Lien on car
February 9, 2012 5:24 PM   Subscribe

Can the towing company put a lien on my car?

I recently had my car towed a distance of 50 miles. My insurance pays for 15 miles, and I figured I would pay the difference to the towing company. When the driver dropped off the car, he said my insurance paid for it all. I knew he was mistaken, but didn't feel like arguing with him about, I figure they'd give me a call when they figured it out. So they called a day or 2 later and told me of the error (left a voicemail). The tow was on Saturday. I haven't called them back yet, just too busy. Today they left a message saying that I need to pay them or they will put a lien on my car and have the police tow it. Can they do this? I fully intended to pay them, but I find the bullying a little off-putting. Fwiw, the car is paid for. Furthermore, what would stop somebody else I owed money, e.g. suppose I bought a refrigerator from some local store, from putting a lien on my car?
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I would suspect that you signed something saying they had a lien if you didn't pay. Much like a contractor's lien.

Why make a big deal of this, you knew you owed the money, they asked you for it, probably using a letter that is just boilerplate for them.

Pay the bill.
posted by HuronBob at 5:36 PM on February 9, 2012

posted by HuronBob at 5:37 PM on February 9, 2012

Read up on the concept of the mechanic's lien.
posted by valkyryn at 5:38 PM on February 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Some states have statutory liens for those who recover or tow a vehicle. The idea is akin to a mechanic's lien, mentioned by valkyryn, that those who help with a piece of property can get a lien against the property for the value of their services. The purpose of the rule, as with many security interests, is to ensure that tow trucks are willing to help people who don't have cash on them, because the tow truck driver can be sure that he will get paid. If they didn't have the right to lien, they might be warier about who they took on as a customer.

No similar statute gives your refrigerator merchant a lien on your car. Your refrigerator repairman, on the other hand, might get a lien against your refrigerator.
posted by willbaude at 5:46 PM on February 9, 2012

The purpose of the rule, as with many security interests, is to ensure that tow trucks are willing to help people who don't have cash on them, because the tow truck driver can be sure that he will get paid.

And there's a public safety/public policy interest too, that tow trucks are willing to pull disabled cars off the streets and roadsides, where they are a safety hazard, with no up -front cash.

I agree the bullying is off-putting. Towing is a rough business.
posted by jayder at 5:50 PM on February 9, 2012

Don't take it personally. Towing businesses are forever having to collect from people who don't want to pay for their services. They're just waving the same stick at you that they wave at everyone else.
posted by jon1270 at 6:04 PM on February 9, 2012 [6 favorites]

They can't tell "too busy" from "deadbeat", and they deal with a lot more deadbeats than too-busies. So write off the threat as the karma of putting off the first call, call them up, be friendly, pay them, episode over.
posted by mendel at 6:33 PM on February 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

It's been 5 days since the tow, what sounds like 3-4 days since the first call explaining the error. You haven't called them back, so naturally they're going to get a little worried you're stepping out on the bill. That isn't bullying, that's the nature of the business.

Also, in the time you took crafting this post, you could've called them (even to leave a voicemail) and arranged to pay it. You're not too busy to make a two minute phone call.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 6:36 PM on February 9, 2012 [5 favorites]

I knew he was mistaken, but didn't feel like arguing with him about

Really? Or were you just kinda hoping you'd caught a lucky break and you wouldn't have to cough up any cash? Serious question. We've all been in a position where we could really use a break, and just after your car's broken down would've been an excellent time for one. But it didn't happen.

I fully intended to pay them, but I find the bullying a little off-putting
Are you trying to use the excuse that they're "bullying" you as justification not to pay? Because see above - they're not bullying you. In their eyes, you're someone who's effectively violated an agreement by accepting their services and then failing to pay for them - or even to return a phone call.

Anyways, the short answer to your question is yes. And, as Rodrigo says, you could've called them in the time it's taken to write this post and read all of the responses. Just pick up the phone and take care of it. You don't want to deal with the hassle of getting a lien removed. And if you think one phone call is "bullying," wait until the police are towing your car.
posted by pecanpies at 6:45 PM on February 9, 2012

Tow companies around where I live charge a daily storage fee. I'd pay up first thing tomorrow if you don't want extra fees piling up.
posted by JenMarie at 7:48 PM on February 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

If someone waited this long to pay me and made no contact, I would assume they were trying to avoid me and avoid paying. Call them up and pay them, and be thankful they haven't charged you a late fee or sent your bill to a collection agency.
posted by twblalock at 7:49 PM on February 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Your jurisdiction may be different, but in general the law gives a tower a lien on the vehicle UNLESS IT IS RELEASED BACK TO YOU or someone (a grarage, etc) which is YOUR agent. Your question didn't make it clear to me who received the vehicle.

Releasing the vehicle extinguishes the lien but leaves them with the right to sue you for the balance owed, and costs, etc. It does NOT give them a right to re-take the vehicle and to do so probably constitutes theft, or at the least, conversion of personal property. In my opinion.
posted by uncaken at 8:46 PM on February 9, 2012

It's worth taking a look at what your paperwork says — you had to sign it to get your car back — and googling around to see whether their contract terms are enforceable in your state.

Perhaps this is simply because I've had shady tow companies attempt to screw me worse when I was already over a barrel, including unenforceable terms in paperwork (in my former state) and then attempting to bully me into paying fees that I didn't owe, but my inclination is to read what you agreed to and double check the laws in your jurisdiction before paying them. If you do owe, sure, but you might also complain to your insurance company and, if applicable, the municipality that contracts the tow company.

My dealings with tow companies have consistently shown them to be amongst the most unethical and flat-out scummy enterprises out there. I can only hope that the reflexive deference shown by other commenters implies that not all tow truck companies are the venal and mendacious assholes that I've been stuck with.
posted by klangklangston at 1:14 AM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

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