So, your car has been impounded. Now what? Can the tow company legally hold your car until payment is made for towing and storage? Can the tow company hold your car hostage for payment? The answer is yes and no. There are different types of impounds: Law enforcement ordered, repossession or bank ordered, university ordered, and private party ordered. I will cover only three of the previous in this blog. Since AM/PM does not do repos I will leave that one alone. Suffice it to say, if your car is repoed you need to contact the lienholder.
Private party tows are ordered by businesses like apartment complexes, office buildings, stores, or any place where a business is concerned with who is parking in their lot. If your car has been impounded because you parked in one of these lots without proper authorization you will need to find out who the towing company is and contact them for release requirements. By law, a towing company has to post signs in the lot that they are towing away from (ARS 9-499.05). So obtaining information on who towed your car should be quite simple. Chances are there is a sign close to where your car was parked. In the case of private party impounds, the towing company cannot hold your car hostage for payment. If you can prove ownership of the impounded vehicle you simply need to go pick it up. You do not have to pay for towing and storage at that time. The only recourse the towing company has is to bill you. If you do not pay, your bill will be sent to a collection agency or you may be taken to court. This rule was established in 1984 by the court case Capson vs Superior Court of Arizona.
Law enforcement impounds in Flagstaff are ordered by the Flagstaff Police Department, Coconino County Sheriff, the Department of Public Safety, or the NAU Police Department. In all cases, when an impound is ordered by law enforement a tow sheet will be provided to the towing service from the impounding agency. Law enforcement tows are covered under ARS 28-872. This statute specifically states that “Before release of the vehicle by the towing service, the owner…shall pay”. So,if your car is towed by order of law enforcement make sure you bring your wallet.
The third type of impound (and the reason for this blog) is university ordered. We provide towing for NAU Parking Services. If a car racks up enough parking fines on campus NAU will call AM/PM for a tow. We recently had a student challange our right to tow and hold his vehicle “hostage” for payment. Now this type of tow is not considered law enforement. It is also not considered private party. This type of tow is covered by ARS 15-1627. This statute specifically covers cars towed from a university. It states “…vehicles…may be impounded…and a reasonable fee exacted for the cost of impoundment and storage”. I had to look up the definition of “exacted”. Webster’s says “exact” means: to demand and get (something, such as payment or revenge) especially by using force or threats. Well, I’m not out to get revenge but it sure seems that this law is pretty specific in allowing a tow company to demand payment before the release of a car that has been impounded by a university.
So, can a towing company hold your vehicle for payment? Yes and no.