follow up with local law enforcement.

Familiarizing yourself with local laws can help speed up the whole process if your vehicle’s ever towed … and can help prevent future tows down the road. 

Safe and smart | Car safety

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about Rebecca

Rebecca is a freelance copywriter and editor living in the SF Bay Area with her husband and two kids. She enjoys productively channeling her anxiety into safety-minded articles for home and garden, running with her robot trainer, and advocating on behalf of the Oxford comma.