Confessions Of A Tow Truck Driver

CNN interviews a former tow truck driver to get the dirt on how the business works. There’s not a lot of new info here, but it may be useful to know that just because you see some un-towed cars in a towing zone, it doesn’t mean it’s safe—usually, drivers leave some cars alone to entice fresh vehicles: “It’s kind of like fishing, you want to keep some bait out there.”

He told us that when the smart tow truck companies impound a car, they write down the VIN and the license plate number, then call the DMV and put a lien on that owner for the amount of money it costs to store the car. “Other tow truck companies might just sell the car off or just apply for the title and sell it off and get what money they can for it,” he said.

We asked him what the company he worked for did in these cases. “If someone offered them cash for the car they just kind of unloaded it off to them.” He said they didn’t get in trouble for that because, “They had a connection up at the DMV, a lady was making titles for them.”

By law, the towing companies are supposed to wait 45 days before they apply for the title at the DMV. “But you know, it varies,” Dan said.

“Confessions of a tow truck driver” [CNN]

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(Photo: Getty)

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  1. beavis88 says:

    Ah, tow companies. In Boston, they made used car salesmen look like bastions of integrity. The city government is totally complicit in the scam, too…

  2. mandarin says:

    Odd that there was a new episode of the Simpsons where Homer became a tow truck driver..

  3. shan6 says:

    I thought the article would be better, pretty boring though. It did reignite my hatred for towing companies though. The punishment just doesn’t seem to fit, I once had to pay $217 to get my car back, it was towed because it sat in a grocery store parking lot for 4 hours.

  4. Randal Milholland says:

    @ BEAVIS88:

    Boston and the surrounding towns, in general, are pretty crooked in regards to all thing parking, not just towing. Here in Arlington there’s an area where, instead of parking meters, you buy a slip of paper with the end-time your car’s allowed to be parked in the lot and put it on your dashboard.

    When Daylight Savings hit this past October, the machine printing the slips wasn’t set back an hour – so if you bought just an hour slip (the minimum), it was already technically expired. I have to use this lot about 3-4 times a week and each day I did, there was a new note taped to the machine about its time being wrong. Twice that week I saw a police officer rip the note up and start ticketing cars.

    Isn’t New England lovely?

  5. shan6 says:

    @rkm0001: I wonder what his motivation for doing that was (referring to the police officer). As far as I know they don’t have incentive, or quotas to meet as far as ticketing goes.

  6. chartrule says:

    ouch

  7. Anitra says:

    I’m in Massachusetts too. I’ve never had a car towed (though I have been ticketed) – but my mom had a car towed because of a “winter parking ban” that wasn’t posted anywhere. She parked on the street at 10pm, and we saw them towing it away at 7am.

  8. hollerhither says:

    @rkm0001:
    Yeah, ditto re Brookline’s fascist parking regs. Just try to find an overnight spot for your car in that town if you’re not a resident. I guess I should be glad I just got an obscenely high ticket vs. being towed.

  9. hollerhither says:

    @AnitraSmith:
    Yeah, they don’t post the winter parking bans, and they vary by town, I learned that pretty quickly.

  10. SpdRacer says:

    The only reason the town I live in exists is because of the university, and the only reason the tow truck companies around here exist is to rip off the students of said university for every dime they can.

  11. Murph1908 says:

    In Chicago one day, I parked on a street devoid of “no parking” signs, and a gray, unpainted curb. There were other cars parked all along that street.

    A few hours later, I was walking past the street, and all the cars were towed, save mine and one in front of me. The tow truck was currently hauling off the one behind me. I immediately moved the car, but I had a ticket.

    A cop was parked close by, and I asked him about it. After my own interrogation of him, he eventually admitted it was a typical scheme for the city to make money. Nice.

    I went back to the street, and found, lying on the ground hidden by bushes, 3 ‘no parking’ signs.

    I took pictures and contested the ticket. I never heard back about my appeal. I probably have outstanding warrants in the Windy City now.

  12. jollymonjeff says:

    The best is the “Bounty” the drivers/companies pay spotters. I ran into CVS for a minute while leaving the car right in front of the door. My bad, absolutely. The car was on the hook inside of 45 seconds. Back tires locked up as they dragged it away. I jumped in the back seat (convertible) and they had to stop. can’t tow a car with someone in it.
    I then paid $75 cash and could not get a recipt for them to let my car down.

    Best part…I went back into CVS and they had no idea. They did not even know there was a contract with a tow company for their lot.

  13. Wormfather says:

    Shocked, just shocked that these upstanding people who are the backbone of modern day society would act anything less than ethically.

  14. consumerd says:

    Not all people have a tow truck when they repossess. Some actually have the keys to the cars. I know a friend of mine that does this for a company and he just takes the cars like that. Keys in hand and drives right off.

    A couple of weeks ago he had to go pick up a mini-van. Followed this lady to the wal-mart. They all got out, and he went, got in the car and drove off. he hears the cell phone ring in the console and he answers it. he says “hello?” and the guy is like “Who is this?!?!?” he goes I am the the repo-man. The guy gets irate and says “Where is my wife and kids?” He says “I am guessing probably still in wal-mart right now, they will probably be done in about 20 minutes. Might come get them then.” Anyway the guy starts cussing him out apparently. Finally Ed (my friend the repo man) rolls down the window and chucks the cell phone out crossing the bridge over to illinois. He said “boring conversation anyway!”

    Another time he had the keys to a brand new Yukon, and found the car at the pump at a QuickTrip. Dude just got done filling it up and he was inside. Ed took the pump hung it up and took the car. Gave the running pump to the person behind him next (apparently gas was getting ready to go up) and they filled about 1/2 tank of gas till the dude with the Yukon figured it out that it was gone, and so was Ed with the Yukon.

    Ed told me to keep a few things in mind

    1.) People are stupid- The won free tickets, or in some cases the job was the best place to get the car. Sometimes just following these people around for a few days is enough of an opportunity to snag the vehicle.

    2.) If I have a key to your car and it’s on the repossession list, hide it as long as you want. Don’t cry me a river after I snag it though and think I am going to feel sorry for you. I feel sorry for no one, you put yourself in this predicament, you get yourself out!

    3.) You don’t respect me and I don’t respect you, enough said.

    4.) It doesn’t matter when, and where I get your car. I don’t discriminate against young, old, female, male or any of them. I treat you like another number, another job in the system. I can tell you I am going to take the least amount of resistance as possible. So I may tail you for hours or even days and then strike.

  15. Wormfather says:

    @AnitraSmith: Yeah, they’re real sticklers about that in the boston area. Not good for those of us who typically wake up in the morning look out the window and go “Oh, it snowed”

  16. jnews says:

    Perhaps I am missing something. While certainly I understand parking in a tow-away zone is grounds for being towed away, that seems a very far cry from having a towing company immediately apply for a title to your car *in their name* or just selling it off to some random stranger for cash off their lot. How is this not larceny?

    Can I really just buy a tow truck and haul away anybody’s car I want from any place I want and sell their car to anybody I want for any price I want, just because I’m a tow driver?

  17. popeye_doyle says:

    @david_consumerist: This sounds rather dramatic and apocryphal, but I guess it would make a good pitch if people ever forget about “Repo Man”. How much does he make on a car if he can afford to follow one “for days”?

  18. mindshadow says:

    @david_consumerist:

    I could easily be wrong, but I have a strong feeling this technique doesn’t work as well in Alabama. In Alabama you can legally shoot people for being in your yard (this just got passed 2 years ago I think), so just hopping into someone’s car in their yard would probably yield bad results.

    IANAL, and I’m just going off of what I remember. So who knows.

  19. Freedomboy says:

    Sounds like “ED” might get “SHOT” one these days don’t it?

  20. TechnoDestructo says:

    Most of what this guy described sounded legitimate…I was hoping for some real nightmare bullshit.

    I have to wonder about that poaching he talks about…how does the owner of the car find out where their car is if it isn’t with the company that the owner of the lot has an arrangement with?

    Anyhow, it’s just one more reason I don’t have any ambition to live on the East Coast.

  21. Crymson_77 says:

    I personally am of the opinion that if there is not a sign posted for the exact tow company in question, they should be brought up on charges for theft. Tow companies are among the most evil in the world.

  22. @Murph1908: As a Chicagoan… That is hilarious.

  23. @Freedomboy: Yeah I’d look the other way while someone waterboarded him.

  24. parad0x360 says:

    My car was towed once because I had a lapse in how many days were in a month and my registration expired and i happened to get pulled over the next day. It cost me $90 to tow the car 2 miles to my house and im 100% sure the tow truck driver pocketed the money. I cant remember what it was he said to me that confirmed this because it was a couple years ago but it was something to do with change and how i didnt need any or something of that nature.

  25. scoli83 says:

    @david_consumerist: Most car repossessions are a result of breach of a security agreement structured under Article 9 of the UCC. In those cases, if a repossession company does not return any personal property present in the car they are liable for conversion.

    In other words, when your friend threw the cell phone out the window he created civil liability for his employer.

    Further, he should be careful about how he repossesses cars. Under Article 9 if he creates a breach of the peace during a repossession he and the company are criminally and civilly liable.

    Remember kids, if someone is trying to repossess your car and you want to keep it you should create a scene because that edges the situation close to a breach of the peace and the repo company, assuming they understand the law, will back down and wait till another time.

  26. XTC46 says:

    at the store I work(soon to be worked) at, they start towing cars big time a few months back. There s a big building complex on 2 sides of us and their parking is expensive and we have a huge lot so people would just park. We had 2 tow trucks sitting on the side of the building and spotters in the lot. They would watch you step off the lot say “move your car or it will be towed” most people would say “ill be right back!” then run off. car would hook up and take off.

  27. forgottenpassword says:

    Yep! Tow truck drivers are just pure scum!

    I remember a news story a while back where local tow truck drivers would swipe people’s cars that were found broke down (on the highway or anywhere) & immediately take them to the compactor & sell them for some quick $$$. The law was that it was legal as long as the vehicle was 10 years old & it had to be “abandoned”. They didnt need the title or anything to do this. Problem was… these pricks were greedy & were swiping cars that were NOT broke down or abandoned. Once compacted into an unidentifiable cube of metal…. no car could be easily identified.

  28. Amy Alkon says:

    I ran into CVS for a minute while leaving the car right in front of the door.

    What if somebody disabled needs to be dropped off at the door? Was this the fire lane? What if everybody did this?

    You’re. Not. Special.

  29. jimconsumer says:

    @scoli83: Right, because people who don’t make their car payments are “victims” and repo men are “evil”. Honestly, I can’t believe you’re encouraging people to make a scene when the repo man comes. People who don’t make their car payments are scum and I have no sympathy for them.

  30. cobaltthorium says:

    @Amy Alkon:
    I agree – I hate it when people bitch about stuff when they’re all like “Well, …” and then give some reason why they should be exempt from rules, etc.

  31. cobaltthorium says:

    @jimconsumer:
    People who miss car payments aren’t scum – they’re just people who’ve made some bad decisions. Repo men aren’t evil, but their occupation appears from an outside perspective to prey on the weak who need help.

  32. scoli83 says:

    @jimconsumer: I didn’t say that people who don’t make their car payments are victims. All I did was give advice on how to avoid having your car repossessed under certain circumstances.

    I know stories about people that were behind on their payments and were two or three hundred miles from home when a repo man spotted their car at a gas station and started to tow them while they were paying. In this case I think it is perfectly reasonable for someone to make a scene to avoid having their car repossessed and being stranded.

    Debt is not black and white. You really need to take a step down from your pedestal and consider what would happen to you if you lost your job and couldn’t find work.

  33. asherchang2 says:

    @Murph1908: Where was this at? Do you remember any specifics?

  34. Zimorodok says:

    A friend of mine had a towing horror story. He lived in an apartment complex in suburban VA, which required parking stickers on all residents’ vehicles. One morning his car was gone. He and another resident in the same predicament checked with the complex manager, got the address of the towing company that serviced the lot,and got a ride over there.

    At the tow company, they claimed my friend’s car was towed because it had no parking sticker. He insisted they check again, since there’s no way his sticker wasn’t on the windshield (it was well before the annual expiration date). When they checked and came back, they admitted there was indeed the correct sticker…

    They then proceeded to accuse him of *breaking into their lot* overnight and planting a parking sticker on his car and one other. The evidence? A loose fencepost and an 8″ gap in the chainlink.

    Understandably irate at being accused of a crime, he demanded to see the manager, who “wasn’t in.” The gate personnel wouldn’t let him inside the office (it was raining) and refused to contact the owner. His only option was to pay $100 to have his car released and take it up with them later. He had a meeting to get to, so he paid it.

    Personally, I would have been on the phone with the police (“Either my car was unlawfully towed, or you people have a B&E to report!”) and then the local TV station. I hope it was an important meeting.

  35. comopuedeser says:

    This must be a huge business. I wander what other things I can take from others without permission, sell, and then keep the proceeds. Oh wait, that is stealing.

  36. alice_bunnie says:

    @cobaltthorium:

    Or people who have cars repossessed are lucky enough to have errors made on their loans. I had a friend/coworker who had this happen. I know he didn’t lie about because he was so freaking anal that he couldn’t eat out on weds night because that’s when he paid his bills.

  37. Boberto says:

    I had the experience of an in depth conversation with an owner of a body shop who also happened to do towing and storage.

    I left with several impressions;
    1.) The guy had absolute contempt for the people he towed, and took sadistic pleasure in recounting events of holding on to desperate people’s cars as well the possessions inside.
    2.) For those that abandoned the car, he would file lawsuits for whatever amount he considered fair. He was particularly aggressive with younger people because eventually they would have to satisfy the judgement.
    3.) There is a strong association with local law enforcement. This has to do showing at accident scenes and interacting with first responders. The guy I met was very tight with the police because he was towing DWI’s and other traffic stops. He also alluded to payment arrangements with local authorities, and thus felt justified sticking it to the people he towed in order to recover this.

    I have to ask, (when considering my awareness of so many injustices exposed on this site) is what has become of this country? It’s like a constant game of “gotcha” engineered to separate you from your money.

    It’s the sharecropping of the our century.

  38. ninjatales says:

    test

  39. ninjatales says:

    They should just commercialize this!

  40. ninjatales says:

    [blog.makezine.com]‘s%20Car%20Theft%20Pevention%201000.jpg

  41. ninjatales says:
  42. ninjatales says:

    3rd time’s a charm.

  43. alexanderpink says:

    Tow drivers are scum, and local city governments seem to be entirely complicit in the racket. I have been towed in Austin 2 times, both of which I broke no parking laws nor ignored any no parking signs. You have to drive way out of the city to the impound lot, then they only accept cash only, exact amount. It is an insane fee of like $10 plus $25 a day or something. The exact same thing happened when I was towed in Houston (that one was my fault). Tow truck drivers are extremely brazen. One time I was with about 7 friends and we went to get food at Taco Cabana about 1 am. This is on Friday night right by UT Austin, so the restaurant is packed. We decide to eat at the McDonald’s across the street, as they have an outdoor seating area and are closed. Anyhow, the 8 of us park our 3 cars in the lot not 15 feet from where we are sitting an eating, and this tow driver has the nerve to back in, lower his bar, and try and drive off. Well, my friend jumped in his car and drove off the tow bar, nearly messing up his front end. We yelled at the tow driver and he left, but he sure had some balls. Pulling shit like that is likely to get his ass kicked.

  44. BigBoat says:

    It’s cognitive dissonance at work. They have to feel nothing/contempt for the people they’re towing, otherwise they would feel bad about themselves. On the other hand, feeling bad about yourself is a way to know you’re not doing good in this world. Tow truck drivers are liquid evil.

  45. ivyingrate says:

    @david_consumerist:
    clearly a fabrication. but for what possible purpose?

  46. BeFrugalNotCheap says:

    Damn, one of these days a tow truck driver is going to get shot. Most of those guys are OK. It’s the crooked ones to look out for.

  47. jamar0303 says:

    I believe that I will be sticking to public transportation when I return to America. I’ve never seen this happen here in China. That’s just plain evil.

  48. Major-General says:

    @david_consumerist: Isn’t stealing their cell phone grand larceny?

  49. brennie says:

    towed once and what I remember best wast that everyone, from the cops the cashiers, the impound folks commented on the fact that I wasnt’ freaking out over the $300 fee. Of course I was freaking out inside, but was keeping cool for my friends (whose luggage – currently in my trunk – needed to be on that 3pm plane). I was so saddened that the Powers That Be clearly tripped on the emotions of those towed. so sad.

    For the record. Santa Monica. In a ‘Valet Zone’ not marked as such when we parked at 3pm but turned by cones and a hand written sign by the time we got back at 4pm. Residents know my pain.

  50. econobiker says:

    @forgottenpassword:

    Yeah man, that happened when I lived in Chattanooga, TN. Being city with a large foundry scrap metal was alway purchased. The wild cat guys (usually just an old pickup with a bed frame hoist would hook the broken down old cars while the owners were off getting parts or a tire repaired. The city shut that down by requiring driver license and/or reg/title on any car squashed after then.

    In the early ’90s, I had a bimbo friend who went to UGA in Athens, GA whose father -gave- her a great condition ’74 Impala Convertible. She related with relish the futile work a young tow guy went through with a hydraulic fork tow truck trying to fit and then lift that car while she and her friends partied out on the deck of a bar.

    Another friend once got his 4×4 Bronco booted, he let the air out of the tire and was able to work the boot off. Aired the tire back up with an on-board compressor (installed due to softening the tires for mud/sand then airing them back up for road) and took the boot home. He called the tow company and told them he would sell them the boot back for the standard cost of unlocking it. They were pissed and told him he was a thief. He would later use it as one drag anchor for a diving raft in a small pond.

  51. bonzombiekitty says:

    @hollerhither: My brother was borrowing my car in Boston for a couple weeks. He only needed it on a couple of those days so he had to find a place to park it for a few days. He drove around and couldn’t find a spot and wasn’t about to pay an outrageous price to park it in a garage or lot. He thought he finally found a long term spot, but was wrong and got towed. The cost of the tow and keeping it in the tow lot for a couple days was still LESS than what he would have spent if he parked it in a garage.

  52. RagingBoehner says:

    I got a parking ticket last September (2006) for parking in a residential zone in DC for more than two hours. Trouble is — I live in that zone and had a sticker prominently posted on my windshield.

    So I fought the ticket, and sure enough they denied my claim a few months later. So I paid the $30 ticket, a $10 appeal fee, and sent it in last January. Still haven’t heard from them yet. I called the DMV a few weeks ago and they said it usually takes around a year to process. Easy for them to take their time I guess when they hold your cash.

    It’s still not as bad as the time I got a ticket for an expired meter on a block that a) has no meters and b) is zoned residentially. At least they went through with my denial claim on that one when I sent in pictures that show there are no meters.

  53. farris917 says:

    i can see where you can say that towing companies are scum. but you can’t say that ALL of them are absolute trash.
    my dad has a towing company. and i see many an irate customer come in and get mad because of his prices…and he is the cheapest in the county by far. most of my dad’s business comes from the local police, he tows the impounds and accidents. you can’t blame the towing company for towing your car because you had expired plates. you can blame the cops for pulling you over. they are your plates, keep them up to date.
    he almost never tries to go for the title unless its a half way decent car and he knows he won’t get a dime for it which rarely ever happens.

    oh and he doesn’t do that bull where you just randomly tow a car because its in a parking lot or no parking area. that’s just plain rude.

  54. dirty foreigner says:

    @AnitraSmith: Oh Boston. I like how some towns, like Cambridge, will tow you for parking on a street during street cleaning (that ends up costing you about $140), while if you park across the street in Somerville and do the same thing, they’ll just ticket you $30.

  55. othium says:

    After getting my car towed and paying a huge amount of money I decided to go without and use public transportation instead. It was very nice after the first big snowstorm this year to not have to worry about where to park and watching for tow trucks. (My neighbor waited until 4:00 AM when they finished plowing the street to park in front of our apartment.) No insurance to pay, just a monthly bus pass.

    Tow truck drivers that I have seen do not appear to be very ethical and are just out for a buck.

  56. MercuryPDX says:

    My friend Tommy had his car towed, and rightfully so (parked in a fire zone). He was pretty upset to come out of the Apt. Complex and find it already attached to the truck.

    Not being the most level-headed guy, he released a string of profanities that would make a nun blush as the driver left. When I drove him to the tow yard the next day, they tacked on a $50 “temper fee”, which of course set off another outburst and another $50 “temper fee” on top of that. I apologized for him, escorted him out to my car, and went back in to settle up with the guy at the desk. I was able to talk the guy out of the second $50 with a BS story.

  57. Buran says:

    @rkm0001: I sure hope someone fought the ticket. They would have won as they paid for time that the city then refused to credit them for.

  58. cde says:

    @MercuryPDX: Temper Fee = Extortion fee

  59. XianZomby says:

    Evil repo man or not is not the issue. It’s the nonregulated towing industry. These guys hunt cars. They take them illegally, and gamble that car owners would rather just pay the 100 dollars and get their car today then take them to court and get it back next week. That’s the game plan — a gamble. And an illegal one.

  60. Haltingpoint says:

    In Chicago there is a DMV located near Western (forget the cross-street) in a TINY lot. There are never enough parking spaces so people inevitably drive around the lot in circles, just one long procession.

    Well, there’s a restaurant on one end of the lot that I’ve never seen open (and it doesn’t look like it has EVER been open) that has a few parking spots out in front of it in the same lot. These are marked for the restaurants use only and a tow truck is usually camped somewhere nearby. If he doesn’t get people from those spots, the McDonald’s in the adjacent lot has a spotter who will have him there in under 30 seconds.

    I swear to god though, it HAS to be a racket where someone bought the property in the DMV lot with the spots and never planned on opening the restaurant and just gets a cut from the tow truck driver. Guarantee it more than pays the bills…

  61. trollkiller says:

    You guys will enjoy this story, it has it all. [www.newsvine.com]

  62. jamar0303 says:

    @trollkiller: Abotu time something happened to one of them.

  63. RvLeshrac says:

    A friend of mine had a car that was repo’d by the dealership – she refused to pay on the car because the dealership refused to honor the warranty and repair some serious problems with the vehicle.

    She was living with her parents.

    The repo man came in the still of night, snuck into the back yard, and busted in the window of the car.

    Her father heard some commotion, ran out back, and pumped two loads of buckshot into the repo man.

    Repo man called the cops, cops showed up and arrested him for breaking into the vehicle and having an unlicensed firearm in his truck, gave friend’s father some kudos for being armed and protecting his family.

    Ah, the joy of living in a state where you can shoot anyone trespassing on your property.

  64. RvLeshrac says:

    @david_consumerist:

    In most states, repo men are required by law to have the sherriff present when repossessing a vehicle, especially at the person’s house.

    Tell your ‘friend,’ if they exist, to stop stealing cars. Grand Theft Auto is more than just a game.