Car owner should not be subject to towing fees


POSTED: Thursday, June 25, 2009

Question: My SUV was in the process of being towed onto the bed of a flatbed truck by a tow company driver. The driver told me that as long as a car is moved from the original spot, then they have to charge you. I don't understand that because he hadn't moved my car from the area, he just moved my car onto his flatbed truck. He said the only way I wouldn't have to pay is if they just put the straps on and don't move the car from the parking spot. Another thing I'm questioning is the amount of the charge. I was charged $150 and I thought they could only charge you $75 if they didn't actually tow your car away. What is the law on this?

Answer: The law says you shouldn't have been charged anything, period, according to Stephen Levins, executive director of the state Office of Consumer Protection.

Not $75, not $150.

The way the law works is that “;if the vehicle is in the process of being hooked up or is hooked up to the tow truck and the owner appears on the scene, the towing company SHALL unhook the vehicle and SHALL NOT charge any fee to the owner of the vehicle,”; Levins said, emphasizing the “;shalls”; in the law.

As far as he sees it, putting your car onto the flatbed truck is the same as hooking it up to a tow truck—if your vehicle hasn't actually been towed away before you showed up, you should have gotten your car back without any payment having to change hands.

Basically, moving a vehicle a matter of a few feet to get it onto the truck or to hook it up does not constitute towing the vehicle away from the scene, Levins said.

You can file a complaint with his office by calling 587-3222 or going online at hawaii.gov/dcca/areas/ocp.

Question: I travel interisland and to the mainland pretty frequently. As such, I use the parking facilities at Honolulu Airport an average of twice per month. I've noticed that there is at least one—and sometimes two—security attendants at each entry to each parking structure. Some years ago, they used to do a cursory search of our cars, sometimes asking us to open our trunks and do a quick search. That was fine. We all felt safer, I guess, in the aftermath of 9/11. In recent years, however, they do absolutely nothing. (Actually that's not true. Sometimes, they tell me “;Good morning.”; And once in a while, they will even pull my ticket out of the machine for me.) They just sit there, watching the cars enter. Is there any reason for their presence? Who's paying for this? Taxpayers? I'm glad they have jobs, but what's the value? It's time to pull them off. The illusion of security is worse than no security.

Answer: The guards are there because the Transportation Security Administration requires they be posted in the parking garages.

That's because the parking structures are “;in close proximity to the terminal,”; said Tammy Mori, spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation.

You may not have been subject to them, but she said the guards are supposed to conduct searches from time to time.

“;On a regular basis, the security guards do random vehicle searches,”; Mori said. “;When there is a heightened security alert, the guards are required to do more stringent and frequent searches.”;

The state contracts a private security firm to provide the guards, so, in effect, taxpayers are paying for the required parking lot posts.