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What to do When Your Car has been Towed and Impounded

Source: Pixabay.com / CC0 1.0

For many of us, the loss of our vehicle is one of our biggest fears. The idea of daily life without a vehicle can seem daunting, so when you happen to see that your car is not parked in the spot where you left it, panic can set in.

If you believe that your car was towed and impounded, you can reduce your anxiety and get moving again by  using the correct procedures to get your vehicle back. We want to help you save time, money, and nerves by laying out the best way to recover a towed vehicle.

Was My Car Really Towed?

When you realize that your vehicle is not where you parked it, stay calm and check your surroundings. Perhaps you missed a restricted parking sign or unknowingly parked in front of a driveway, fire hydrant, or tow zone. It is important to discern that your vehicle was indeed towed before taking steps to locate it.

Source: Pixabay.com / CC0 1.0
Source: Pixabay.com / CC0 1.0

You should take photographs of the location where your car was parked, especially if you believe that you parked legally, and consider talking to passerby who may have seen a tow truck remove your vehicle. There are many reasons that cars are towed away, and the most common include:

  • Blocking a fire hydrant
  • Covering access to a handicap ramp or sidewalk
  • Obstructing traffic
  • Parking in a marked “Tow Zone”
  • Suspended license or unlicensed driver
  • Expired registration
  • Unpaid parking violations

Finding the Impounded Car

The most important step once you discern that your vehicle was indeed towed is to find out where it ended up. This may take some detective work on your part.

If your vehicle was parked on city property, it may have been taken to the city’s impound lot. If you parked on private property, your vehicle is probably in the care of a local towing company. Many public and private parking lots have “no parking” or “tow away zone” signs posted that list the tow company and its phone number, making it quick and easy to locate your impounded vehicle.

Source: Pixabay.com / CC0 1.0
Source: Pixabay.com / CC0 1.0

If you cannot figure out what company towed your vehicle, call the city police or local sheriff’s department. This step can also help you discern that your car was towed rather than stolen. Make sure you call the non-emergency number instead of 911.

Here in Florida, if you have access to another form of transportation and do not want to do all the legwork involved in locating your vehicle, you can simply wait it out. Within seven business days, the towing company is required by law to contact the vehicle’s registered owner via certified mail. They will also contact your insurance company.

Getting the Car Back: What You Will Need

In most cases, you can get your vehicle back quickly and easily from the impound lot by simply showing your ID and valid registration, and then paying the towing fees. Towing companies accept various forms of payment, with some functioning as cash-only or credit-only businesses, so it is a good idea to call ahead and ask about payment requirements.

The easiest way to find towing laws and recovery requirements in your state is to go online. Simply search for the phrase, “[State] Towing Storage Lien,” using the name of the state where your car was impounded.

Once you have all the information, make sure you also have the necessary paperwork, such as proof of insurance and registration. Many states will accept electronic proof of insurance.

Getting the Car Back: What to do Once You Get to the Towing Company

Having your vehicle impounded can be a stressful situation, but make sure to keep a clear head as you recover your car. Be polite to the towing company’s staff and remain calm throughout the process.

However, make sure you are not getting taken for a ride. Ask for the reason you got towed, and don’t sign any paperwork without reading it first. If the paperwork includes a section on releasing your rights to seek damage, you can opt not to sign the papers or cross out that particular section.

By Stolbovsky (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
By Stolbovsky (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Double check the amount you were charged for towing and storage, and do not be afraid to speak up if you notice any discrepancies. Your car can only be held for the posted fee and daily storage. Make sure to get an itemized receipt once you have paid the fees.

It is also in your best interest to note the names of all employees you interact with. Finally, if you believe that you were properly parked and your vehicle was illegally towed, wait until you recover your car to take action.

You are Sure Your Car was Towed Illegally: What Now?

If you’re sure that you parked legally and believe that the tow was illegal, there are several steps you can take. Just as with the recovery of your vehicle, it is imperative that you stay calm during the process.

Source: Pixabay.com / CC0 1.0
Source: Pixabay.com / CC0 1.0

Whether or not you choose to seek assistance from an attorney, you can do some of the legwork yourself. Familiarize yourself with local towing regulations and procedures. For instance, the towing company should have informed the local police that your car was being impounded. There should also be a photo of your vehicle parked illegally. If there is no photo, there is no real proof that your car was parked in an illegal manner.

In the event of an illegal tow, you can file a small claims action against the towing company after you have paid to recover your car. In Florida and several other states, you have a right to a “tow hearing” where the towing company must produce evidence that you parked illegally.

What Happens to Cars that are Not Claimed?

As previously mentioned, you should do your best to recover your vehicle ASAP. Along with paying expensive storage fees, you could actually lose your vehicle if it is not claimed within a set period of time.

Florida statutes dictate that impounded cars will be sold at auction if they are unclaimed within a specific time-frame. Impound sales are typically cash-only and open to the public.

If your vehicle is less than 3 years old, you have 50 days from the time of impound before it is sold. Vehicles older than 3 years will be sold after 35 days.

Must-Know Towing Tips

Everyone makes mistakes, and sometimes we park in a yellow or tow zone without realizing it. But you may be able to avoid a tow altogether if you possess a basic understanding of local regulations.

By Stromcarlson at English Wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By Stromcarlson at English Wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
For instance, if you return to your vehicle before the towing company attaches their wheel lift, you may be able to get it back without paying a fee. While different states have different laws pertaining to the situation, in Florida, you are entitled to get your vehicle back without hassle if the tow truck is not physically connected to your vehicle. In this case, “physically connected” means that at least one half of the wheel lift apparatus surrounding a tire or the winch hook must be properly hooked to the vehicle in an appropriate place.

Final Thoughts

By understanding local towing laws and regulations, you can avoid the anxiety that often accompanies the tow and impound process. Do your best to park legally at all times, but do not panic if your car gets towed. By keeping a level head, contacting the proper authorities and following through with timely fee payment, and you will be back on the road in no time.