Call Kurtis Investigates: Stolen Car Victims Say Tow Companies Leave Them Victimized Twice
February 16, 2016 11:58 PM
By Kurtis Ming
SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — Anyone who has had their car stolen knows the relief they feel when they get the phone call saying their car has been found. Kassie Moore of Tracy learned her 1994 Honda Accord was recovered 30 miles away and was at a tow yard in Antioch. The single mom who lives paycheck to paycheck learned she’d have to pay $290 to cover the tow bill and get her only car back. She didn’t have the money. As she worked to gather it, the tow yard would slap on an additional $50 storage fee each day.
“I just started balling right then and there,” Kassie recalls. “And I was like I have to say goodbye to my car. I can’t take my car home now.”
Jolaine Huss says another tow yard told her she’d have to pay an $820 tow bill or face collections to get her stolen SUV back after it was found trashed.
“Just light the thing on the fire,” she recalls thinking. “Cause I can’t pay $820 dollars.”
When Sarah Protz couldn’t afford her tow bill in 2014, she told us how she was forced to sign over her stolen Jeep to the tow yard.
“You just want to kick me when I’m already down,” she said.
TOW INDUSTRY RESPONSE
Terry Warford with the California Tow Truck Association says his industry is struggling. He estimates half of the cars they tow never get claimed. When they sell these vehicles, he says tow yards often don’t recoup their costs.
“We sympathize with them whole heartedly,” Warford said. “But we have to make sure our employees and families are still able to keep their jobs.”
He also says people are gambling if they only take out the bare bones liability insurance. Comprehensive coverage may help cover a tow bill if your car is stolen. A 2013 study found the average cost of comprehensive is $97 a year. You’ll most likely have to pay a deductible before the insurance kicks in to cover a tow bill.
Kurtis: Why do you need $40 to $60 in storage fees each day?
Warford: A big part of it is the amount of cars that’s not being picked up
CHANGING STATE LAW
After learning of our investigation, Assemblyman Mike Gatto of Los Angeles wants to change state law. He doesn’t think tow yards should charge stolen car victims storage fees for at least the first couple of days.
“Charging it from the minute somebody’s car lands in that storage yard; that’s unfair,” Assemblyman Gatto said.
He’s writing a state bill that adopts similar rules set forth by the City of San Francisco..
“Two day grace period,” he said. “It gives people the chance to pick up their car.”
That means stolen car victims would pay for the initial tow, but tow companies cannot charge storage fees until at least the third day.
THE TOW INDUSTRY’S STANCE
The tow industry says this type of grace period could put some tow companies out of business.
“It shouldn’t be put on the shoulders of small business in California,” Warford said.
Instead, Warford thinks the DMV should collect more money from every Californian when they register their car each year that could go into a fund to help stolen car victims pay tow bills. He also says those with only basic car insurance can protect themselves, by using a club on their steering wheel or having an aftermarket car alarm. He also says it’s important you update your address with the DMV whenever you move. If you don’t, you could end up with higher storage fees for the days it takes to track you down.
GETTING THEIR CARS BACK
The tow yard eventually slashed Jolaine’s bill from $820 to $295. Kassie managed to get help from her family to get her car back.
“We all had to put money together just so I could pay to get the car out, and I still haven’t paid my rent,” she said.
Kurtis MingfacebookFollowEight-time Emmy Award winner Kurtis Ming is CBS13's consumer investigative reporter. Since joining CBS13 in 2003, he's held the position of general assignment reporter and weekend anchor, before starting the "Call Kurtis" consumer advocacy program,…More from Kurtis MingComments