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Involuntary Tows: Flagler’s Wreckers Get 25% Rate Increase, Their First in 8 Years

| July 6, 2011

Towing it would have been more expensive. (© FlaglerLive)

It’s not something the public generally knows: under Florida law, state and local government regulate significant portions of the towing industry. Competing towing companies must abide by rotation schedules set by state and county law enforcement agencies when towing involves road wrecks or involuntary tows, where vehicles are impounded or removed from roads or private property. And county governments set the rates for such tows. Flagler County hadn’t dealt with its three wrecker companies’ rates in eight years.

On Wednesday, the commission adopted new rates that will raise the typical towing charge for a passenger car from $100 to $125, and the daily storage fee from $20 per day to $25. The rates are in line with Putnam and Volusia counties. They’re higher than the $100 rate still charged in St. Johns. And they’re lower than the $150 rate the county’s three wreckers had initially proposed.

Those rates do not apply to typical, so-called voluntary tows involving a broken-down vehicle and an owner looking to tow the car to a repair shop, say.

“What you’re regulating here is strictly non-consensual tows,” County Administrator Craig Coffey said. “If you’re broke down on the side of the road and you’re not in an accident or anything else, you just need a tow truck, you can call anybody you want to, and they can charge, work out whatever rate they want to. They can do it free, they can do it half price, they can do it double rate. You can call and choose your vendor from this county or a different county. But for non-consensual tows, it’s really three vendors from this county.”

Non-consensual tows is where costs—and controversy—can pile up. Those non-consensual tows don’t necessarily involve law enforcement issues. They can (and often do) involve an individual without insurance having a broken-down car in a shopping-mall parking lot, for example, and an inability to have it moved immediately. The business ends up towing it for that owner.

Those tows are involuntary, and kick in the regulated rates. Commissioner Barbara Revels was concerned about just such rates and tows. “I believe there are many cases where people are going to lose their car because they cannot afford to pay whatever the difference might be of what insurance they may or may not have to get their car out,” Revels said, “and the longer it sits there, the more storage fees it runs up. As bad off as our public is today, I hate to see us double fees on them or raise fees.”

“We tried to look at this. They haven’t had an increase in eight years,” Coffey said, and none of the fees are doubling.

Revels specified: “We all know that we had a lot of bad press in this county over the situations, the towing that went on around Bunnell, and there are a lot of people who spoke freely in the press about driving through this county and getting pulled over and losing their car. I don’t want to see that happen and I don’t want us to be the high-price brand, or as we know some little communities are speed traps, I don’t want Flagler County to be branded that way, to benefit three or four operators. So I want it to be fair, I want it to be reasonable, I don’t want us to be the highest price out there, and I don’t want people losing their car over this.”

“We were trying to strike that balance,” Coffey said.


Revels asked John Rogers, owner of John’s Towing in Bunnell, what proportion of his business amounted to vehicle owners who were unable to reclaim their cars. “Maybe 50 percent of the time,” Rogers said. “We don’t want their car. We’d rather get paid and really get funded than keep a junk car. It costs us over $100 to get rid of a car, to advertise it in the newspaper, to notify the owner, the lien holder and the insurance company by certified mail,” among other paperwork. Revels, Rogers told commissioners, “is talking about a totally different deal with the press. That was a scam between two crooked cops and a tower. What we’re talking about is when somebody is broke down and we tow the vehicle in, most of the time they go to a repair facility. On the occasion when we tow it in, 50 percent of the cars leave, the insurance company picks it up. The other 50 we end up with.”

Left unmentioned, however, was the benefit to wrecking companies of taking possession of abandoned cars, which can then be resold on their used-car lot, at whatever profit margin their market will bear. That’s why wreckers also in some cases welcome the chance to impound cars that they can eventually resell. In Bunnell, many cars ended up in wreckers’ possession because the city also charged an administrative fee of $350 when vehicles were towed involuntarily, jacking up the price of reclaiming those cars that much more. The State Attorney’s office forced the city to scrub that fee, which was compared to extortion, last year.

Revels was eventually satisfied that the rate increase was relatively reasonable—relative to other counties, that is—and the commission approved the new rates unanimously.

The following are the new rates adopted by the county commission. (Previous rates in parentheses.)

CLASS A VEHICLES (gross vehicle weight less than ten thousand (10,000) pounds or vehicle carrying a vessel fifteen (15) feet or less in length):

a. Trespass tow (flat rate) $125 ($100.00)

b. Immobilization $100.00 (unchanged)

c. Nonconsensual tow $125 ($100.00)

d. Nonconsensual tow, per mile over initial 10 miles, per full extra mile $3.00 (unchanged)

e. Nonconsensual tow, time beyond initial 30 minutes at scene, per 15 minute block $25.00 (unchanged)

f. Trespass or nonconsensual tow daily storage per day $25 ($20.00)

(2)

CLASS B VEHICLES (gross vehicle weight more than ten thousand (10,000) pounds but less than nineteen thousand, five hundred (19,500) pounds or vehicle carrying a vessel more than fifteen (15) feet but less than twenty-two (22) feet in length):

a. Trespass tow (flat rate) $250 ($200.00)

b. Immobilization $100.00 (unchanged)

c. Nonconsensual tow $250 ($200.00)

d. Nonconsensual tow, per mile over initial 10 miles, per full extra mile $4.00 (unchanged)

e. Nonconsensual tow, time beyond initial 30 minutes at scene, per 15 minute block $50.00 (unchanged)

f. Trespass or nonconsensual tow daily storage per day 30.00 (unchanged)

(3)

CLASS C VEHICLES (gross vehicle weight more than nineteen thousand, five hundred (19,500) pounds but less than twenty-five thousand (25,000) pounds or vehicle carrying a vessel more than twenty-two (22) feet in length):

a. Trespass tow (flat rate) $400 ($300.00)

b. Immobilization $100.00 (unchanged)

c. Nonconsensual tow $400 ($300.00)

d. Nonconsensual tow, per mile over initial ten (10) miles, per full extra mile $5.00 (unchanged)

e. Nonconsensual tow, time beyond initial thirty (30) minutes at scene, per 15 minute block $75.00 (unchanged)

f. Trespass or nonconsensual tow daily storage per day $60.00 (unchanged)

(4)

CLASS D VEHICLES (gross vehicle weight more than twenty-five thousand (25,000) pounds):

a. Trespass tow (flat rate) $500 ($400.00)

b. Immobilization $100.00 (unchanged)

c. Nonconsensual tow $500 (400.00)

d. Nonconsensual tow, per mile over initial ten (10) miles, per full extra mile $6.00 (unchanged)

e. Nonconsensual tow, time beyond initial thirty (30) minutes at scene, per fifteen (15) minute block $100.00 (unchanged)

f. Trespass or nonconsensual tow daily storage per day 60.00 (unchanged)

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1 Response for “Involuntary Tows: Flagler’s Wreckers Get 25% Rate Increase, Their First in 8 Years”

  1. SMHinBunnell says:

    If Ms Revels had made this much of a fuss over Bobby Ginn’s hangar we’d all be better off. smh as usual :)

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