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American Towman Magazine Presents the Week in TowingJanuary 16 - January 22, 2019
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'Nope, Ya' Can't Have Yer' Stuff!'

092910autopound 640x480 30537By Randall C. Resch

When vehicles are impounded due to lawful vehicle code violations or traffic collision, owners have responsibilities after the fact to pay for services rendered during time of impound, tow and the vehicle's storage. Ultimately, tow companies have legal rights through their state's lien sale process to gain ownership of the stored vehicle, and then sue for money owed.

Where tow companies get into hot water is by prematurely foregoing the lien sale process and not allowing owners to retrieve their personal belongings.

In California, tow companies can't hold personal belongings hostage for the cost of the tow. There are many cases where vehicle owners intend to clean out their belongings and leave their derelict vehicles with the tow company, especially when they don't have funds to bail their car out of impound.

To avoid bad press, tow companies are better off allowing owners to retrieve their life-sustaining items. That doesn't include anything attached to the car, depending on what state vehicle codes allow. While it may be right that your business is a private company, in serving law enforcement and the motoring public there are vehicle code laws that require release of personal property.

Give It Back

When defining personal stuff vs. "life-sustaining" items, most states are consistent in requiring that tow companies release certain personal belongings, such as eyeglasses, food, medicine, a wallet, identifying documents, cash and credit cards. Your company's release and window staff must be intimately familiar with your state's vehicle code requirements regarding what vehicle owners are allowed to retrieve from their towed or impounded vehicle.

A negative interaction between vehicle owner and tow company doesn't fare well in the long run. True, there are tow companies that have had vehicles dumped on them and might be wary as to whether or not to release personal items; unfortunately, dealing with dumped vehicles is simply part of doing business.

Look at this business transaction in simple terms where releasing personal property isn't a big deal and motorists retrieving their stuff typically doesn't devalue the vehicle in any way. A little kindness and understanding goes a long, long way.

There's nothing wrong with calmly explaining the entire lien sale process without using strong-arm tactics in holding their personals. I suggest that tow companies have, in handout form, a written explanation that refers to vehicle code sections and fully explains your company's property release policy and the pending lien sale process. By doing so, vehicle owners can't say they were blind-sided and didn't know.

Tow companies get frustrated and hate eating yet another tow, but handling it in a tolerant manner is much easier and more personable for vehicle owners to swallow. Taking the high road and letting them retrieve their stuff saves bad press and that proverbial punch in the eye by the community ... especially when the media tends to make towers out to be the bad guys.

Randall Resch is American Towman's and Tow Industry Week's Operations Editor, a former California police officer, tow business owner and retired civilian off-road instructor for Navy Special Warfare. Randall is an approved instructor for towers serving the California Highway Patrol's rotation contract. His course is approved by the California law enforcement community. He has written over 500 industry-related articles for print and on-line, is a member of the International Towing & Recovery Hall of Fame, and, a recipient of the 2017 Dave Jones Leadership Award.
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