Know your rights if your car gets towed

(Photo by Emily Johnson) Many ASU students are unaware of their towing rights. The owner can retrieve their car without paying upfront under Tempe law. (Photo by Emily Johnson)

Tow trucks are a regular fixture at the Vista del Sol apartments in Tempe. Each night, around 8 p.m., the drivers of the Go Towing and Recovery vehicles comb through the parking lot, looking for vehicles that do not prominently display the required parking passes.

When the drivers come across an offending car, they slip behind the vehicle, hoist it up with chains and pull it to the side of the building, where they will put lights on it before pulling it away down the street.

The drivers have the action down to a quick science, and before students who either ignore the rules or are unaware of the rules notice, the car is gone.

Towing regulations are in effect all year long, but many students said they fell victim to the practice at the beginning of the school year, when they were not aware of the stringent rules.

Many students, like business communications sophomore Dina De Leon, are unaware of what their rights actually are when their cars are towed.

"I'm really afraid of my car getting towed, because I park off-campus at a meter, and I think that if I go even one minute over the two-hour time limit, they will be waiting to tow me," De Leon said.

De Leon said her car has not been towed before, and said she would not know what to do if it happened.

"I would probably just try to figure it out as I go," De Leon said.

Tempe’s city code, section 32, was amended in 2009 to try to crack down on shady towing businesses. The code established more rights for car owners as well as put caps on the amount that could be charged for a tow. Tempe Police Chief Tom Ryff approved the change in code.

If a person’s car is towed, it is common for a towing company to say the owner will not get the car back until a fee is paid, sometimes requiring it to be paid in cash.

However, Tempe law dictates that privately owned towing agencies must accept credit or debit transactions, and refusing to do so is a violation of the law, which can merit a call to police.

The law also requires that a towing company return a car when the rightful owner arrives to claim the car, not when payment is presented. The company may require a person to prove they are in fact the owner of the car, by presenting documentation such as vehicle registration or keys to the vehicle that was towed.

While the company must allow the owner to access the car, they may require the vehicle owner to provide a phone number and billing address for payment purposes.

The owner of the car is always allowed to drive the car off the lot, provided that she is the legal owner of the car and have proof of ownership. The towing company cannot require that the owner leave the car at the towing facility until the fee is paid.

A representative from Go Towing and Recovery, the company contracted by Vista del Sol, did not return a request for comment about an owner’s rights and the legal behavior for a towing company.

Communication junior Jessica McQueary said her car has never been towed from campus, but she is always very apprehensive about leaving her car parked for long periods of time.

“I just feel like there aren’t very many places to park here,” McQueary said. “We are downtown, so space is very limited, so I am definitely afraid that my car could get towed.”

McQueary said she was unaware that she would have the right to take her car from a towing facility before she paid for the tow, and said she would not know what to do if her car was ever towed.

Social work senior Kim Lam said she worries about her car because she relies on parking meters, which are notoriously strict about towing and ticketing.

“I always worry that the money might run out before I get out of class or get back to my car,” Lam said. “I would have no idea what to do if my car got towed."

While many students said they were unaware of their rights as car owners, they did know that information was available to them. Parking and enforcement information is available at the ASU Parking and Transit Service website, and Tempe city ordinances are available at the City of Tempe's website.

Reach the reporter at or follow her on Twitter @CorinaVanek

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