Commentary: Tow Woes

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(Sacramento, CA)
Friday, October 28, 2005

Someone stole Mary Bane's van last August. Police found it stripped and abandoned and ordered it towed. Before Bane was able to retrieve it, the van had racked up $495 in tow and storage fees.

It was worse for Citrus Heights resident Joe Hyler. By the time he learned his stolen car had been recovered, tow and storage fees had ballooned to $1200 dollars. His insurance didn't cover those costs and he didn't have the cash, so he had to leave the car in the tow yard while fees continued to mount.

Mary Bane's and Joe Hyler's stories are not unusual. Sacramento tows 28,000 cars a year. The city contracts with 29 different companies to tow cars on a rotating basis for a set fee of $145, plus $35 dollars a day storage. Surrounding jurisdictions charge even more. For car theft victims forced to pay, it feels like they've been victimized twice.

But police say when they find a stolen car, they can't just leave it. It could be stolen again or stripped. It has to be taken to a secure location and someone has to pay the tow and storage fees.

In that case, cities need to do a better job notifying victims quickly. And no car - no car - should be held hostage with the meter running because the owner can't afford tow charges they never authorized.


Ginger Rutland writes for the Sacramento Bee Opinion pages.