How to React When Your Car Is Towed

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Many of us have been lucky enough to never have experienced having our cars towed. But how would you react if it did one day happen? Your first instinct may be to panic, but this is not helpful. To really be prepared and make all the right decisions if this situation should ever come up, follow the guidelines we’ve outlined below. Here’s how to assess the situation, how to locate your car, and how to retrieve your car from the impound lot.

How to observe the area where your car was parked

Step 1: Check for restrictive parking signs. Look around the space where you parked your car for restricted parking signs, no parking zones, fire hydrants, or anything else that would indicate why your car has been towed.
If you think you have been wrongly towed, be sure to take pictures of any signage, or lack thereof, as evidence.
Step 2: Speak with any witnesses. Try asking any passersby, nearby shop employees, or fellow drivers if they have seen anything, whether it be your car being towed or any parking restrictions you may have missed.

How to find your car

Step 1: Determine where the tow occurred. Did you park in a municipal spot, or on privately owned property? If it was a municipal space, your car will probably be in an impound lot run by the town or city you are in.
If it was private property, your car is probably in the lot of a privately owned towing company.
Step 2: Call the appropriate number. If you think your car may be in a municipal impound lot, call the local police. The police will be able to tell you more about your car’s location, if it has in fact been towed.
While on the phone, if you determine that your car has actually been stolen instead, you can begin the process of reporting it.
If your car was towed from private property, look for the number of the towing company on any restricted parking signs, or ask the nearest business for information on the towing company.
Step 3: Make sure you’re prepared. When on the phone with either the police or the towing company, be sure to ask what sort of documentation and payment will be required to retrieve your car.
Usually, license, registration, and proof of insurance are all needed, though this can vary. Note that you will be charged for any storage and towing fees, whether the company is public or private, and some impound lots only take cash payments, so it is important to inquire about the amount and form of your payment.

Retrieving your car from the impound lot

Step 1: Get to the impound lot as soon as possible. Because storage fees can be steep and accumulate by the day, try to retrieve your car as quickly as possible. Have a friend, family member, or driving service take you straight to the lot if possible.
Be aware that cars left in impound will eventually go to auction to be sold. The time before a car goes to auction varies widely by location, but in some areas it is as little as 72 hours post-impound.
Step 2: Ask questions and review documents. Now that you’ve arrived at the impound lot, you can speak with the towing company about why you were towed.
Ask them any questions you may have, review any documents they present, and make sure you understand everything before you sign anything.
If you believe your car may have been illegally towed, know that you are entitled to a tow hearing.
Step 3: Pay the fees. Once you have squared away all the paperwork, you can pay off your fees and retrieve your car.
  • Note: The impound lot cannot charge you more than the posted fees. However, if you have an issue with the tow or the fees, it is better to pay the fees in order to get your car back and deal with the problem after your car is in your possession again.
While it’s best to follow posted signs and avoid getting towed altogether, by following these steps you can handle the problem with as much poise as possible.

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