INDEPENDENCE, Mo. -- It was sad end to a nice vacation for Elizabeth Hicks. The day she returned was the day she discovered her car had been stolen from her Independence home.
Although Hicks said she immediately filed a police report, another month passed before she found her car.
The news arrived in a letter from Pro Tow, an Overland Park towing company.
“We get a notification from Pro Tow that if you don't come and recover this vehicle, we are going to auction it off in a week or two,” Hicks said.
Pro Tow wanted $1,600 from Hicks before it would release her car from the impound lot. Hicks said she felt like a victim all over again.
“The storage fee is ridiculous because I had no way of knowing it was there, and I was actively looking for it,” she said.
Pro Tow had towed her car on Sept. 27 after getting a call from a Missouri business complaining that a car had been abandoned in its parking lot.
Pro Tow notified police that it had towed the car, but police never notified Hicks.
But Pro Tow also should have notified Hicks, said Nate Pare, the director of Kansas City’s tow lot. Pare said tow companies are required to notify car owners within 10 business days.
“Anything outside of that is a violation of state law,” Pare said.
So why did Pro Tow wait nearly a month before sending Hicks a letter?
Pro Tow Manager Kevin Schorgl said his reading of the law is that only tow companies with an online VIN verification system must notify car owners quickly.
Schorgl said Pro Tow doesn't use that free system. Instead Pro Tow writes a letter to the Missouri Department of Revenue and then waits for the state to write back, telling the company who owns the car.
That process can take several weeks. The whole time Schorgl is waiting, Pro Tow is adding on daily storage fees.
Pare said he had never heard of a tow company failing to use the online system, which can verify a VIN within 90 seconds.
“That makes no sense,” he said.
Here’s another problem: Missouri law specifically forbids a tow company from picking up an abandoned car in Missouri and taking it to another state. The vehicle has to stay in Missouri.
That means Pro Tow broke the law when it moved Hick’s car to its lot in Kansas. Pro Tow said it was unaware that Missouri law prevented it from transporting abandoned vehicles across state lines. Schorgl, the manager, insisted it’s a common practice for many Kansas tow companies.
But here’s the good news. Pro Tow agreed to give the car back for free, much to the surprise of a very grateful Hicks.