Tempe Changes Rules on Towing to Prevent Companies From Scamming Drivers

Downtown Tempe will no longer be the feeding ground of disreputable towing companies, thanks to changes by the city council.

Visitors to the urban hotspot around Mill Avenue fell victim for years to highly aggressive towing companies that hooked vehicles up within minutes of an errant parking job. Hapless drivers were shaken down for scandalous amounts of money, their vehicles literal hostages. Tammy Leitner of Channel 5 (KPHO-TV) had a good report two years ago on the situation.

The city has finally responded to the aggravation and complaints with a slew of changes.

Under the new rules, towing companies must:

*Accept rental and lease agreements as proof of ownership. *Allow owners and renters to get inside a vehicle to retrieve proof-of-ownership documents. (Can you believe the bastards sometimes didn't let people do this?) *Accept credit card and debit card payments for listed fees. (To prevent the typical shakedown for cash). *Charge no extra fees for paying with cards. (This is a pre-emptive move -- the city knows these companies well). *Charge no fee beyond what is "specifically authorized by Tempe City Code." (As the KPHO example shows, in 2007 the max fee was $120, but Leitner was asked to pay $180).

In addition:

Private towing companies are now required to notify the Tempe Police Department prior to towing, immobilizing or transporting the vehicle. The ordinance previously allowed tow companies to make that notification within one hour after the tow. This will allow the police department to quickly resolve issues regarding whether a vehicle has been towed or stolen.

The changes go into effect on June 29. But even then, don't expect the towing companies to explain the rules to you as your car's front end hangs in the air.

Asking for a couple of hundred bucks in cash from a desperate car owner is a habit that won't die easily.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.