Tow-company chief blasts carpark freeloaders

By Yvonne Tahana

Dan Dwyer. Photo / Natalie Slade
Dan Dwyer. Photo / Natalie Slade

An Auckland tow-truck boss who refunded a driver $230 to avoid a Disputes Tribunal hearing says he did so to spend time with his son and avoid wasting public resources.

Craig Burrows believes he would have won the case easily.

His company Vehicle Recovery Group towed Dan Dwyer's Toyota Corolla, which was parked in a Mt Eden fruitshop's carpark.

Mr Dwyer, a lawyer, took the matter to the tribunal on the basis that $230 to retrieve a car that was towed less than 5km to a Grey Lynn yard did not accurately reflect the true cost of towing.

Mr Dwyer wants motorists to act on Consumer New Zealand's opinion that towies should charge only "expenses reasonably incurred in removing an unlawfully parked vehicle".

The day before the tribunal was scheduled to hear the case, Vehicle Recovery Group offered Mr Dwyer his money back.

The company was given an opportunity to comment for the original story, but declined. Yesterday, as readers wrote in about their experiences with tow trucks, Mr Burrows changed his mind.

"Bottom line is: I was away that day and I didn't want to waste the public's time and energy.

"I had a thing for my son's school which I had committed to ... I wasn't going to pull out of that to go to court for some guy.

"We did the nice thing and gave him his money back to save any drama, and he goes to the public.

"Now we'll have every Tom, Dick and Harry wanting to take us to public court."

Asked if a $230 fee accurately reflected his company's costs, Mr Burrows said fees took into account his business costs, which included rent, maintenance, supply of trucks, wages, fuel and after-hours fees.

They also covered occasions when towies turned up for a job but the car had already left.

"It's a cost of running a business ... You think we sit here like King Farouk or something? It costs six to eight figures to run a business. We don't just pull a figure out of the sky because we feel like it.

"We don't sit here rolling in all this cash, because our overheads are horrific."

Illegal parking often cost businesses thousands of dollars as their customers didn't have access to the privately owned carparks.

Mr Burrows, also general manager of the First Recovery tow-truck firm, said it was frustrating some motorists felt they should get a pat on the back for the lack of respect they showed for others' private property.

"At the end of the day, people shouldn't even have had to put a sign up to say you shouldn't park here.

"It's always someone else's fault. There was a sign there; he [Mr Dwyer] chose to take the risk. For every time he's been caught, there's 500 times he hasn't.

"Why do people expect to park at someone else's property and not pay for it?"

Mr Burrows wasn't concerned he would lose future tribunal battles. He was 100 per cent sure his company would have won against Mr Dwyer. "We've gone to court all the time and we've always won."

Tales of woe from the kerbside

Peter Vial's car was towed from Wellesley St during an 11pm Christmas Eve service at St Matthew-in-the-City in central Auckland.

Mr Vial was angry to be charged $260 by First Recovery, which he said added a $30 "public holiday surcharge" when he picked the vehicle up just after midnight.

It was still on the tow truck when Mr Vial arrived, having walked less than five minutes to the company's Morton St yard.

He accepted he should pay something but felt the charge was steep. He said finding a parking space around the church was difficult and First Recovery was "trawling" where it could have "easy picks."

First Recovery chief Craig Burrows said property owners paid tow-truck companies a fee to check that their spaces aren't being improperly used.

"People only get towed because they were too lazy to walk an extra 10 feet. I didn't make them park illegally, I didn't make them be lazy."

Other complaints yesterday included one from a 65-year-old whose car was towed while her dog and wallet were still inside, and another from a woman charged a $100 fee by a towie who was just about to drive away.

Q&A motorists' rights

Q: If I park my car on private property, can it be towed?

A: Yes.

Q: What happens if I arrive back as my car is being hooked up to the tow truck?

A: If you get into your car, a tow-truck driver must release it. Most tow-truck operators will attempt to charge you a call-out fee if they have already broken into your car in order to hook it up. You do not have to pay.

Q: If there are no warning signs, can my car still be towed?

A: Yes. There is no legal requirement for owners of private property to display a warning that cars will be towed.

Q: If I can't afford the tow fee, can they sell my car?

A No. Cars towed from private land can be held until a fee is paid but cannot be sold without further legal action being taken.

Storage fees: After the first day, firms charge a storage fee for every day your car remains at their yard uncollected.
Source: Consumer New Zealand

- NZ Herald

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