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Report: Getting off the hook of a predatory tow in Texas

TexPIRG Education Fund investigates consumer protections against exorbitant towing charges
For Immediate Release

AUSTIN --  Every year, millions of Americans have their cars towed without their consent from a private property or public street. While getting towed is a justified consequence of parking in the wrong place or for too long, most states don’t offer drivers the decency of basic consumer protections such as access to their wallets or medicine, or maximum rates for towing and storage. And that doesn’t even take into consideration those times when drivers believe they’re towed improperly.

“It seems like everyone has a story of a run-in with a tow truck. When your car gets towed, everything else grinds to halt,” said Bay Scoggin, TexPIRG Education Fund’s Director. “Not only have you lost your primary mode of transportation, but you’re also trying to locate your vehicle and you’re worrying about mounting daily storage fees. It’s essential to know whether you’re being treated fairly or whether the tow company is acting in a predatory fashion.” 

TexPIRG Education Fund identified 14 common sense towing protections that should be available to consumers in every state. Our report, Getting Off The Hook of a Predatory Tow, outlines protections ranging from who is responsible for damages caused by careless towing, to the maximum rates and fees owed when towed, to whether you are guaranteed the option to pay by credit card. 

Our research points to two broad issues facing consumers: An alarmingly high number of states have no protections spelled out on towing issues. In addition, too many states have inadequate protections, or the laws on the books are vague and inaccessible to the average consumer. It’s important to note that many municipalities have protections that are stronger than those offered by state law. Some cities have even adopted a “towing bill of rights” to address years of abusive practices. This shouldn’t be necessary; drivers in every city in a state should have the same, strong rights. 

In Texas, here are the key takeaways: 

  1. For private property tows, towing companies can charge a maximum rate of $255 for vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds or less.

  2. Towing companies can charge between $5 and $20 per day for cars that are 25 feet long or less.

  3. After removing a vehicle, the tower is required to the vehicle owner and law enforcement.

  4. If the owner returns before their car is towed, the tower must release the vehicle at no charge if it is not fully hooked up. If the car is attached, they can charge a drop fee.

  5. Texas towing companies must provide vehicle owners with an itemized list of charges.

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