Getting towed: Your rights when dealing with tow-truck operators
When you can be towed
When can my vehicle be towed from private land?
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. This right rests on an old legal remedy called “distress damage feasant”, which lets a landowner seize something that’s illegally on their land and that has caused them damage. Here, the cost to the landowner of moving your vehicle counts as “damage”, and so they can use this remedy.
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?
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?
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 chapter “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 chapter “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.
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
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.