County of Los Angeles
Department of Consumer Affairs
New Consumer Laws 2007
Towing Companies: Greater Protection For Motorists
Vehicle Code Sections 21100, 22651.7, 22953, and 40000.15
The law requires towing companies to get written authorization prior to towing an illegally parked vehicle from private property. With some exceptions, current law also requires towing companies to tow vehicles to the nearest public garage, and to wait at least one hour before they can tow an illegally parked vehicle. Many towing companies, however, tow vehicles illegally, and charge motorist excessive fees to get their cars back.
This new law provides greater protection for consumers, including:
- Requires towing companies to release vehicles that have not yet been towed. Towing companies may charge only one-half the regular towing fee if the vehicle owner comes back before it is towed, even if the vehicle has already been coupled to the tow truck.
- Makes a person or business that has a vehicle towed within one hour from being illegally parked liable to the vehicle owner for two times the amount of the towing and storage costs.
- Prohibits excessive towing and storage fees. Fees are excessive if they are more than what a towing or storage company charges under an agreement with a law enforcement agency, or more than the rate approved by the California Highway Patrol. Companies that charge excessive rates are civilly liable to the vehicle owner for four times the amount charged.
- Requires towing companies to get prior written authorization to tow a vehicle from the private property owner or lessee. The written notice must contain the following:
- Make, model, VIN, and license plate number of the towed vehicle;
- Name, signature, job title, residential or business address and phone number of the person authorizing the towing;
- The reason for towing the vehicle; and
- The time when the vehicle was first observed parked at the private property, as well as the time when authorization to tow the vehicle was given.
- Requires towing companies to give the vehicle owner a free copy of the written authorization to tow the vehicle at the time the owner claims the vehicle. The towing company has to also give the vehicle owner a separate notice that provides the telephone number for the local law enforcement or prosecuting agency for the vehicle owner to contact them if he or she feels that the vehicle was illegally towed. This notice has to be in English and in the most common language, other than English, that is spoken in that jurisdiction.
- Requires towing companies to take pictures of vehicles that are legally towed within an hour from being parked. A vehicle can be legally towed immediately after it is parked within 15 feet of a fire hydrant, in a fire lane, blocking an exit or entrance, or in a handicap space. Private property owners and towing companies can have a general written agreement to immediately tow vehicles for these violations. The towing company, however, has to take a picture of the vehicle before it is towed, and must give a copy of the picture free of charge to the owner of the vehicle at the time he or she claims the vehicle.
- Requires towing companies to notify local law enforcement within 60 minutes of a vehicle being towed or within 15 minutes after arriving at the storage facility, whichever is less.
- Requires towing companies to send a notice to the vehicle owner that the vehicle has been towed if the towing company can find the vehicle owner’s name and address from DMV records or the owner or lessee of the private property. The notice has to list the reason for towing and where the vehicle was towed to.
- Requires that vehicles only be towed to a storage facility that:
- Is within 10 miles from the location from where the vehicle was towed, unless the towing company has written authorization from law enforcement to tow vehicles to a further location;
- Is open on normal business hours: Mon to Fri from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.;
- Releases vehicles after normal business hours. A gate fee may be charged for releasing a vehicle after normal business hours. The maximum hourly gate fee may be only up to ½ of the hourly tow rate;
- Has a pay phone in the office area that is accessible to the public;
- Has a visible sign posted letting the public know that all credit cards and cash are accepted for payment.
- Requires private property owners or lessees to post a sign warning that illegally parked vehicles will be towed at owner’s expense. The sign has to list the name and phone number of each towing company the property owner has a written agreement with.
- Requires towing companies to maintain the written authorizations and pictures for at least three years, and make them available for inspection and copying without a warrant to law enforcement, the Attorney General, and district or city attorney.
- Makes the following violations a misdemeanor for storage facilities that:
- Charge excessive rates, and fail to post a notice visible to the public advising them that credit cards and cash are accepted for payment;
- Fail to maintain a written authorization with the pictures of the towed car for three years and make them available without a warrant to law enforcement, the Attorney General, and district or city attorneys.
May be reprinted for non-commercial use if a credit line is included acknowledging the County of Los Angeles Department of Consumer Affairs.
For more information:
County of Los Angeles Department of Consumer Affairs
B-96 Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration
500 W. Temple Street * Los Angeles, CA 90012-2706
Telephone (800) 593-8222 (within the County) * (213) 974-1452
web site: dca.lacounty.gov