Report: Getting off the hook of a predatory tow in Pennsylvania

Media Contacts
Emma Horst-Martz

Former Advocate, PennPIRG

PennPIRG Education Fund investigates consumer protections against exorbitant towing charges

PennPIRG Education Fund

PHILADELPHIA —  Every year, millions of Americans have their cars towed without their consent from a private property or public street. Too often, the unknown rationale behind these tows and what to do next can leave drivers stranded and confused. 

“It seems like everyone has a story of a run-in with a tow truck. When your car gets towed, everything else grinds to halt,” said Emma Horst-Martz, PennPIRG Education Fund’s Advocate. “Not only have you lost your primary mode of transportation, but you’re also trying to locate your vehicle and you’re worrying about mounting daily storage fees. It’s essential to know whether you’re being treated fairly or whether the tow company is acting in a predatory fashion.” 

PennPIRG Education Fund identified 14 common sense towing protections that should be available to consumers in every state. Pennsylvania currently has 6 out of the 14 protections that we identified. Our report, Getting Off The Hook of a Predatory Tow, outlines protections ranging from who is responsible for damages caused by careless towing, to the maximum rates and fees owed when towed, to whether you are guaranteed the option to pay by credit card. 

“Across America, cities are discussing ways to modernize transportation and infrastructure,”  said Philadelphia City Councilmember Isaiah Thomas. “As Chair of City Council’s Streets Committee, I join this discussion and take it very seriously. I applaud the progress City Council has achieved prior to my swearing in and look forward to building upon this people-centered approach to government. Predatory towing is an example of government not working to best serve people and not using modern practices and technology to help people. We need to do more and I thank PennPIRG for their thoughtful recommendations.” 

Our research points to two broad issues facing consumers: An alarmingly high number of states have no protections spelled out on towing issues. In addition, too many states have inadequate protections, or the laws on the books are vague and inaccessible to the average consumer. It’s important to note that many municipalities have protections that are stronger than those offered by state law. Some cities have even adopted a “towing bill of rights” to address years of abusive practices. This shouldn’t be necessary; drivers in every city in a state should have the same, strong rights. 

In Pennsylvania, here are the key takeaways: 

  1. In the case of involuntary tows, tow companies can remove a vehicle at the “reasonable expense of the vehicle owner”.

  2. Towing companies can charge a maximum of $25 per day for storage if the municipality has not already set rates.

  3. After removing a vehicle, the tower is not required to notify law enforcement or the vehicle owner.

  4. Storage facilities must publicly display their rates and accept major credit cards.

  5. Pennsylvania towing companies must provide vehicle owners with an itemized list of charges.

Click HERE for Pennsylvania’s full list of protections.



PennPIRG (Public Interest Research Group) Education Fund is an independent, non-partisan group that works for consumers and the public interest. Through research, public education and outreach, we serve as counterweights to the influence of powerful interests that threaten our health, safety, and wellbeing.