Report: States lack consumer protections against predatory towing companies

WASHINGTON, DC — It’s a hassle for millions of Americans every year: having your car towed.

Now a new watchdog report from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group is revealing gaps in state laws that leave consumers with little protection against predatory towing companies.

It’s a problem that drivers like Ben Sonnega know about all too well.

“They’re in a position of power because they have your car,” said Sonnega.

Sonnega said a towing company in Michigan wrongfully claimed he was illegally parked in a permit lot for more than 30 days, and he got stuck with a $400 bill.

“I said my car wasn’t parked there, and they said yes it was, and they said did you have any pictures of where you parked your car?” Sonnega said. “And of course, I didn’t take pictures when I hopped out of it. I knew I was in a legal parking spot.”

The report said only about half of states set any kind of maximum fees for towing or storage for cars, and more than 30 states don’t even require the rates to be disclosed.

“A good rule of thumb is to contact the non-emergency number of local law enforcement because often towing companies are required to notify law enforcement when a vehicle is towed,” said Grace Brombach, consumer watchdog associate for U.S. PIRG. “I would also suggest requesting an itemized bill.”

The report also says that if your car is damaged during the towing or storage process, only 23 states require the company to reimburse the driver for the cost of the damages.