Are towing companies hauling away your cash illegally?

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - A simple mistake of where you park could cost you hundreds of dollars in cash, but experts say there are things you can do to protect yourself and your wallet when it comes to getting your car back.

"From the very beginning, I just felt like the whole situation was just not right," said Katy Borshak of Myrtle Beach. During an interview with WMBF News, Borshak admits to accidentally parking in a private lot. It's when she tried to get her car back that she felt she was being ripped off.

"I asked how do we go about getting it back and the guy said 'I don't need to tell you that, all you need to know is that it's going to take cash'." she added.

Until recently, towing companies across the Grand Strand were able to operate with little regulation over the exact cost and rules for return.

"The fee was just outrageous; it was excessive. The time to get the people their vehicle back, was outrageous," said Horry County Councilman Bob Grabowski when asked about why in 2009 county leaders decided to impose widespread regulations over the towing industry.

According to the law passed in 2009, towing companies are required to follow a strict set of fees for both the actual storage of a vehicle and the towing itself.

"Our fee is not a set fee. It's simply a maximum that you can charge under certain circumstances," added Grabowski.

Under the law in Horry County:

Description of Service:                  NORMAL HOURS      AFTER HOURS*

Light-Medium Wrecker                             $160                         $160

Heavy wrecker                                         $175                         $175

No-tow (arrival only)                                  $25                           $30

Storage (per day after 12hrs)                      $25                           $25

*After normal business hours is defined, with the exception of the wrecker service rotation program, means between the hours of 5:00 p.m. and 9:00 a.m., weekends, and state and national holidays, or those days and hours other than during which towing is made available by the wrecker business, whichever period is shorter.

Even if your vehicle is towed, experts advise customers to remain calm and realize you still have rights while your vehicle is out of your custody.

"Some of them are real tricky and you have to be very careful," said Kathy Graham, President and CEO of the Myrtle Beach Area Better Business Bureau.

Towing companies are also required to follow these rules in Horry County, rules experts admit some tow companies often ignore:

  • Each vehicle owner will be given an itemized invoice or receipt for the bill they have paid which details all charges that have been applied to the bill.
  • At any time a vehicle is in the custody of the tow truck company, the tow truck company will permit the owner of personal property located within, but not attached to, the vehicle to remove such personal property from the vehicle without charge and without regard to any towing or storage charge owed on the vehicle.
  • In addition, any wrecker service removing a motor vehicle from private property without the consent of the owner of the vehicle shall, within thirty (30) minutes of the removal, telephone Horry County E911 to verbally report the tow by providing the information on the authorization form as well as the location where the motor vehicle may be claimed by its owner.

"Oh I've heard prices go up, from one girl who literally crossed the street to the ATM, she wasn't gone two minutes and it went up $60 in that two minutes, and then she got angry, then she raised her voice and it went up to $150," Graham recalls.

After reviewing dozens of complaints made to the BBB about towing companies in the City of Myrtle Beach, we found the rules aren't always followed by towing companies inside city limits.

"Some people do not know the difference, and unfortunately they're the victims of it. [Vehicle owners] pay what their told to pay without knowing and the towing company makes out," said Sean Rempfer of Defalco's Towing in Surfside Beach.

The City of Myrtle Beach has set the following rates that towing companies must charge:

  • Towing (any motor vehicle or trailer 10,000 pounds or less) per tow: $90.00.
  • Towing (any vehicle or trailer over 10,000 pounds) per tow: $210.00.
  • Storage (after first 12 hours), per 24 hours: $18.00.
  • No tow, per call: $30.00.
  • Vehicle release (between midnight and 7:00 a.m. only), per release: $25.00.

Class D Wrecker:

  • Towing, per tow: $210.00.
  • Storage (after first 12 hours), per 24 hours: $30.00.
  • No tow, per call: $60.00.
  • Vehicle release (between midnight and 7:00 a.m. only), per release: $25.00.

The City of Myrtle Beach has setup, like Horry County, certain protections for consumers that tow companies are required to follow by law:

  • If a vehicle owner returns to reclaim his or her vehicle while the tow truck is on the scene but before the vehicle is physically connected to the tow truck, the tow truck operator may charge no more than the no tow fee to release the vehicle.
  • If the vehicle is connected to the tow truck when the vehicle owner returns to reclaim the vehicle, the tow truck operator shall disconnect the vehicle and return it to the vehicle owner upon payment of no more than the maximum towing charge listed above. If the owner refuses to or is unable to pay the towing fee, the vehicle may be towed.
  • A wrecker service operator is not required to return the vehicle to the person after the company's normal business hours, unless the operator elects to provide for after hour requests, no additional fee or charge may be required other than those established mentioned above.
  • As to private towing and to law enforcement towing, and notwithstanding the above, the tow truck operator will permit the vehicle owner to remove at all times health and human care related devices such as carseats, strollers, walkers, crutches and the like, medications, prescriptions, personal handbags and personal and identity papers from the vehicle without charge and without regard to any towing or storage charge owed on the vehicle. If the tow truck operator has removed this personal property from the vehicle, he will return it to the vehicle owner when requested without charge and without regard to any towing or storage charge owed on the vehicle.

"I would absolutely recommend that you know the law, so you know what you have to do and what they can charge you and what they can't charge you," stressed Graham when asked why people fall for towing schemes.

To make a complaint in Myrtle Beach of fraud / mismanagement, call 843-918-1800. For Horry County complaints call 843-915-8065. You can also contact the Better Business Bureau of Coastal Carolina by visiting their website.

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