You exit Fry’s with a shopping cart full of groceries. Key fob in hand, you click to unlock your Honda Pilot. Naturally, the rear power liftgate pops open and you — wait, where is it? You parked it right there. You know it. You’d bet your life savings on it because you remember that sign that reads: “NO PARKING – TOWING ENFORCED 24/7.”
Oh. Well, great. Now your milk is going to boil in the Arizona sun. What should you do? How do you find your towed car? Here are some suggestions to help you get your vehicle back after it’s been impounded.
6 Tips for Retrieving Your Car from an Impound Lot
1. Remain Calm
Yes, you’ll feel stressed once you find out your car’s gone MIA. Who knows where it is, how it’s being treated, or what it’ll cost you to get it back. It’s best to take a breath and approach this with a level head — panic is your worst enemy.
2. Was it Towed or Stolen?
Now that you’re calm, it’s time to play detective.
If your vehicle was parked in a designated “NO PARKING” spot, it’s likely to have been towed. However, if you just parked on the street, there’s a chance it could have been stolen.
Determine which scenario seems more likely based on your location, the time of day, and these typical “yeah, my car got towed” situations:
- Repossessed – If you’re late on your auto lease or car loan payments, your lender or lease company may have sent for a “repo.”
- Unpaid Parking Tickets – In some cases, a massive accumulation of unpaid tickets may come back to bite you when you least expect it. Towing a car for parking tickets is rare these days, but stranger things have been known to happen.
- Tow-Away Zone – These zones include any areas that impede traffic, block entrances or exits, are in front of fire hydrants, are designated for fire or emergency vehicles only, etc. (If you park in these tow zones, your vehicle will likely be impounded by the city.)
- Abandonment – Vehicles that appear to be abandoned for a certain length of time (usually 3 or more days) may be impounded.
- Private Parking – Businesses and other establishments, including apartment complexes, may have private or reserved parking for their employees, customers and residents. Parking in one of these spots for too long will most certainly result in a tow.
Still not sure? Move on to tip #3 or call 911 if you think your vehicle was stolen.
3. Find Out Where Your Car is Impounded
You have a few options to help you figure out which tow yard or impound lot your car’s in.
- First, ask the nearest business if they know what happened. They may have a contract with a local towing company to enforce parking violations, or they may have seen who towed your car.
- If that’s a bust, contact the local non-emergency police station. They should be able to find where your vehicle was impounded or even dispatch an officer to your location for more assistance. Just be sure not to tie up the lines by dialing 911! (To make it easy for Phoenix drivers, here is the city’s non-emergency police number: 602-262-6151.)
When you speak with the police, try to ascertain why your vehicle was towed, even if it is quite apparent (e.g. parking in a tow-away zone). This will enable you to prepare for a discussion with the tow company or impounding yard, as well as time to research and read your state’s towing laws.
- You can also contact your insurance agent. They could have some resources that will aid you as you search for your missing car. Beware, however, that getting your vehicle towed frequently may increase your auto insurance premiums.
4. Research Your Rights
Before contacting the towing company, do a little homework on your state’s towing protections and laws. Each state has their own laws to protect car owners from predatory towing; some states, like Arizona, do a decent job of protecting their residents, while other states, like Indiana, aren’t so keen on keeping drivers happy.
Here are some legal questions you’ll want answers to when speaking with the tow company:
Do they have pictures to prove your vehicle was parked illegally?
Certain states (Ohio, Oregon, New Mexico, Maryland) require that a vehicle be photographed before it gets towed. Arizona offers no protection to car owners here.
Can you retrieve your personal items from the vehicle before it’s paid for and released?
In Arizona, you’re legally allowed to enter your vehicle at the tow yard and retrieve any and all possessions without being charged any fee. If the tow company attempts to charge you or restrict you from accessing your vehicle, alert the authorities.
Did they damage your vehicle during the towing or storage process?
Only 23 states, including Arizona, require tow companies to pay for any damage done to your vehicle while in their care.
When you go to the tow lot, be sure to inspect your vehicle thoroughly, inside and out, and take photos of any damage. You must then report that damage to the tow company, the police, and perhaps even your insurance agent, to be on the safe side. You should be reimbursed for that damage, though you’re certain to have legal hoops to jump through, so seek the aid of an expert.
What is their required towing and storage rate?
Arizona’s laws on tow and storage costs vary by city and town — they set their own maximums. Other states have laws that dictate how much a tow company can charge. For instance, in Nevada, you’ll never be charged more than $55 for a towing fee.
Did they attempt to notify you, your lease or financing company, or the police?
Nearly all states require towing companies to inform the vehicle’s owner or lienholder and the police before they haul away the vehicle. Arizona is not one of these states, unfortunately.
If you believe you were towed illegally, you should document the scene with photographs, ask witnesses for their contact information, file a complaint with the BBB, and inform the police.
5. Call the Tow Company
Once you’ve got a basic understanding of your protections, it’s time to speak to the Devil himself. Here goes nothing….
(Tip: When talking to the tow company, you’ll want to be polite yet stern, inquisitive yet knowledgeable about the towing laws in your state. Essentially, you don’t want to come off as a doormat, nor do you want to be overly obnoxious. Just act normally.)
Aside from verifying that your vehicle is, in fact, impounded, your main objectives here are to: a) ask if there is a hold in place; b) see how much it will cost to release it from the impound lot and; c) figure out what documents you need.
If your vehicle is on hold — Phoenix will sometimes put a 30-day hold on an impounded vehicle for a variety of reasons — you’ll need to wait until it’s released to pay for and retrieve it. You’ll also need to speak with the city’s Public Records and Services division to request a release.
The cost to retrieve your vehicle, as mentioned previously, will range from city to town, state to state. Based on Phoenix towing rates, expect to pay over $50 for the tow and even more for storage, plus the balance of all outstanding traffic fines or parking tickets. Most tow yards accept credit cards these days, but be sure to ask about their payment preferences.
Always read your bill very closely to ensure you’re not being charged excessively. Predatory towing exists, and you should notify the Tow Contract Liaison Officer in your city if you believe you’re being overcharged for towing and/or storage.
Documents required to retrieve and release your towed car typically include your vehicle’s title or registration, a valid driver’s license (and/or government-issued photo ID), and an insurance card. Don’t forget to bring them with you.
Ask when you can pay your bill and pick up your car. Some tow yards are open 24/7, though many have more standard business hours.
6. Get Your Vehicle
The worst is over. With payment in hand and all documents ready to go, you should be able to retrieve your car from the towing yard quickly and without hassle. Just be sure to inspect it and follow our other tips before you leave!
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Request a quote online for any new or pre-owned Honda today. (And stay out of trouble!)