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Report: Getting off the hook of a predatory tow in Massachusetts
MASSPIRG Education Fund investigates consumer protections against exorbitant towing charges
BOSTON -- Every year, millions of Americans have their cars towed without their consent from a private property or public street. Too often, the unknown rationale behind these tows and what to do next can leave drivers stranded and confused. While getting towed is a justified consequence of parking in the wrong place or for too long, most states don’t offer drivers the decency of basic consumer protections such as access to their wallets or medicine, or maximum rates for towing and storage. And that doesn’t even take into consideration those times when drivers believe they’re towed improperly.
“It seems like everyone has a story of a run-in with a tow truck. When your car gets towed, everything else grinds to halt,” said Deirdre Cummings, MASSPIRG Education Fund’s Consumer Program Director. “Not only have you lost your primary mode of transportation, but you’re also trying to locate your vehicle and you’re worrying about mounting daily storage fees. It’s essential to know whether you’re being treated fairly or whether the tow company is acting in a predatory fashion.”
“I had to locate my car, take an Uber to the tow lot which wasn’t in the safest part of town, and then had to pay cash to get my car back. Who carries cash these days anyway?” said Arya Mekkat, a Boston resident who had her car towed from the South End last year. “I was told I was towed because I parked in a construction zone, but there were no signs or cones displaying construction or no parking. The police told me that someone probably moved the cones. I would not have parked there had it been marked. This was so maddening and unfair.”
MASSPIRG Education Fund identified 14 common sense towing protections that should be available to consumers in every state. Our report, Getting Off The Hook of a Predatory Tow, outlines protections ranging from who is responsible for damages caused by careless towing, to the maximum rates and fees owed when towed, to whether you are guaranteed the option to pay by credit card.
Massachusetts only provided 6 of the 14 common sense towing protections that should be available to consumers.
Our research points to two broad issues facing consumers: An alarmingly high number of states have no protections spelled out on towing issues. In addition, too many states have inadequate protections, or the laws on the books are vague and inaccessible to the average consumer. It’s important to note that many municipalities have protections that are stronger than those offered by state law. Some cities have even adopted a “towing bill of rights” to address years of abusive practices. This shouldn’t be necessary; drivers in every city in a state should have the same, strong rights.
In Massachusetts, here are the key takeaways:
- In the case of an involuntary or police-ordered tow from private property, Massachusetts towing companies can charge a maximum towing rate of $108.
- In the case of an involuntary tow, Massachusetts towing companies can charge a maximum storage rate of $35 per 24-hour period.
- After removing a vehicle, the tow company must notify law enforcement of the towing.
- If the vehicle owner returns before their car is towed, the tower must release it for a drop fee no greater than half of the intended towing cost.
- If a vehicle tow is proven illegal, the towing company must release the vehicle to the owner without charging for removal or storage.
Improvements needed to Massachusetts statewide towing law:
- Towing companies should display their rates on tow-away signs and at their storage facilities.
- Towing companies must be required to accept payment via credit card.
- Private property owners must display “tow-away” signs that are clearly visible from an area where a car may be towed.
- Towing companies must take a photograph of the car before moving it from its original location.
- Towing companies must provide itemized bills.
- If your vehicle is damaged during the towing or in the storage process, the towing company must reimburse the owner.
Towing complaints can be made with:
Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Transportation Oversight Division, https://www.mass.gov/forms/file-a-complaint-against-a-bus-moving-or-towing-company
Attorney General: Consumer Complaints, https://www.mass.gov/how-to/file-a-consumer-complaint
Click HERE for Massachusetts’ full list of protections.
Click HERE for state-by-state protections and consumer tips on what to do if your car is towed.
MASSPIRG (Public Interest Research Group) Education Fund is an independent, non-partisan group that works for consumers and the public interest. Through research, public education and outreach, we serve as counterweights to the influence of powerful interests that threaten our health, safety, and wellbeing.
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