No one enjoys leaving a building to find out his or her car has been towed. It's a hassle to find out where it is – never mind trying to find transportation to the lot and paying to get the car back. However, consumers do have rights when it comes to having their cars towed, and it’s good to know what they are.
In Ohio, the towing rate is a standard $90, with additional storage fees per day. In January of this year, a class action lawsuit was filed against two of Columbus' largest tow companies when consumers noticed they were being overcharged. The towing companies tried to say the fees were justified, but the judge disagreed and the companies had to settle. This all comes after a new code was passed in 2014. Prior to this code, tow companies were practicing "predatory towing.” The industry was highly unregulated.
Tow companies were towing cars parked in areas with no signage, quite frequently. Sometimes the cars were towed over 25 miles away, making it extremely difficult for consumers to get to their car. Other times, cars would be hooked for towing and the owner would catch the truck in the middle of the process. But the companies would still insist that the full tow price, including "administrative" fees, was owed and there was no process for disputing the charges. Various practices made it more difficult for consumers to pay for their car once towed: company phone numbers were not displayed, tow companies said they wouldn't take credit cards, and "overnight" fees charged even when cars had not been held for 24 hours.
House Bill 382 is now preventing this "towing abuse" from happening. The code was passed in 2014 and set forth some changes to towing companies' behaviors. The new code is as follows:
- Eliminate all "administrative fees" – they are now illegal. Only fees that are explicitly authorized by the code will be charged.
- Appropriate signage at tow-away zones with clear descriptions of the hours and vehicles allowed.
- A 24-hour grace period must be allowed before applying extra storage fees (overnight fees).
- Towed vehicles must be towed no more than 15-25 miles away from the parking site.
- Tow companies must be able to accept credit cards at facilities and on-site of the tow.
- Before towing, the service worker must take a photograph depicting how the car is illegally parked.
- If caught in the middle of a tow process, the tow company must disclose that the consumer only has to pay half of the normal tow fee.
- Phone numbers must be displayed visibly on the tow trucks.
The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) now has control to make new rules and aid in the enforcement of rules.
The enactment of these codes has made a remarkable impact in the lives of consumers, who now have authority over the way they're treated by towing companies. The next time you park, check for signs to make sure you’re in a designated parking area. Remember your rights!