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Criminal & traffic law

Getting towed: Your rights when dealing with tow-truck operators

When you can be towed

When can my vehicle be towed from private land?

Jamieson’s Tow & Salvage Ltd v Murray [1984] 2 NZLR 144 (HC) Christopher v Police (High Court, Wellington, M 36/74, 22 April 1974)

If your vehicle is unlawfully on private property – for example, in a private carpark and you haven’t paid or are over time – the owner has a legal right to get a tow-truck operator to remove your vehicle and charge you the cost of doing so.

Can I be towed even if there’s no warning sign saying cars will be towed?

Yes. The law doesn’t require the landowner to put up a sign warning that they will tow any vehicles that are illegally parked. They also have no obligation to put up a sign with the towing operator’s contact details.

Can my car be towed even if I’ve come back to my car?

Jamieson’s Tow & Salvage Ltd v Murray [1984] 2 NZLR 144 (HC)

The tow-truck operator can’t tow your car if it’s in your possession and control at the time. So, if you arrive on the scene as they’re preparing to tow your vehicle, and you’re able to get into it, they can’t tow you.

What are my rights if my car is damaged while it’s being towed?

Land Transport Rule: Operator Licensing 2017, s 5.11

The tow-truck driver has to take all reasonable precautions to prevent your car being damaged and to prevent anything being lost from it.

If your vehicle is damaged or you find that something is missing from it, you should complain directly to the tow-truck operator, in writing.

If you’re insured, you can tell your insurance company what’s happened and work through them.

If you’re not insured or otherwise want to claim compensation yourself, you’ll need to get a panelbeater to assess the damage and the cost of the repairs – or, if something was missing from the car, you’ll need to provide a reliable valuation or price for the missing item. You should then write to the towing operator and ask them to compensate you. If they refuse, you can take a claim to the Disputes Tribunal (see: “The Disputes Tribunal”).

What can I do if I think the towing fee is unreasonably high?

The tow-truck operator will charge a towing fee and a storage fee for the time the car is at their yard. If you think the amount you’ve been charged is unreasonable, you can take a case to the Disputes Tribunal (see: “The Disputes Tribunal”). A number of people have successfully challenged towing charges in this way. It may be helpful to find out about typical fees charged by other local towing operators so you can give a comparison.

Land Transport Rule: Operator Licensing 2017, s 5.10

When tow-truck drivers are towing a vehicle back to their yard (or any other place where the vehicle is supposed to be set down), they have to take the shortest available route, and there mustn’t be any unnecessary delays.

Being towed when parking on public roads and spaces

Land Transport Act 1998, s 113(2) Land Transport Act 1998, s 128E

Police officers and parking wardens can get a tow-truck operator to move your car if they believe on reasonable grounds that the car is obstructing the road or an entrance or that it’s a safety risk or inconveniencing the public – for example, if you’ve parked on the footpath or across someone’s driveway.

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Driving and traffic law

Where to go for more support

Community Law

Your local Community Law Centre can provide you with free initial legal advice.

Find your local Community Law Centre online: www.communitylaw.org.nz/our-law-centres/

For Community Law’s guide to applying for a limited licence and template application forms: communitylaw.org.nz/resources/legal-letters

Waka Kotahi – New Zealand Transport Agency

Waka Kotahi’s site provides a wide range of driving and road safety information, including on topics covered in this chapter.

Website: www.nzta.govt.nz
Phone: 0800 699 000
Email: info@nzta.govt.nz

Search your question on Waka Kotahi’s resources section: www.nzta.govt.nz/resources

New Zealand Police

The New Zealand Police’s “frequently asked questions” section provides helpful information, particularly the “Driving/road safety” and “Tickets/infringements” section.

Website: www.police.govt.nz/advice-and-services/faqs

New Zealand Government

The New Zealand government website sets out more information about driving fines and penalties, including how to pay for infringement notices.

Website: www.govt.nz/browse/transport/driving-fines-and-penalties

Consumer Protection

The Consumer Protection website has useful information on a range of consumer topics, including private parking tickets and the towing and clamping of cars.

Website: www.consumerprotection.govt.nz/help-product-service/cars/parking-clamping-towing

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