New towing system introduced in Detroit in hopes of ending years of corruption

DETROIT-The City of Detroit is overhauling its towing system, blocking police from choosing their favorite towing companies and making it easier for victims of auto theft to retrieve their vehicles without having to pay excessive fees.

Mayor Mike Duggan and Detroit Police Chief James White announced this week that the city has vetted and approved seven towing companies to share responsibilities with the Detroit Police Department’s (DPD) internal towing unit.

Duggan stated that the new policy had been in the works for years and the new towing guidelines will make it difficult for anyone to play favorites. A new computer-generated towing system will be in place, using the approved towing companies at rotation.

As part of the new reform, DPD has established its own towing unit and will handle about 35%-40% of DPDs roughly 600 weekly tows, with the rest being distributed equitably among the private companies.

“It’s important to the integrity of this process that the officer requesting the tow does it through the computerized rotation process,” White said. “They don’t call anyone and have no discretion of their own, so there is no intentional or unintentional opportunity to play favorites.”

The mayor stated that poor business practices and corruption had long plagued the city’s towing operations, adding that city officials and police officers had been convicted of taking bribes from towing companies in the past.

“We’ve had a city councilman convicted. We had a deputy police chief convicted and by my count, eight police officers convicted from everything from taking bribes from towers, to falsifying the damage reports, and taking bribes from the repair shops for doing repairs that were never needed. When you have this much money available and this lack of oversight, you end up with the kind of results we have seen in this city,” Duggan said.

Previously, recovered stolen vehicles were taken either to a private storage yard or to DPD’s storage yard. While DPD had a policy to allow for the waiving of fees for auto theft victims, private lots were not be required to do so.

Under the new towing arrangement, all reported stolen vehicles recovered by any tower will be taken to DPD’s storage lot. If the stolen vehicle is towed by a private company, DPD will pay that company for the tow so the owner does not have to. If the owner of the stolen vehicle recovers it from the city lot, DPD will waive all towing and storage fees (insurance companies still will have to pay for a release).

“For too long, the victims of car theft in this town were victimized a second time by having to pay towing and storage fees sometimes into the thousands of dollars to recover their vehicle, which also likely has costly damage from the theft,” said Duggan.

The new overhaul comes at a good time. The city has experienced a surge, with 9,153 reported auto theft related tows in 2022, up from 6,469 the year prior. DPD blames the increase partly on a viral TikTok trend which exposes how to break into Kia vehicles.

Challenging a Tow or the Reasonableness of Fees

Detroit isn’t the only city taking advantage of vulnerable drivers and the towing process. Fees to recover a stolen vehicle can come with a big cost. Typically, it can range from about $200 – if the vehicle is recovered by the owner the same day – to thousands of dollars for vehicles that are in the lot for an extended period before being recovered.

Drivers have the right to challenge whether a vehicle was properly towed as well as the reasonableness of towing and storage fees, but you must do so in a timely manner and in an appropriate district court.

The process requires you to file a petition in the district court with jurisdiction over the location from which your car was towed. You must file your petition within 20 days from the date on the notice that your vehicle was towed as abandoned. And you will be responsible for applicable court filing fees. The petition and instructions for how to fill it out are included with the mailed notice, or available on the Secretary of State’s webpage (Petition Regarding Impoundment of Motor Vehicle (DC90) form). If you request a hearing, you can also get your vehicle back while you are awaiting the hearing outcome, but you will have to either: 

  1. post a towing and storage bond, (which will include the accrued towing and storage fees) with the court; or
  2. pay the abandoned vehicle fees and the accrued towing and storage fees to the custodian of your vehicle.

If the court finds the vehicle was improperly towed, you will be reimbursed for the towing and storage fees, and the abandoned vehicle fee will be returned.

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