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Public Rights Division

Towing Companies


California has tough laws to protect consumers from unfair practices by towing companies.

Towing without authorization It’s illegal to tow a car from any private property without the written authorization of the property owner (or representative), who must also be present at the time of the towing. This means that even if someone parks in a “tow away” zone, their car can’t be towed unless an employee of the business specifically requests the tow and is present at the time. So, for example, during off-hours a car cannot be towed from a private business lot unless someone from the business is there and asks for the tow. (Calif. Vehicle Code §22658(L)(1).) 

Refusing to accept payment by credit card The towing company must accept credit card payments for towing and storage fees. And they can’t charge extra for using the credit card.  (Calif. Vehicle Code §22658(k).)

Charging for extra days If a vehicle is released within 24 hours from the time it’s brought to the storage facility, regardless of the calendar date, the storage charge shall be for only one day.  So only one day’s storage charge may be charged for any vehicle released the same day that it’s towed.  (Calif. Vehicle Code §22658(i)(2).) 

Penalties and consumer remedies When a towing company violates any of these rules, consumers can sue the company in Small Claims Court and get four times the amount they paid. (For failing to take credit card payment, the penalty is limited to $500.) Also, towing companies that violate these rules may be guilty of a crime and prosecuted in appropriate cases.

If you have a complaint or question about a Santa Monica business or want more information about the law, call the City Attorney’s Consumer Protection Unit at (310) 458-8336.





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