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Can tow truck companies charge anything they want to get your car back?

Ken Little
StarNews

Wilmington “does regulate and put a cap on what towing companies can charge for nonconsensual tows as well as the fees applied to storage of vehicles that were towed nonconsensually,” city spokesman Dylan Lee said.

City code enforcement officer El Taruas Bluford investigates citizen complaints about possible instances of predatory business practices by tow truck operators within Wilmington city limits.

Bluford first looks at where the vehicle was parked.

“If it was on a city right of way it shouldn’t have been towed unless an officer had it towed,” he said.

The area around the federal courthouse downtown is policed by its own security force and Bluford has no jurisdiction there.

Tow truck companies are paid by homeowners associations and landowners to monitor apartment complexes and other private property in the city.

“If they see an illegal vehicle that isn’t supposed to be there, they will tow it,” Bluford said.

If Bluford investigates a towing incident and finds a tow truck company to be at fault, “I will go back and charge them with a violation of the city ordinance,” he said.

It’s not easy to determine if a particular company is being overly aggressive in its enforcement of parking regulations, Bluford said.

“They just monitor the properties and drive back and forth. We don’t hear about those people who park (illegally) and get away with it,” he said. “If I had a tow truck and I was monitoring the properties, that’s what I would do, drive back and forth. That’s where they make their money.”

Bluford’s office can be reached at (910) 343-3628. There also are other ways of resolving disputes.

“They can go to small claims court or to the tow truck company and they can get together. That’s between the tow truck company and the person being towed,” Bluford says.

Should a tow operator’s charges exceed the maximum amount set in the city code, the company can be removed from the rotation of tow trucks used by the city to respond to calls about wrecks on city streets, Lee said.

“It is up to the resident to file a suit in small claims court if they want to get money back from a nonconsensual tow that exceeded the cost listed in the fee schedule,” he said.

The schedule of fees for nonconsensual tows is contained in Section 5-121 of the Wilmington City Code.

  • The fee for trespass towing that covers cars, vans, pickup trucks and motorcycles is $100.
  • Towing of motor vehicles involved in wrecks is $150 and includes clean-up of the accident site.
  • Towing of junked motor vehicles or “health or safety hazard vehicles” as defined in Section 5-110 of the city code, and towing of vehicles abandoned on a public street, is $150.
  • Waiting time, per hour, or any part thereof after the first hour, is $40.
  • Storage for each 24-hour period, or part thereof after the first 24-hour period, is $25.
  • The dolly surcharge is $35. The surcharge is not applicable to motorcycles.
  • The release of the vehicle or retrieval of personal property outside of the operator’s regular business hours is $35.
  • Charging for winching services, towing and storage charges for overturned vehicles, and for vehicles larger than standard passenger vehicles and three-quarter ton trucks are not regulated.

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