Five Infuriating Stories About South Florida Towing Companies

Miami Beach's two major towing companies — Beach Towing and Tremont Towing — have been lobbying Tallahassee lawmakers this year to pass a bill that would make it more difficult to sue towing companies for illegally taking your car. The bill is bonkers, because those companies have not earned the public's trust in any way, shape, or form.

If anything, the opposite is true: New Times has spent years cataloging various schemes that some of Miami's major towing and salvage companies have used to siphon money out of tourists and residents simply trying to park around town. A 2013 New Times feature logged the various techniques tow companies use to justify hauling your car away — including employing "lot watchers" to jump on your vehicle the minute your meter expires, disguising private parking lots as city-owned lots, and even cozying up to local politicians.

So, with lawmakers now debating whether to give these companies even more slack, it's a good time to recap some of the more upsetting towing stories in recent Miami history:

1. In 2015, six tow truck drivers were arrested for bribing Miami police to call them to crash scenes:

The truck operators essentially promised officers and safety aids kickbacks in exchange for calling them to the scene of an accident. When a tow truck from one of the contracted companies shows up, it's the city who gets a kickback, generally $26 per tow.

The arrests follow news in December that three Miami police officers and two other public service aides were relieved of duty under suspicion that they had taken tow truck kickbacks. 

Multiple tow trucks have targeted the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Miramar, where they've demanded cash payments from drivers:

Laurie Woodward Garcia whipped out her phone and began filming: She says the truck operator, working with the company Broward Towing, was circling the property, hitching up cars outside the lots, waiting for immigrants to sprint out of line and yell for their cars to be released, and then asking for cash upfront to let the vehicles go.

"It's a tiny, tiny lot," she says, adding there were clearly not enough spaces to accommodate the large line of people. "Some side streets do say 'No Parking,' but generally people are supposed to get a warning. This guy just backed up, put the fork down, and started lifting cars. People started running. They were shouting, 'I can give you money!' So people would pay him and he'd just go on to the next car."

She said she personally witnessed two people hand the truck driver $50 each.

In 2013, multiple drivers complained that Tremont Towing had misleading signage at a parking lot near Lincoln Road in Miami Beach:

At 17th Street and Lenox Avenue, just north of Lincoln Road, there's a parking lot that looks identical to scores of other nearby city-run lots. To pay, there's an electronic meter, just like all the city meters scattered around.

But here's the catch: The lot is privately owned, and if you pay in a nearby city meter instead of the one machine in the lot, Tre­mont Towing trucks are ready to pounce. The setup has led to scores of complaints and action by the city, which recently forced the owners to post more visible signs. "We had a rash of folks coming in [to complain]," Miami Beach Parking Director Saul Frances says.

4. Last year, New Times learned Beach Towing was charging a $40 fee each time it claimed its tow operators had to use a flatbed or dolly:

Allyn Alford says he noticed something was wrong when he arrived at Beach Towing's lot in Sunset Harbour to retrieve his vehicle and asked for his bill. The man behind the thick window, though, refused to hand it to him, Alford says.

"He slapped the bill against the glass so I could review it but said he wouldn't give me the bill until I gave him the money," Alford says.

Squinting through the thick glass, Alford spotted the separate $40 fee for using a dolly or flatbed. But because he had watched the tow truck take his car, he knew the driver hadn't used any separate device or flatbed to haul his ride away.

When Alford argued with the man behind the window about the fee, he told Alford to take it to court — which would cost more than the fee itself.

"It's so unfair. They're holding your car hostage, so you can't fight them. You just have to pay, but the fees aren't even real," Alford says.

And Beach Towing has repeatedly been caught violating Miami Beach's Towing Bill of Rights by demanding drivers pay cash to get their cars back:

This past Sunday, Alexandra Ferreira's teenage daughter took her first solo trip from Hollywood to Miami Beach for Art Basel. But it ended up costing the family a lot more than expected. The 16-year old parked her parents' car in a Citibank parking lot on Washington Avenue around 4 p.m. on Sunday (when the bank was closed and no customers were using the lot).

When she and a friend returned two hours later, it was gone.

The young woman, whom New Times is not naming at her parents' request, had to use her friend's parent's Uber account to get a ride to Beach Towing, where the two were then told they had to pay $283 in cash to get the car back, Ferreira told New Times. Miami Beach's Towing Bill of Rights requires tow companies to accept at least two forms of payment.
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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.