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Lobbyist Money Help  

Tow-truck companies fight to keep right to sell vehicles for profit

January 26, 1999
By: Anna Brutzman
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - If you thought paying a tow-truck company for hauling away and storing your car was bad enough, consider this: If you wait long enough, they can sell it, too.

Tammy Gerhardt, an employee of Tiger Towing in Columbia, recalled how her company once got to keep an abandoned van because nobody claimed it.

"It was a drug bust," Gerhardt said. "The guy didn't come back for it. He was out of the country and didn't want to be put in jail."

Tiger Towing sent a letter notifying the owner his vehicle was on their lot, but the van sat for another 30 days. After Gerhardt notified the Revenue Department, her company legally obtained the title to the van.

Usually, the people at Tiger Towing do paperwork for more than two months on unclaimed vehicles such as this, Gerhardt said. But after selling the van, the company managed to make some profit for their trouble.

Allowing tow companies to make money off of abandoned cars would be a thing of the past if Sen. Wayne Goode, D-St. Louis County, is successful.

His bill, proposed Tuesday, would limit the money a towing firm can keep after selling an abandoned vehicle.

They would be allowed to keep only enough money to pay for the cost of hauling and storing the vehicle. The rest would go to the Treasury Department.

"I'm telling you, everyone's against this," said Doug Perry of Doug Perry Towing in Columbia. "It's B.S. in the biggest form."

Despite strong sentiments expressed by the towing companies, Goode said they have no right to make a profit out of selling unclaimed vehicles.

"They don't really have any property right except in whatever costs they incur," Goode said. "I don't see how they have a property right either legally or morally."

Towing company owners say that, morally, they are on strong ground because towing junk cars off roadways and parking lots is a service -- and they ought to be compensated.

"If all the tow trucks of Missouri decided to stop picking up cars, it would be a messy sight," Gerhardt said.

Besides, the profit they make off of sales is small, said Larry Asher, who runs a tow-truck business in St. Louis. Many of the cars go for scrap at junk yards, he said.

"I've had one $500 car in 30 years," Asher said. "These excess funds, they just aren't there." Asher added, however, that he is primarily in favor of Goode's bill, which also calls for a system that will more immediately inform owners where their cars are.

Because unclaimed cars usually do not bring in much money, the towing companies get most of their profit from hauling and storing, Goode said. "I'm sure they set their fees accordingly."

Just like abandoned bank accounts, he said, the money made off these vehicles ought to go to the state. Besides, he added, tow companies are in the business of hauling and storing vehicles -- not getting free cars.

"They go through this business and all of a sudden there is a jackpot," he said.