If you find your car missing, it might be due to it being parked in a tow-away zone or on private property without permission. In such cases, your car may be towed at your expense, a scenario known as a “private property tow”. Alternatively, the property owner may choose to attach a boot to your vehicle’s wheel instead of having it towed.
This guide is designed to provide essential information for consumers who have experienced a towed vehicle, aiding you in understanding the process and your rights in this potentially stressful situation. As a car owner in Texas, under circumstances where your vehicle is being or has been towed to a vehicle storage facility (VSF), you have rights under Texas law.
What Can I Do if My Car is in the Process of Being Towed?
If you return and your car is in the process of being towed, then:
- Not Fully Hooked Up and Ready for Towing: You have the right to keep your car without paying a charge or proving ownership of the car.
- Fully Hooked Up and Ready for Towing: You must pay a drop fee, but do not have to prove ownership. Tow truck drivers and VSFs must accept the following forms of payment: cash, credit cards, debit cards. Drop fees can be limited by city or county rules, but cannot be more than:
- $135 for cars weighing 10,000 lbs or less.
- $190 for cars weighing more than 10,000 but less than 25,000 lbs.
- $244 for cars with a gross weight rating that exceeds 25,000 lbs.
How Do I Find My Car if it Has Already Been Towed or Booted?
If your car has already been towed to a vehicle storage facility (VSF), there are a few signs you can look for and steps you can take to locate your vehicle:
- Tow-Away Zone Signs: If your car was towed from a public area, look around for any signs indicating that it is a tow-away zone. These signs will provide the contact details of the towing company.
- Booting Notices: If a boot was attached to your car before it was towed, there will be a warning sticker on your window or contact information on the boot itself.
- Use Online Tools: Some cities have online tools that allow you to search for towed vehicles using your license plate number, such as the Dallas Auto Pound. The tool usually provides the location of the vehicle storage facility where the car has been towed.
- Contact Nearby Businesses: If your car was towed from a private lot, it might be useful to ask nearby businesses who they contract for towing and where the towed vehicles are taken.
What Rights Do I Have at a Towing Company Storage Lot in Texas?
Once your vehicle is at a towing company lot, known as a vehicle storage facility (VSF), you have a certain set of rights under Texas law. These rights ensure your protection as a consumer and provide you with the means to retrieve your vehicle under fair conditions.
- Right to Retrieve Your Vehicle: You have the right to retrieve your vehicle during the VSF’s business hours within one business hour after paying towing, storage, or other allowed fees. The VSF must remain open either: 24 hours; or, 8am-midnight (Monday – Saturday), 8am-5pm on Sunday, except for nationally recognized holidays.
- Right to Access Your Vehicle: Even if you can’t pay the towing charges, you are still entitled to access your vehicle at no cost to retrieve: 1) any personal items or 2) ownership documents. However, this does not include any attached equipment, or the vehicle’s battery. The VSF may accompany you to the vehicle to ensure no damage is done, but they cannot charge you for this access.
- Right to Reasonable Storage Efforts: The VSF has a duty to exercise reasonable care to protect your vehicle and its contents while in storage as part of their storage fee. This includes taking steps to prevent theft or damage, such as locking the car and parking it in a secure location.
- Right to A Copy of the Tow Ticket: This ticket is a comprehensive document of the towing incident, containing the following details for the towing operator: licensed name of the towing company, TDLR license number, certificate of registration, phone number.
- Right to Tow Hearing Information: This includes a statement of consumer rights and the information needed to file for a tow hearing to contest the towing.
- Right to Lodge Complaints: The VSF is obligated to provide you with the necessary contact details for the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR) for lodging complaints or addressing issues regarding the tow and storage process of your vehicle. The contact details include their website, email address, mailing address, and telephone number.
Knowing these rights can help you navigate the process of retrieving a towed vehicle more effectively and ensure that you are treated fairly during this process.
What Documentation Do I Need to Get My Car From a Towing Company in Texas?
- Photo Identification: Acceptable forms of photo ID include the following:
- State-issued driver’s license or ID card.
- Any type of Federal Government photo ID.
- Any foreign government photo ID, such as a passport or driver’s license.
- Proof of Ownership or Owner’s Permission to Use the Car: Acceptable forms of proof of ownership or use include any of the following matching your name as it is listed on your photo ID:
- Insurance ID listing you as a named insured.
- Certificate of title listing you as the owner.
- Department of Motor Vehicle‘s (DMV) database showing you as the owner.
- Notarized power-of-attorney signed by the vehicle owner.
- Tax collector’s receipt and a car registration renewal card showing you as the owner.
- Lease or rental agreement signed by you.
- Personal Vehicle Owner Removal and/or Inspection form filled out and signed by you.
What Fees Can a Towing Company in Texas Charge?
In Texas, the maximum allowable charges for non-consent tows are set by the TDLR. The maximum charges are as follows:
- Towing Charge: A statewide maximum tow charge of $255 for a car weighing up to 10,000 lbs, $357 for a car weighing between 10,000 and 25,000 lbs, and $459 for a vehicle weighing over 25,000 lbs. Local municipalities or counties may set lower rates.
- Notification Fee: Unless you claim your vehicle within 24 hours, the VSF may charge a one-time notification fee of $50 for notifying you that your car is at their VSF. If the VSF cannot determine the address of the vehicle owner, they may choose to publish that your vehicle is at their VSF, and may charge an additional fee if their actual cost of publication exceeds 50% of the notification fee.
- Daily Storage Charge: A maximum of $20 per day for vehicles under 25 feet and $35 per day for vehicles over 25 feet in length, with adjustments to this pricing every 2 years per Texas Occupations Code § 2303.1552(b)(1). As of 2021, those adjustments are to $21.03 and $36.80. This fee applies to partial days, unless a vehicle spends 12 hours or less in a VSF over 2 calendar days. Storage charges can accrue until all charges are paid and the car is removed, subject to these notice restrictions:
- Vehicles Registered in Texas: If a notice is not mailed or published (if the owner’s address is unknown) to inform the owner of the car’s location, the VSF cannot charge more than 5 days of storage fees for vehicles registered in Texas (§85.703).
- Vehicles NOT Registered in Texas: The VSF cannot charge for more than 5 days of storage fees before requesting ownership information from the state or other government entity in which the vehicle is registered.
- Impoundment Fee: If a VSF is required to take steps to protect your vehicle (e.g., place canvas over a broken window, remove personal property from an unsecured vehicle), this is unknown as impounding. The VSF may charge a maximum impoundment fee of $20 (which is biennially adjusted), but is required to specify the date and services performed.
- Collection of Governmental or Law Enforcement Fees: The VSF may collect any fees that must be paid to law enforcement or their authorized agent, or a government entity (e.g., charges related to the enforcement of parking violations, traffic laws, or other local regulations).
A towing company in Texas is not legally permitted to charge any fees other than those listed above. Furthermore, towing companies and VSFs in Texas are required to cash, credit cards, and debit cards as forms of payment for all fees.
What Happens if I Do Not Claim My Car from the Towing Company Lot?
If a vehicle is not claimed by the owner from the towing company lot in Texas, a VSF may deem it abandoned. The VSF may then sell your car 30 days after mailing or publishing:
- Cars 10 Years Old or Less: The second of two notices stating that they have possession of the vehicle.
- Cars Over 10 Years Old and in “Junk” Condition: One notice stating that they have possession of the vehicle.
The VSF may use earnings from the sale to cover the cost of towing and storage, then remit the remaining proceeds to the vehicle owner.
How Do I Request a Tow Hearing?
In Texas, you have the right to request a tow hearing to dispute the validity of a non-consent tow or associated fees. To do so, follow these steps:
- Time Frame: You must request a hearing within 14 days of your vehicle being towed.
- Hearing Request: Your request must be in writing and submitted to the Justice of the Peace in the precinct where your vehicle was towed. In your request, include your name, address, and a phone number where you can be reached during the day. For example, here’s how to request a tow hearing in Dallas.
- Required Information: You must also include a copy of the vehicle’s VSF receipt or any other document that shows the vehicle was towed, along with a statement that you are requesting a tow hearing. Include the reason for the hearing, such as disputing the legality of the tow or the fees.
- Hearing Fee: There is a fee associated with filing a request for a tow hearing. This fee is set by the county and can vary, but it must be paid at the time you submit your request. If you cannot afford to pay the fee, you may be eligible for a waiver.
Please note that a tow hearing only disputes the legality of the tow and the associated fees.
Summary: How to Deal With Your Car Being Towed
Having your car towed can be a stressful experience, but understanding the process can alleviate some of the anxiety. When your vehicle is towed in Texas, first, determine the location of your car by contacting the local police department or towing administration.
Once you know your car’s location, you can take steps to claim your vehicle promptly to avoid accumulating daily storage charges. It’s also essential to be aware of tow hearing procedures if you wish to dispute the tow or associated fees. Always remember that the towing company is required by law to accept cash, credit cards, and debit cards as forms of payment. If your vehicle is deemed ‘abandoned’ and sold, you’re entitled to any remaining proceeds after the cost of towing and storage has been deducted.
By understanding your rights and obligations, Thompson Law hopes to help you navigate the towing process more effectively.