Make my car go away for free?
July 17, 2006 9:10 AM   Subscribe

Recently, my little '90 Civic was towed away. Perhaps it was the fact that my car had been unregistered since November. Or it could have been the $900 in unpaid tickets.

In any case, I went to the DMV (California) and I think I got some bad advice from a worker there. He told me to just let the tow company keep the car. He said if they can sell it at auction, I won't have to pay the tow company anything. He suggested that I go to court to petition to lower the tickets, but that even though those tickets would stay on my record, I didn't have to pay them in order to get a new car.

Then Friday I got a letter from the tow company saying I had to pay over $600 just to get them to call it even. That is - I pay $600, and I don't get my car back!

I'm confused. Has anyone dealt with a simular problem? I just want this to be over so I can move on to another car.

-Serazin (Who you may remember from such other MeFi questions as 'What car should I buy?' and 'Should i buy a Peugeot?')
posted by serazin to Law & Government (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Same thing happened to my former roomie. The DMV worker was correct about the fact that you won't hear from the impound guys/tow company if they can make enough money from the sale of your car.

However, given the rate at which the impound fees gather and the fact that most cars being impounded aren't going to cross the magical cost mark in auction to get over the hump, the DMV guys should have warned you if they were being nice.

So the long story short, from my experience, you just got hit with another $600 legal debt. And I don't know how it works when you buy a new car, but I wouldn't be surprised if when next year's registration is due, you'll need to pay the tickets off before being able to finish registration.
posted by drewbage1847 at 9:22 AM on July 17, 2006

You have $900 in tickets and whatever the fine is from being unregistered and being towed, which is probably scary-high. Not having the car anymore doesn't automatically absolve you of the tickets. The car is worth at best 600-700 at auction, less if it's in marginal shape, probably more like 300-400. I can easily see how $600 plus the car would be the price of making this go away. As long as this deal clears the tickets, I would say Go for it. If you think you can reduce the price of the tickets and sell the car for more on your own, that's an option. But since you've been sitting on this already since November, you might not want to overestimate your ability to resolve this.
But IANAL, nor a traffic ticket expert.
posted by dness2 at 9:28 AM on July 17, 2006

What a mess.

How long have you left in it the tow impound? What are they charging per day?

Maybe they can't sell it at auction, that's why they are charging you $600? I mean, if the car is 16 years old and you're willing to just toss it away yourself, we could assume the car itself isn't worth much at auction either. Certainly not enough to cover the impound fees and surcharges (that are probably growing everyday)?

Aside from that, giving up the car won't absolve the $900 in tickets that you have. Not to mention the surcharges and fees compounding that total, possibly. If the CA RMV is like most RMVs, they're going to want you to clear up your past-dues before registering another vehicle.
posted by jerseygirl at 9:37 AM on July 17, 2006

They tend to charge the ridiculous fuck-you price of $3-5 *a day*, IME (which, thankfully, is 10 years old, or more).

I would suspect that what you owe the impound people is entirely disconnected from what you owe the traffic people, though.
posted by baylink at 9:52 AM on July 17, 2006

In addition to the $600.00 for the tow company, you still owe the $900.00 worth of parking tickets. You'd best take care of both or you will find yourself with a suspended drivers' license.
posted by buggzzee23 at 10:01 AM on July 17, 2006

Man, things must be different in California. Here, at least with the contract my city has with its towers, the tow company can't sell the car without the title, though they usually offer to trade whatever debt has accrued in "storage fees" for the title. It really sucks when your car gets totalled and they start the fees as "overnight" from the second they pick up the car.

I hate to say it, but you may be in the realm of murky law and high costs that necessitates talking to a lawyer. I know that where I am this would not be legal, though that's because of our municiple laws.
posted by klangklangston at 10:06 AM on July 17, 2006

Be wary, the gov't can and probably will put a lein of some type on your records. This happened to a friend of the family who left a few cars on the side of the road rather than pay up to get them out of extortion impound and he couldn't get a marriage license years later. Hearsay and anecdotal but the gov't usually Gets Theirs one way or another.
posted by Skorgu at 10:13 AM on July 17, 2006

If you have the money, pay it all off ASAP. This isn't just between you and the DMV, your credit rating is also negatively impacted by unpaid tickets.
posted by junesix at 10:32 AM on July 17, 2006

klangklangston's right. Get your butt to a traffic lawyer's office. They almost all offer a free first consultation with no obligation to hire them. They'll lay out the available options, maybe even in a phone call.

Seriously, stop fucking around and set up a free consult with a lawyer.
posted by mediareport at 10:39 AM on July 17, 2006

Man, things must be different in California. Here, at least with the contract my city has with its towers, the tow company can't sell the car without the title, though they usually offer to trade whatever debt has accrued in "storage fees" for the title. posted by klangklangston

It would have been handled via lien sale. I thought all states had lien sale provisions. How does your state sispose of abandoned vehicles if lien sale isn't possible?
posted by buggzzee23 at 10:46 AM on July 17, 2006

you need to deal with this situation immediately. A few years ago, a friend of mine had a car. I was going to dispose of the car for her by donating it to a charity. On the way to a friends place, the car had a mechanical problem and I had to push it about half a mile to the friends house. I parked the car (legally) on the street and was going to come back and get it as soon as I could.
No less than a week had passed, and my friend calls and said "The city had the car towed." Seems that they were repaving the street he was on, and did not give anyone notice at all. No "This block closed from X to Y" signs or anything. Basically, 24 hours notice of "We're paving the street."
So, the car got towed, and we thought nothing of it.

Fast forward about a year. My friend (that originally owned the car) gets a letter from a collection agency saying she owed about $1,200 for towing fees & impound fees. "WTF?" we asked. I called the tow company and the collection company, neither of whom would talk to me. So she called them too and found out that the car had been towed under the order of the Sacramento Police Department. "WTF 2?!" we said. We both went down to the Sacramento PD offices and talked with a few police officers and looked at the report (they were very helpful!) and learned that the car had actually been pulled over. Some black girl with felony warrants and drugs on her was driving the car. She was stopped, arrested, and the vehicle was impounded. What we found out was that the tow company that towed the car off the to-be-paved street repaired the vehicle, re-keyed the ignition, and then re-sold it, without a title or anything. (I was holding the keys, and the title.) The second tow company turned out to be the same as the FIRST tow company. Same company. They were asshats.
To make a long story short, she told the tow company to go pound sand. The bill has since dropped off her credit report. They made sure to ping all 3 agencies with the negative, too.

Tow companies are farking SLIME. I stongly suggest that you do whatever it takes to cover your own ass in this situation, because it can very easily spiral down into a bad one.

Oh, and yes, DMV will bone you if you don't pay off those tickets. You won't be able to do registration, renew your license, or other things. (happened to me!)
posted by drstein at 12:01 PM on July 17, 2006

I'm coming to the conversation late but I have two thoughts.
o First you need to add this all up and verify who you owe money to and how much.
o Second, that you do have room for some negotiation.

You should talk to someone at the tow place and see if they sold the car and what they got for it. Find out if any money was applied to your tickets. Or maybe it was applied to their towing and storage fees? In any case there's a simple little math problem here that adds up to: I owe the DMV X dollars. I owe the towing people Y dollars. Anything they tell you should be verified with the state. If you think you aren't getting honest answers do consult a lawyer who can help sort out the situation.

Once you have that you need to pay those debts off. Both of them will come back to haunt you on future loans, car registrations, etc. The good news is that you can probably negotiate quite a bit. If you owe the towing shop $800 I'd say, "I have $200 cash. If I bring it to you right now can you cut me a deal?" They'll probably jump at the deal because they have dozens of these debts and liquidating one of them so easily is a huge win for them. Cash is obviously a key word.

You can probably do a similar thing with the state but dealing with a beauracracy will be much harder. It might be worth a few phone calls but it might be some non-trivial leg work to track down the person with the authortity to cut you a deal. Spend a few hours at it; if you get no leads pay it all off and move along.
posted by deanj at 9:31 AM on July 26, 2006

baylink writes "They tend to charge the ridiculous fuck-you price of $3-5 *a day*, IME (which, thankfully, is 10 years old, or more)."

Secure storage for a car sized object is expensive, $5 a day would be a steal most places.
posted by Mitheral at 2:46 PM on October 30, 2006

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