Your CAR WAS TOWED - now what?

What happens when your vehicle is impounded, and what you can do to get it back.

If your car was just towed, and you live in Colorado, you need to act fast or it could cost you a bundle.  I will outline here the fees and procedures that tow companies are required to follow, and what steps you need to take to reclaim your vehicle.  Abandoning your vehicle is not an option. as it could land you in serious financial trouble later.  Knowing your rights, and the possible repercussions, can save you a lot of heartaches in retrieving your vehicle.

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Disclaimer. First off, let me tell you that I'm not a legal professional, and I'm not offering any legal advice.  If your looking for legal advice, you should consult an attorney.  I have served as an employee of more than one tow company, and have processed the paperwork to resell impounded vehicles in the State of Colorado.  I am not knowledgeable of procedures outside the state of Colorado, however many states have similar procedures and laws.  My information is based on 2011-2012 Colorado sanctioned fees.
The Impound Process. An impound is a legal seizure of a vehicle that has broken either a rule, or law, within the state of Colorado.  If you park illegally, your vehicle is subject to impound.  Impounds in Colorado are also called a non-consent tow.  Impounds are both a necessary evil, and a huge money maker for the company doing the impounds.  Impounds allow apartment complexes to keep their property looking good by enforcing the parking rules of the complex.  Police impounds allow law enforcement to remove vehicles from persons breaking a law.  Impounded simply means towed away to an impound yard.  Look for the signs around the parking lot, and they will tell you who monitors the parking lot your car was impounded from.  If your vehicle was impounded on a city street, the police in your jurisdiction, where the vehicle was parked, will know where your car was taken.  The same holds true for a car impounded from private property.  Each tow company is required by law to report the impound to the police department, and get a case number for the impound records.  If the police do not have the car on record, wait an hour and try again.
Drop Fee. If you see your vehicle being impounded, and they have not yet towed it away, you can talk to the tow truck driver and pay to have the vehicle released for a reduced rate.  The fee charged is called a "drop fee", and it should be $70 in Colorado.  It has to be paid in cash, or credit card, and it has to be right there on the spot.  Trust me, if you can come up with the cash, or a credit card, pay it because if they tow it, it's going to cost you a lot more.  Borrow the money from anyone you can, because picking it up at the impound lot is going to cost you triple, or more.
How The Fees Stack Up. The state of Colorado has some pretty hefty fines for an impounded car.  The cost to run a towing company is very high, and the liability of removing people's vehicles without consent makes it a somewhat dangerous job.  The state of Colorado has allowed very high fees to allow tow companies, and even police impound yards to make a profit and stay in business.  So, even if you follow the tow truck all the way to the impound lot, your going to have to pay a bunch of fees.  The impound fee is $154 to start.  Mileage fee from where they picked the vehicle up, to the impound yard, is $3.80 a mile.  Higher charges for over sized vehicles. Colorado law allows the tow yard to charge you $66 as a "gate fee" if you arrive to pick up your vehicle on the weekends or after 5:00PM.  However, the law also mandates that the towing company be available to release your vehicle within the fist 24 hours after impound.  If you do not pick the vehicle up within 48 hours, they can send you legal paperwork to your last registered address, costing you another $150 administration fees.  There may be other fees involved as well, depending on if the police were involved with the impound.  Second tow charges may apply if the vehicle was stolen, or if the vehicle does not operate and needs to be towed out of the yard.. i.e. dead battery, no current registration, vehicle inoperable, or invalid insurance.

Colorado law states that no vehicle can leave any impound facility (private or police) without valid insurance and registration.  So, if you have an expired registration, you will need to register the car and bring the new registration and valid insurance with you,  before they will let you take the car.

To make a long story short, it's not uncommon to owe over $300 for a 20 minute tow.  Every day that your car sits in the impound lot, you're paying an additional $30 in storage fees to get it back out, plus legal fees, so that they can keep your car legally with a new title.  (keep in mind, the towing companies main objective is to keep your car at their facility for as long as possible, accruing the maximum fees)

What If You Can't Afford To Get Your Vehicle Out? First of all, you need to know that you do have options.  Don't just leave your vehicle in the lot, and never contact the tow company.  This can cost you a lot of money, as you will find out in the section after next.  So decide up front to handle the situation, call the tow company, and find out how much you owe until you can come in to pick up the vehicle.  Then handle the situation  in one of the following ways.

1. Borrow the money to get your car out.  If your going to take this route, do it as fast as you can because the fees are mounting quickly.

2. Surrender the vehicle's title to the tow company in lieu of the bill.  By doing this your stopping the possibility of future litigation against you.

How To Retrieve Your Car. If you have the cash to get your vehicle out, that's great!  Make sure you call the tow company to determine the fees that are owed on the vehicle.  Ask them what their policy is on after hours pickup, if you can't make it there during business hours.  Plan to get there as fast as you can, because they can legally tack on another $150 after 48 hours.  This is if they send your legal notices out in the mail.  Sometimes they do, sometimes they wait up to 10 days, to build up the $30 a day storage fee first.  Ask if they accept credit cards if you must pay that way.  I'm going to strongly suggest that you bring cash, because most tow companies will use any excuse they can, to charge you more money.  There are no problems with cash, and they have to accept it.  Bring a current registration with you.  If it's in the vehicle, ask someone to allow you to get it out of the vehicle before going in to pay.  Someone will watch you as you do this, because you are not allowed to take anything else out of the vehicle until you have paid your fees.  Read the tips and tricks section below for more help.  
What can happen if you don't retrieve your car. This is the bad part about getting your vehicle towed.  As if having it towed was not bad enough, the impound yard can keep charging you storage for 120 days after they impound your vehicle.  Storage alone will add up to $1,800.  Tack on other fees, and the amount owed can be over $3,000.  The tow company can dispose of your vehicle any way they see fit.  Many cars get crushed, or sold for pennies on the dollar.  Your liable for the difference between what's owed and what they sold the vehicle for.  You can be sued for the difference, and your account can be sent to a collection agency, severely affecting your credit.  I strongly discourage your leaving the vehicle at the impound yard..  Read "what if you can't afford to get your vehicle out" above, and take care of it before it comes back to bite you later.
Tips and Tricks. Here are a few tips, and a couple tricks to help you get your vehicle out of impound with as little hassle as possible.

Write down the name of the person you talked to at the tow company and when.  This helps if there is  a discrepancy in the amount owed.  I recommend calling a second time just before you come to pick up the car.  Also, verify the reason the vehicle was towed.

If you can have a friend bring you to the impound lot and wait for you, that's best.  Many times people were quoted an amount on one day and show up the next only to find that another days storage fee has been added on.  Or the administration fee of $150 has been tacked on.  Have them wait if possible.

Bring extra money.  Nothing is worse than showing up and finding out about some unexpected fee. forcing you to leave and come back.

If you own one, bring a jump box with you.  (lights get left on, alarms keep beeping, who knows what else - avoid another tow fee by jumping your own car if needed)  They don't have to let you do this, so read the next hint to improve your odds.

Stay calm.  Tempers run hot, and if you lose your cool while at the impound lot, they will go out of their way to not help you.  If you stay calm, however, they will normally treat everything as business as usual.  They may even let you jump your car to drive it off the lot if needed.

If something goes wrong, politely ask to talk to the owner or manager.  I have seen so many times where a pretty girl, or a well mannered young man, has gotten one of the charges dropped, or allowed to have a friend help them push the car off the lot, rather than paying another tow fee.  The owner has the ability to waive any fee, but it's rare that they will.  Just remember if your friendly, and have a "special circumstance", you might get lucky and receive special treatment or a reduced fee.  Don't bother to ask the cashier for a discount, everyone asks, and they don't have the authority to give one.

Look up the reason you were towed, and make sure the tow company followed the proper procedures for your situation.  If you live in an apartment complex, or condo complex, there are rules for parking.  Look them up and make sure they did what was required.  Were they required to place a warning tag on your car?  Did they follow the 30 day grace period for an expired registration?  Did you have a parking permit in the car that they missed?  Politely verify the rules with your association or rental agent.  If they did not follow the rules, a rental agent, or HOA member may be able to get your car back for free, by calling the tow company and pointing out the error.  If you know you're right, and they won't help you, document it and take the tow company to small claims court.

If your vehicle is damaged, document it with photos.  If possible, get a picture of the tow truck that towed your vehicle from multiple angles.  Nearly every tow company numbers their trucks.  If you can't take pictures, try to get the truck number for possible legal action later.  For whatever reason, the police seem apathetic to this.  If you call them, they will probably not bother to show up for hours, if at all.  Use your camera phone if it takes good pictures or find a camera that does.  Put a ruler up to the marks showing the height of the damage for the possibility to match it up to a tow truck.  If it's minor, like a scratch on a bumper, it's going to be a lot of work, and the tow company will fight you all the way.  If it's a torn off bumper, get a lawyer and document everything you can.

To Sum it up. Keep in mind that Colorado law, and the Public Utilities Commission, protects towing companies and regulates what they can, and cannot do.  In most cases the towing company did nothing wrong.  If you make a mistake and parked your car illegally the towing company has every right to execute a tow.  Bear in mind, that Colorado law also protects the owner of the vehicle to an extent.  However, if the vehicle is left unattended at an impound facility the fees associated with it can become overwhelming.  In some cases, the vehicle in question can be worth less than the impound fees themselves.

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