Dear Consumer Ed:

My brother wrecked his car on a state highway and was taken to the hospital by ambulance. Thankfully, he is okay.  His car ran off the road onto private property and was towed by a firm that the police called.  The tow company charged over $400 to tow the vehicle three miles. Who allows towing companies to charge this much?

Consumer Ed says: 

For regulating purposes, Georgia law divides the towing industry into two categories:  consensual and nonconsensual. Consensual towing is when the owner of the vehicle authorizes the towing service.  Typically, towing is consensual when you are involved in an accident.  The State does not specifically regulate this type of towing.  Instead, counties and municipalities have the authority to enact ordinances to regulate consensual towing services.  Therefore, you should check the local ordinances for the county or municipality where the vehicle was towed.

In contrast, the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) regulates nonconsensual towing from private property.  Nonconsensual towing occurs when an improperly parked or trespassing vehicle is towed from private property without the consent of the vehicle owner.  Georgia law requires a license to engage in nonconsensual towing.  Additionally, the PSC requires that signs be posted at each designated entrance of the property to lawfully tow a vehicle without the owner’s consent.  These signs must include the following information: warning that unauthorized vehicles will be towed at the owner’s expense; wrecker service name, address, and telephone number; towing fees and daily storage fees; hours of operation; and an acceptable method of payment.  Georgia law prohibits businesses offering nonconsensual towing services from charging the owner of a towed vehicle more than the maximum rates published in the Nonconsensual Towing Maximum Rate Tariff.  The PSC prescribes these rate caps, however, counties and municipalities can further limit the maximum rates charged for nonconsensual towing services.

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