How to get a vehicle back if it is towed and challenging unreasonable fees

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Attorney General Dana Nessel issued an updated consumer alert to better educate Michiganders on the state’s towing laws. The updated alert includes information and how to file a complaint about unlawful towing and unreasonable fees.

“Having your car towed without your knowledge is not only disruptive, it’s expensive and creates all kinds of additional problems – financial and logistical. That’s why it’s important Michiganders know their rights,” Nessel said.

The Michigan Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division has received 10 towing-related complaints since January 1, 2019. Altogether last year, the department received 56 towing-related complaints.

The three most common reasons a vehicle is towed are at the direction of the police, at the direction of a private property owner, or at the owner’s direction.

Michigan Vehicle Code lists when the police and government agencies may provide for the immediate removal of a vehicle from private or public property to a place of safekeeping at the owner’s expense.

The law also permits private property owners who follow specific posting requirements to remove a vehicle. Before removing the vehicle, the towing company must notify the police agency having jurisdiction over the location of the removed vehicle.

Within 24 hours after receiving notice of a private removal, the police must determine if the vehicle has been reported stolen, enter the vehicle into the law enforcement information network as an abandoned vehicle, and notify the Secretary of State.

Once the Secretary of State receives notice of the abandoned vehicle, it has seven days to mail notice to the titled owner and any secured party, like a lending institution, indicating the location from which the vehicle was towed, name of the towing agency, business address where the vehicle is located, how to get the vehicle back or how to contest the towing, the procedure to challenge the reasonableness of the towing and storage fees, and petition to file with a specific court to request a hearing.

For tows not done at the vehicle owner’s request, towing fees are typically set by an agreement between the police agency or private property owner and towing company.  Vehicle owners should contact the agency that requested the towing to verify its fees. If the vehicle is towed at the owner’s request, they should check their insurance policy to see if it covers towing-related costs.

Under Michigan law, once the towing of a vehicle is authorized and complete, the vehicle will be referred to as an “abandoned vehicle” unless or until the owner goes through the legal process to get it back or contests the tow in court. This is also the case if a vehicle is involved in a crash and not claimed within 20 days.

“Michiganders have the right to challenge whether their vehicle was properly towed and the reasonableness of towing and storage fees,” Nessel said. “This alert helps provide residents with the information they need to make an informed and timely decision on how they can proceed.”

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