WRAL Investigates

Wilson towing company draws complaints over aggressive tactics

Posted November 9, 2010 6:00 p.m. EST
Updated November 10, 2010 1:57 p.m. EST

WRAL Investigates

— For years, WRAL News has heard complaints about predatory towing in the state. Lawmakers have too, so they passed a law last year to crack down on aggressive towers.

WRAL's investigative team recently witnessed a Wilson towing company in action and questions whether that law goes far enough.

Does towing a car in less than 40 seconds seem predatory? How about drivers who say they were threatened with an additional fee if they asked for their cars to be released? In Wilson, at least, that's all still legal.

Curtis Boyd contacted WRAL recently after what he felt was an unprofessional run-in with Auto Solutions Towing and Recovery, a company hired to tow cars from Narron and Holdford law firm's privately owned parking lot.

“As soon as you pull in, he (the tow truck driver) comes and gets you,” Boyd said. “He told me, ‘I cannot take it down (off the tow truck.)’ The only way I can get it (is) I have to go to the service up here and pick it up, and I immediately called police. He explained it to me, being that I did call police, (that) it’s going to be an extra $50 on top of it for labor for holding him up by calling police.”

Boyd paid $235 to get his SUV back – $150 for towing, $35 for storage and $50 for “labor" – and he is not alone when it comes to complaints about Auto Solutions.

WRAL's investigative team went to Wilson to see Auto Solutions in action. Within 40 seconds of parking his car and crossing the street, the Auto Solutions tow truck swooped in on Brian Williams' car. Then, seconds after his car went up, the passenger side door opened. Tanesha Wright was in the car, which was still running.

“I was sitting in the car. How can you tow a running car with someone in it?” Wright said. “(I was) like, ‘Oh my God, what’s going on?’ I just felt a little movement, and I was getting towed away.”

Williams returned before the car was gone and asked the tow truck operator to release his vehicle. The response was a familiar one.

“He told me that he was not trying to hear that, and I have to pay him $150. And if I keep talking to him that he was going to jump up to add another $50,” Williams said.

WRAL watched Auto Solutions nab two more vehicles with the same lightning response, less than a minute. In one case, two people were still in a car when the tower started hooking it up. They were out when the car was towed.

WRAL's investigative producer, Randall Kerr, approached the tow truck driver and asked about the aggressive approach.

“We are allowed to hook it by law, sir,” the tow truck driver said. “It’s a private parking lot. There’s signs, so I’d rather not comment on anything else.”

Several vehicle owners have filed complaints with Wilson police about Auto Solutions. For now, police say no laws are being broken. However, police did drop Auto Solutions from its wrecker rotation over concerns about the company's aggressive approach.

A state law addressing predatory towing includes language about signage, how far someone can be towed and the operation of storage lots.

Some cities have more stringent towing regulations, such as Raleigh, where there's no storage fee for the first 24 hours. Also, no additional fees can be charged, like the so-called "labor" fee charged by Auto Solutions, and towers must release a vehicle if the owner shows up and charge no more than half the towing fee.

A Wilson city spokesman says the municipality needs permission from the state to change its ordinances.