April 16th, 2015

Years ago when we lived in Old Town Alexandria, our condo complex had a towing company that patrolled the lot for people without HOA stickers on their windshield. One night they towed my wife’s car. Which did have a sticker.

I called the company about this the next morning and politely asked them to bring the car back. They refused. They refused, even, to release the car without us paying the tow charge. They insisted that if the car had been towed, even if it had been towed in error, we still had to pay to get it out of the lot. They were not pleasant about it. Or even apologetic. I got the distinct sense that this was not a customer-oriented industry.

You can see why that might be true. A towing company has customers only in the very loosest sense. They have contracts with the controlling entities whose property they patrol, but these contracts typically involve very little money. Instead, the contracts merely act as a kind of letter of marque giving the towing companies the ability to make money from the people they tow. So the towing companies aren’t responsible to the parties with whom they interact most intimately, and are only vaguely responsible to the controlling parties, who tend to be institutions and not individuals. You can understand why towing companies behave as if they are a law unto themselves.

My story only has a happy ending because I was president of the HOA at the time. I had our management company’s GC call the towing company to inform them they were in breach of contract. At which point they relented on forcing us to pay to get the car back. But they still insisted that my wife had to pick it up.

So she goes out to Arlington to get her car and the asshat running the lot is, well, let’s just say it’s a very unpleasant experience. My wife is a saint who just wanted to get out of the situation. Any normal person would have gone somewhere in the vein of #TeamBritt.
A couple weeks later, the company started towing another car from the HOA lot, which also had a properly displayed sticker. But this time the owner came out and confronted the tow-truck diver as he was in the act. The guy refused to put the car down–he insisted that “company policy” dictated that once a car was hitched to the truck, it could not be released for any reason. They nearly came to blows; fortunately someone had called the cops and the police showed up and forced the tow-truck driver to release the car, telling him that was he was doing was essentially stealing.
Our HOA killed the towing contract at our next meeting.
So maybe Britt McHenry was being unwarrantedly abusive and vile. Or maybe she was responding to some deeply unpleasant people who had caused her material harm with total impunity.

  1. Moe Lane » ‘Lincoln Park Pirates’ (*Not* the song of the night). April 16, 2015 at 7:25 pm

    […] actually something that I was reminded of, thanks to this Britt McHenry thing. I don’t have much of an opinion on the subject otherwise, sorry. I wasn’t […]

  2. REPLY
  3. Nedward April 16, 2015 at 7:44 pm

    My favorite is when they send trucks out to roam at night looking for stranded motorists (which is why when you call roadside assistance dispatch, you then call back to find out the name and # of the tow *they* called). Such a great capper on any evening of car trouble, to find they won’t release your vehicle unless you pay them $200 up front, and who is this “AAA” of which you speak

  4. REPLY
  5. freddie April 16, 2015 at 8:42 pm

    what the fuck are you talking about? link?

  6. REPLY
  7. JEFE April 16, 2015 at 10:05 pm

    This doesn’t nearly go far enough.

    Here in Philadelphia, legally parked cars are towed off of public streets. The city does not require towers to take pictures of towed cars being parked illegally. Therefore, car owners bear the burden of proving they parked their cars legally, which is absurd — who thinks they need to take time-stamped pictures of legally parked cars?

    Even when owners can prove their cars were legally parked, the city denies their claims and charges them additional processing fees. Because towing revenue fills the coffers. And so do court cases.

    Pure and simple, this is state-facilitated theft. And Philly is probably not unique.

  8. REPLY
  9. Iowegian April 16, 2015 at 10:12 pm

    In southwest Iowa, we suffer from rural counties that deputize friends and family in the towing business during winter storms. While they’re supposed to only take vehicles stranded on the road, we’ve had cars pulled out of driveways as far off the road as 100 yards.

    Better yet, they set their own rates. Last time we had one stolen out of our driveway, it was $155 for a 2 mile tow. I have no idea what percentage they kick back to the sheriff’s office…

  10. REPLY
  11. JONATHAN LAST ON TOWING COMPANY ABUSES. They do often tow legally parked cars and demand ransom. I… | CRAGIN MEDIA April 16, 2015 at 10:20 pm

    […] LAST ON TOWING COMPANY ABUSES. They do often tow legally parked cars and demand ransom. I think they should be treated as thieves. […]

  12. REPLY
  13. Hunter April 16, 2015 at 10:33 pm

    Me thinks you paint with much too broad a brush. There are certainly predatory towing companies out there taking advantage of situations as you describe. I have driven tow trucks for over twenty years and logged over a million and a half miles providing services to the public. There are good and bad customers also. We often get the rap for a poor experience with a garage that we have no affiliation with. That said, most tow services provide quality services at competitive rates. There is way too much competition out there to have a bad reputation and survive very long in business. Please don’t lump all of together.

  14. REPLY
  15. Richard Molpus April 16, 2015 at 11:11 pm

    In Dallas, Texas about 10 years ago, a woman had her impounded car released by a city Judge. She went to the tow lot, which refused the judge’s release order.

    She returned to the Judge, with tear filled eyes saying “They won’t let me have my car!”

    The judge sent his bailiffs to the lot, who brought the lot owner in IN CHAINS and LEG IRONS for a polite chat about obeying Judges and their orders.

    The woman got her car back, and the number of complaints against Dallas towing companies dropped for the next six months.

  16. REPLY
  17. M. Thompson April 16, 2015 at 11:16 pm

    Happened to me a few months back at my now fiancee’s place. Plenty of space and the four marked ‘guest’ spots were filled, but they towed me on a Sunday morning. And the young woman who left few body parts unpierced was just unpleasantly smug. Enjoyed every bit of power she had.

  18. REPLY
  19. RP April 16, 2015 at 11:24 pm

    Back in the 90s I lived in an apartment complex where any car that appeared “out of service” was towed and held for ransom. My car was towed twice in 10 days. Both times the tire stem had been slashed so the flat tire was the reason for the tow. A neighbor saw the tow driver slash a tire on a different car about 5:00 a.m. one morning.

    We complained to everyone we could including the local and county police and the state attorney general even. We were told there was nothing they could do without catching them in the act and we should sue. No lawyers were interested though. We called every TV station and newspaper in town as well but they said it wasn’t a story.

    Three years later a local reporter had his car towed outside a popular local bar and restaurant. It was held for several hundred dollars. Suddenly there was a multi-part local news story over several nights about towing company abuses.

    So the key to solving this problem is that it just has to happen to someone important and not us working class rabble. That was my takeaway from it.

  20. REPLY
  21. Virginia April 17, 2015 at 12:22 am

    When I lived in Boston in the 1990s, they frequently towed legally parked cars. My roommate got angry at the towing company for taking her car in such a circumstance. When she picked up the car at the tow lot, the windows had been smashed. The tow company insisted the windows had been smashed on the street from which it had been towed.

    “So you swept the broken glass up off the street, brought it along with the car, and redistributed it around the car?” She asked.

    They shrugged. She still had to pay. You can’t beat them.

  22. REPLY
  23. HOA Director April 17, 2015 at 12:44 am

    Our HOA has an iron-clad policy: no tow without WRITTEN authorization by ONE duly appointed and experienced Director; only after the issuance of two (2) tickets at least 96 hours apart. The director must be present at the tow and all survey records leading to the tow kept for at least one year. For every 200 tickets given, we need tow only one vehicle.

  24. REPLY
  25. Adam April 17, 2015 at 9:46 am

    I lived in North Arlington for 14 years, and both Advance Towing and Al’s Towing are flat out criminals and unbelievable assholes to boot. The problem with Britt’s reaction was that her insults sucked, not that she deigned to hurl them while fighting to retrieve her illegally stolen car. Shame on ESPN.

  26. REPLY
  27. Jeff Peterson April 17, 2015 at 11:18 am

    In the early 90s, my ex and I were living in Connecticut. She was several months pregnant with our second child when her brother flew in for a visit. I was at work when it was time for him to catch his return flight, so she drove him to LaGuardia. Just after the drop-off, our oldest (then 2 1/2) declared an imminent need for relief, so she pulled into a gas station and asked if the boy could use their restroom; the guy at the counter told her they didn’t have a public toilet but there was one right across the street in the concourse. Thus directed, she tromps the boy across the street, and when she returns (10 minutes, tops), the car has been towed 15 feet and locked within the station’s security fence. Counter guy tells her there are no unattended vehicles permitted on the lot, and it’ll be $150 or so to get the car back. She protests to no avail (“But you suggested I walk across the street! You didn’t mention towing my vehicle!” etc.), then surrenders and starts writing a check, her eyes moistening as she does so. “Yeah, they always cry,” says Counter Guy to the other employee on duty. ((Delighted you could get your wheels back without having to pay the bloodsuckers.)

  28. REPLY
  29. Steve April 17, 2015 at 1:23 pm

    The problem with what Britt did was that she pulled her employer into the fight. She tried to use her well known employer (ESPN) and her own celebrity (she’s part of the on-air staff) as a cudgel in her (possibly understandable) argument with the towing operator. ESPN (presumably) had nothing to do with the parking infraction that got her towed. Her ESPN employee card isn’t a get-out-of-parking-jail card, nor would ESPN want to be saddled with a reputation of litigiousness because their employees keep using “ESPN” and “I’m going to sue you” in the same breath. That earned her the suspension.

  30. REPLY
  31. Tom April 17, 2015 at 2:17 pm

    Good article. Predatory tow truck companies are truly “asshats”. I give Britt a pass.

  32. REPLY
  33. Frederic April 17, 2015 at 2:43 pm

    An HOA-sanctioned towing company once towed our minivan from our own driveway. The vehicle was sticking out into the street slightly because we had parked it hastily while we went inside to gather some things before heading out again. Yes, that means we were home at the time of the theft.

    Unfortunately, neither my wife nor I was president of the HOA, so ours was not a happy ending. Even though my wife could probably teach Britt a thing or two about “speaking truth to power,” as it were, her efforts did not bear fruit.

    I really feel for Britt. Some things just push the wrong buttons. And there’s probably a good reason that video was edited so that we heard only her comments.

  34. REPLY
  35. Does There Have To Be a Winner? | Ed Driscoll April 17, 2015 at 2:45 pm

    […] Last of the Weekly Standard knows.  He describes himself as being on “#TeamBritt” if only because of how awful the sort of company who towed McHenry’s car likely […]

  36. REPLY
  37. RICK NYS April 17, 2015 at 3:07 pm

    When I had a new Mustang, years, back, I carried about 12 feet of marine chain. When I parked it, even legally, I would chain it to the meter. Got tiresome. You know what would be funny, would be to ride a bicycle to the impound lot at 3 a.m. No plate to photograph. Then take a top of the line U lock and lock their fence shut so they couldn’t leave. Just saying.

  38. REPLY
  39. Ron Weiss April 17, 2015 at 3:32 pm

    Even if towing companies are pirates, that is not an excuse to be atom bomb level rude to a simple employee. She got personal with that lady. What’s her name, Britt, should have asked to talk to a manager or written a letter. People who would justify that rudeness must be young or far too self-absorbed to realize that sort of rudeness and misplaced anger eats at their own souls.

  40. REPLY
  41. Charlie April 17, 2015 at 3:35 pm

    I wasn’t aware of how crooked towing companies can be, never having had a car towed (other than voluntarily, for mechanical reasons). Still, I have a problem with your premise for this article, because: 1. Ms. McHenry says nothing in the video about an unjust reason for her car being towed (though, granted, those comments could have been edited out by an unscrupulous tow company); 2. Ms. McHenry says nothing in her own defense in her subsequent statement, and judging from the restraint she lacked onsite, I doubt she could possibly hold back if the tow company had pulled anything underhanded.

    Unless that woman she was verbally abusing was an owner of the towing company, and the towing company pulled a fast one on her, there was no excuse for an adult to say the things Ms. McHenry said. She’s an immature, self-centered, narcissistic “baby girl.”

  42. REPLY
  43. Cara C April 17, 2015 at 3:43 pm

    Britt was abusive and vile, attacking the employee’s job, education level, and looks. This is uncivil and inappropriate no matter how frustrated one is. Britt repeatedly lorded her so-called superiority over the person she was dealing with in the most condescending and obnoxious of ways. This didn’t indicate frustration with a corrupt towing system, but some serious ego issues.

  44. REPLY
  45. I hate ADVANCED TOWING! April 17, 2015 at 4:10 pm

    Lived in Rosslyn (North Arlington) for 6 years. I liked the area and had a great time, but anytime anybody asks me about moving to the area, I warn them about Advanced Towing. The most despicable towing company I have come across. I have no idea how they are not in prison. I don’t feel sorry for this lady in the video ONE BIT. I was once towed by Advanced (illegally BTW) and had to pay $200. I first called the cops and they said “sorry, we don’t deal with that”. I then showed up at the yard and said they had no right to tow my vehicle—I was parked in a metered spot that I added money to, but the meter was BROKEN. This same attendant in the video laughed as I was telling her that I payed but the meter was broken. At first I thought she would say something like “Yeah, sorry about that, some of the meters get stuck and have to be serviced.” NOPE! When I finished she said “too bad! pay up or get the f— out!” Straight up despicable.

    Once saw a guy get towed outside my apartment. Advanced used a slim jim to break open his door to release the ebrake. I started videotaping cause I first thought he was a criminal. He then flipped me off and yelled “film this Mother F—-!” I had not said a word.

    Its bad enough these guys are predators, but what makes it worse is their “I can do whatever I want” attitude. I guarantee that they are sitting right now high-fiving eachother over the positive press they are getting in light of this ESPN reporter getting raked over the coals.

  46. REPLY
  47. Steve Sailer April 20, 2015 at 1:52 am

    Here’s the late Steve Goodman’s 1972 song “Lincoln Park Pirates” about a towing company on the North Side of Chicago:



  48. REPLY
  49. CKO April 22, 2015 at 10:02 pm

    Sorry, Jonathan, but McHenry is unquestionably the villain here.