SA ANTONIO - The outrageous price you have to pay when your car gets towed in San Antonio is going down, and it's all because of a News 4 WOAI Trouble Shooters investigation. City officials say Jaie Avila's story led them to change what towing companies can charge.
When Avila first started investigating this almost two years ago, no one seemed to know why San Antonio towing companies were charging so much more than other cities: close to $300 to get your car back.
As a result of his story the City Attorney and the Police Chief went back and looked at the Towing Ordinance, and determined that towing companies have been over-charging you all along.
It's that double-dose of shock and anger so many San Antonio drivers have felt: first discovering their car's been towed, then learning how much it costs to get it back.
J.P. Sanchez and his friend Bruni Ramirez both had their cars towed recently from the Colonnade, by Bexar Towing. They were charged $250, plus an additional $43 for impound and storage, for a total of $293. About the same price many towing companies have been charging for private property tows.
“I'm a college student and $300 is half of my rent and half of my food, paying that $300 really hurt my budget”, Sanchez said.
Bruni Ramirez added, “I could understand a hundred or so, but $300? Please!”
As we reported last year, other Texas cities don't allow towing companies to charge so much. For example, Houston and Austin have ordinances that cap towing fees at between $130 and $150.
San Antonio companies have been following state regulations, that allow wrecker services to charge close to $300. However, state officials told us that's only if there is no local ordinance.
It took some looking, but we located the San Antonio Towing Ordinance from 2002, which clearly states: "the maximum fee a licensee may charge for towing... is $85."
“This has kind of reached a boiling point now,” San Antonio Police Chief William McManus told us.
McManus, and City Attorney Michael Bernard, saw our investigation into towing, and even showed it to council members and staff during a recent meeting.
“Since your report aired on TV, it's kind of raised our attention to it,” McManus told Jaie Avila after the meeting.
The Chief and the City Attorney looked closely at the city ordinance and met with state officials and decided they will enforce that $85 towing price cap.
Chief McManus told us, “Companies will be held to the city's ordinance, which is $85. Now whether that remains at $85 after we look at it and propose to the council, we have to wait and see. Right now the city's ordinance stands and it is enforceable.”
The city is conducting a fee study to determine whether that $85 should be raised in the future to the $120 - $130 range, but that would take a vote of the council.
We've learned in the last few days police and state investigators have started writing misdemeanor citations to towing companies for charging more than $85.
The San Antonio Towing Association is stunned. All along they've maintained they need to charge close to $300 per tow just to stay in business, and that state law allows them to do that.
Some towing companies say they will defy the ordinance, and continue to charge what they have in the past, and some say they will sue the city.
If you are towed and someone tries to charge you more than $85, Chief McManus says you should call police and file a report. A citation will be issued, a court date will be set, and the court would have the authority to order a refund plus fine the towing company.
Also, you should make a complaint to the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, which oversees towing operation statewide.
They're aware of the change here, and they have new powers to order refunds.
Here’s an email TDLR sent us spelling out what victims of overcharging should do:
You asked what you should tell your viewers who are towed -
1. They should set the case for hearing in the Justice of the Peace court.
If a judgment is issued the towing company has 60 days to pay the judgment. If it isn't paid the complainant should file a complaint with TDLR and send a certified copy of the judgment to the department.
TDLR will send a letter ordering the company to pay the judgment within 30 days or the department will suspend their license.
An example; TDLR received a complaint for nonpayment of a judgment against Arrow Towing in Houston. The department suspended Arrow's license until evidence was received showing they had fully satisfied the judgment.
2. They should notify the San Antonio Police Department that they were charged more than the city ordinance allows.
3. File a complaint online with TDLR. Attach a copy of the tow ticket or send in a copy of the tow ticket to TDLR.
TDLR opens every complaint received and determines if the department has jurisdiction. Next, it is assigned to an investigator to investigate and will write up a findings report. The case is then turned over to an Enforcement prosecutor to determine if a violation has occurred and if so, what administrative penalty should be assessed.