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How to Get Your Towed Car Back Quickly

By Aaron Crowe

No ParkingNot finding your car parked where you remember parking it can leave you in a panic attack. Your first thought is that it was stolen. Your second thought, if you’ve considered the options for a minute or so, is that you’ve been towed.

Whether you parked in a no-parking zone and are taking a chance that your vehicle won’t be towed, or accidentally parked illegally, if your car has been towed, every minute counts. Or at least every hour does. That’s how often the tow yard operator can charge you an additional storage fee.

Getting your car back as quickly as possible is prudent financially, but also because you need your car more than you realized when you parked illegally. Here are some tips for getting it back as quickly as possible:

  1. Call the police

Calling the police immediately is probably your first inclination, but not for the reason you think. If your car is stolen, this is obviously a good first step.

Don’t call 911. That number is for emergency calls only, and your towed car is not an emergency. Call 411 and ask for the number of the local police department. Police can then tell you if your car has been towed or stolen.

Even if you think your car may have been towed, the police can be a good place to start because they can tell you how to contact the towing company and where to go to get your car back. Some cities require payment be made at the police station, along with proving ownership of the vehicle.

Instead of calling the police directly, your city may have a phone number for towed cars that goes directly to the tow lot or provides more information. The city may also have an online towing database to search for your car by its license plate number.

  1. Have your documents available

In addition to having your driver’s license on you, your car insurance and registration should be in the car or carried in your wallet or purse whenever you drive.

Proof of insurance and registration will be needed to get your car out of impound. If you have copies at home, bring those with you to the impound lot or police station, though the copies in your car should suffice. Many states accept electronic proof of insurance, too.

  1. Brace yourself for unpaid tickets

If you have any outstanding tickets that haven’t been paid, such as parking tickets, those will have to be paid first. Steven Paul, owner of Test Drive Technologies, a vehicle inspection company in St. Louis, MO., that checks impounded vehicles for damage, says tow companies run VIN numbers into their computer to check for unpaid tickets.

  1. Prepare to pay

If you don’t have unpaid parking tickets to take care of, you’ll still have to pay to get your car back. Unless you have a lot of cash with you or have a big checking account, you’ll need a credit card. Some cities, such as Boston, don’t accept personal checks, though money orders and cashier checks are OK. Some tow lots may only accept cash. Call ahead to find out what payment is allowed.

St. Louis charges $250 to get a car out of impound, Paul says. Most cities will post their towing fees online. Boston, for example, charges a $90 seizure fee and a storage fee of $3 an hour for up to $15 per day.

Storage fees may add up hourly or daily, so it can pay off to get your car back as fast as you can.

  1. Check operating hours

Don’t assume all impound lots are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week to get your car back, including on a Saturday night after you’ve visited a few bars.

If your car was towed from municipal property, it will probably be towed to the city impound lot — which may not be open weekends.

If your car was towed from private property, a private towing company will tow it to its lot, which is more likely to be open all of the time — though not necessarily holidays. Also, if your car was towed from private property, look for a sign on the property listing the contact information for the towing company.

  1. Be aware

Boston, which seems to offer plenty of online help for owners of towed cars, offers towed car alerts via voicemail, text and email. You just enter your phone number of email address on its online form, along with your license plate number, and you’ll get an automated alert usually within an hour of your vehicle being involuntarily towed.

The city also offers extensive information about parking permits and how to find out what day a street sweeper will come down your street so you won’t park and be towed on a street cleaning day.

  1. Be nice

When you do get to the tow yard, it can only help to be nice, says Ken Beckstead, a Palmdale, CA., resident who owns a cigarette receptacle company. Beckstead’s car was towed to a lot that had terrible online reviews, he says.

“I talked nice to them and they actually knocked a day off storage and helped me replace my stolen wheels while the car was still in their yard,” he says. This saved me hundreds of dollars just by being nice to them.”

“It’s stressful getting towed and all day people abuse the tow yard workers,” he says. “Break the cycle and be nice. Great things can happen.”

  1. Take pictures

Survey the scene of where your car was towed from and make sure you weren’t in the wrong, suggests Paul Moyer, who writes about saving money at SavingFreak.com. If you think your car was towed illegally, take all of the photos you need to show where your car was and the signs in place, Moyer says.

If the tow was illegal, you can ask for a hearing and present your case, he says.

  1. Check for damage

If your car was damaged during towing, take photos of the damage at the tow lot, recommends Paul, the vehicle inspector in St. Louis.

While damage isn’t common, it can happen, says Paul, who looks under towed cars to see if the tow hook bent something, such as suspension components. Look for new tow marks on the paint, not pre-existing damage, he says.

  1. Get there with 72 hours

If you don’t get your vehicle out of the impound lot within 72 hours, some cities will start the auction process 72 hours after towing and cars can be sold in 10 days. New York City does this, beginning the auction process three days after a tow.

If escalating fees aren’t enough to get you to move quickly in getting a towed car back, the chance of seeing your car legally driven by someone who bought it at auction a week or so later should be enough incentive to get moving.