You’re visiting a new city, or going out to eat in an unfamiliar part of town, and right in the middle of all your fun, you realize you didn’t read the signs properly and your car’s been towed. But whether you’re doing something new and exciting, or you’ve just had one of those days and parked where you shouldn’t have in your own neighborhood, the slow realization that you’ll have to spend the next couple of hours traveling to, and freeing your car from, an impound lot or from a private towing company’s grip is not anyone’s idea of a good time. Knowing what to do ahead of time, before you’re towed, can help you get your vehicle back faster and can hopefully reduce your stress.
We’ve talked about how to get towing help in the event of a breakdown, but when your car gets towed without your knowledge, there are a few steps you should follow. Details below.
What You’ll Need
First things first: the paperwork. No one plans to get towed, but there are a few things you’ll want handy, just in case.
If you don’t already have copies of your car insurance and registration either inside your car or inside your wallet (that you take with you whenever you drive), square those documents away ASAP. You’ll also need a valid driver’s license, but we know you always carry that with you.
Without proof of insurance and registration, you won’t be able to get your car out of impound (remember, many states accept electronic proof of insurance) and the nightmare of that situation can escalate quickly. Quoted spoke with a Vermont driver, Mary, whose car was towed while she was spending a holiday weekend in New York City. As (bad) luck would have it, Mary’s yearly insurance card update had come in the mail the week before her trip, and it had gotten lost under a pile of envelopes and magazines in her kitchen.
When Mary misread the city’s parking signage (on a Saturday afternoon), her car was towed to a city tow pound in downtown Brooklyn. The impound lot was not even close to 24/7 (closed Sunday, very limited hours Saturday), so by the time Mary arrived on Monday, her car had been impounded for almost 48 hours. The tow pound wouldn’t let Mary have her own car back until she could provide proof of insurance and because it was a holiday, her insurance company (a sweet, local Vermont establishment) wasn’t open. Long story short, Mary finally got her car back hours later (on her second trip to the tow pound) once she’d tracked down her insurance agent (at home!) and had her info faxed.
How to Find Your Car
- If your car was towed from municipal property, it’ll likely be in a city or town run impound lot, and if your car was towed from private property, it’ll likely be with a private towing company.
If your car was towed because you parked in the wrong place on private property, there will likely be signs posted listing the contact info for the towing company. If not, go into the nearest establishment and ask them for the information.
If your car was towed while on public property, you can call 411 and ask for the number to the local police department. The plus side here is that when you call the police, you can find out if your car has really been towed, or worse, if its been stolen.
Note: Before traveling to where your car is being held, find out the payment requirements: sometimes only cash is accepted, so you don’t want to show up empty handed.
Another possibility: abandoned cars are subject to towing on both private and public property. We know what you’re thinking: I’d never abandon my ride! But as Jalopnik explains, “abandoned” covers a wide variety of situations:
Keep in mind that “abandoned” broadly covers not just cars that people have decided to walk away from for good, but also cars left on private property without the consent of the owner, [cars] left on public property for 48 hours, [cars]on a road for 18 hours even if plated properly, or on any road or highway without a license plate. Leave your car in any one of those places and conditions and it might not be there when you get back.
Get Your Car as Fast as Possible
You’ll be responsible for towing and storage fees whether your car was towed privately or publically. Storage fees accumulate daily, and they aren’t cheap, so try to get your car back as soon as you can (another good reason to always make sure your paperwork—valid driver’s license, proof of insurance, and registration—are squared away.
If you don’t get your car out in time it may be sold at auction. The amount of time between towing and auction varies, but it can be very fast. In New Jersey, for example, cars aren’t auctioned until they’ve been impounded for 60 days, but in New York City, the auction process will begin 72 hours after towing and cars can be sold in as few as ten days.
So, find out where your car is located as soon as you can and pay the fees. If you feel your car was illegally towed, you can deal with it after the car is back in your possession.
What Not to Do
Don’t call 911. The operators won’t be able to help you, you might even get yelled at a little (and rightfully so, we’re sorry to say), and you’ll definitely be tying up the line for people trying to get through with real emergencies. Even if your worst fears are realized and it turns out your car has been stolen, not towed, you still wouldn’t want to call 911. Instead, you would need to call the local police.
Any other “towing tips”? Tell us in the comments! We also always love a good “towing nightmare” story. (Sharing might even be cathartic.)