Towing the Line

It’s hard enough when your car gets towed. Here’s how to avoid getting gouged, too.

Getting your car towed is lousy, even if it’s your fault. Ever come out of a restaurant or theater around midnight only to find an empty rectangle of concrete that once held your vehicle? Was it stolen? Did you forget where you parked? Then you notice the sign: No parking allowed past 10:30 p.m.

Panic striken, you have to figure out how to get to Sand Island, and once you arrive, you see it: your car, held captive behind a gate. You feel at the mercy of the tow truck company. But before you hand over your hard-earned bucks, you should know what your rights are, as well as which charges are—and are not—within the law.

Illustration: Mike Austin

Stephen Levins, executive director of Hawaii’s Office of Consumer Protection, clarifies the additional rights of a vehicle owner:

HONOLULU: Can tow companies accept “cash only?”

Levins: The law requires that tow companies must accept credit cards or have an ATM located on their premises. The reason is that if it’s late at night and you show up at the tow yard without cash or a check, there must be other available options to get your car out.

HONOLULU: What happens if you arrive on-scene as the tow truck driver is in the process of towing your car?

Levins: If your vehicle is already hooked-up to the truck, and you appear on the scene, the driver must drop your car without a charge. If the driver tries to get money out of you to do this, it’s a violation of the law.

HONOLULU: If you get your car back and notice a dent that you believe you didn’t cause, what do you do?

Levins: This would be a civil matter between you and the tow company.

HONOLULU: Is there a mileage limit on the distance that your car can be towed?

Levins: The tow truck driver must take the most direct route to his lot. If the company has two lots, say, one on Sand Island and another in Haleiwa, and your car was towed from Chinatown, then they have to take it to the nearest location.

If you were overcharged, unfairly towed or you would like to file a complaint against a tow company, contact the state’s Consumer Resource Center, Dept. of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, at 587-3222. Your case could be assigned to an investigator, prompting anything from a refund of charges to a lawsuit against the tow company by the Consumer Protection Agency.


If your car has been towed from a private lot, Section 290-11 of Hawaii Revised Statutes notes the following: 

Towing charge: No more than $65, or $75 for a tow using a dolly.
Mileage charge: $7.50 per mile towed.
Storage charge: $25 per day or fraction thereof for storage for the first seven days and $20 per day thereafter.
Off-hour charge: When the tow occurs between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m., from Monday through Thursday, and from 6 p.m. Friday to 6 a.m. Monday, the towing company can assess an overtime charge of $15. If it’s a difficult hookup, meaning an above- or below-ground hookup in a multilevel building, a towing company can apply a surcharge of $30. So if you got towed from a Downtown underground lot, you could easily be looking at a $150 bill.