Parking Ticket 101: Tow Tips
What To Do When You Get Towed By The City
Where the hell did my car go?!?
Your mind races with panic when you come back to the spot where your car used to be just minutes ago.
Did I forget where I parked? Was my car stolen? Am I just confused?
The most likely answer is your car just got towed.
What Do I Do Now?
The first thing to do is not panic.
Call 311 and talk to an operator. Tell them you think your car got towed. They’ll most likely connect you with someone with Streets & Sanitation or at an auto pound. Give them your license plate information and they will be able to give you the location of where your car is now incarcerated.
You can also search for towed vehicles at the City of Chicago’s Vehicle Search website.
Sometimes, if the tow just occurred, it may take a few minutes for the tow truck to get back to the auto pound, the paperwork filed and the car is added to the database.
Even though you’re anxious to pay the city $160 to get your car back, take a few moments to survey the scene to see if you really should have been towed.
Are there permanent or temporary signs prohibiting parking? Was it rush hour parking (7-9AM or 4-6 PM in most cases)? Is there construction going on or a special event happening? Were you parked in a tow zone, in front of a fire hydrant, in a loading zone or handicapped space? Try to figure out why you were towed.
If signs were not posted correctly or there were no signs at all and you know you were parked legally, whip out your cell phone or camera and take photos of the parking environment if you can. Document the signs or lack thereof and perhaps some storefronts and/or street signs to establish your location. Take notes if necessary.
If your car was towed improperly, this is the best time to document the situation if possible.
Other possible reasons for a tow is if your car has been booted. If you haven’t had the boot removed within 24 hours, your car can be towed. Another possibility is someone thought your car was abandoned and it was towed for that reason.
Dude, Where’s My Car?
If your car is towed downtown, you might as well start walking over to the auto pound located on Lower Randolph just east and below Millennium Park. That’s where your car probably is.
If your car got towed from a different part of the city outside of downtown, it could end up at any of three other auto pounds.
Here’s a listing of all non-police Chicago auto pounds.
Central Auto Pound (Downtown): 500 E Wacker Drive. (Lower Level)
O’Hare International Airport Auto Pound: O’Hare Airport (Remote Lot E) at Zemke & Mannheim Rd.
South Side Auto Pound: 103rd and Doty Avenue
West Side Auto Pound: 701 N. Sacramento Avenue
Fun & Games At The Auto Pound
When you get to the auto pound, be prepared to wait in line.
It could be a long time, so bring a book or something else to read. It’s not uncommon to wait for over an hour or even two hours if things are really backed up at the pound.
Sometimes Streets & Sanitation tow trucks and private tow trucks contracted by the city, will bring a whole flock of cars in at the same time, which means you’re going to be waiting a while.
Make sure you have your driver’s license and either cash or a credit card to pay your $160 to the friendly person behind the 2″ of bullet proof glass.
You will also have to produce the vehicle registration for the car.
If your registration is in the vehicle locked behind the barbed wire topped fence, you will have to surrender your driver’s license before you will be allowed to locate your car and retrieve this necessary documentation.
If you’re not the registered owner of the vehicle, be prepared for your painful experience to get that much more excruciating.
You’re going to have to reach out to the registered owner and ask them to quickly type up a letter with the following information:
- Registered owner’s full name and address
- Make, model, year of vehicle
- License plate and VIN# if possible
- A note giving their permission to you (your name) to deal with the auto pound and to remove the vehicle from the premises
IMPORTANT: The registered owner must also have this letter notarized at a Currency Exchange.
This notarized letter must be faxed or brought to the auto pound where their car is under lock and key.
If the vehicle is registered within Chicago city limits and you do not have a current Chicago city sticker, you will need to run out and get one before the nice people at the auto pound will release your car.
The quickest solution to this is to find the closest Currency Exchange who will sell you a $75 city sticker with an added $40 late fee. The Currency Exchange charges a paltry $5 service fee to get your city sticker–a deal considering the situation.
Fighting Your Tow
If you want to contest your hearing, you need to do so at the pound where you had been towed.
Talk to a manager and they will help you pick a date and time to have your hearing. Try to schedule your hearing while you’re picking up your car. Otherwise, you have just 14 days from the date of your tow to schedule your hearing. Because auto pounds are open 24 hours a day, just go when it’s most convenient to you but make sure you get back down to the auto pound before your two weeks is up.
At your hearing, which is conducted at Central Hearings Facility at 400 W. Superior, the first thing you’ll do is speak to an attorney from the city. They will show you their documentation and evidence and you will have a chance to share your story and evidence with them.
Sometimes, if your evidence is strong enough, the city’s attorney will just ask to have the tow dismissed and your money refunded.
If the attorney feels the city’s case is strong enough, you will proceed to the hearing where the Administrative Law Officer will act essentially as a judge and hear from both you and the lawyer representing the city.
This is where aggrieved drivers get to make their case, tell their story and present photos and other evidence to try to convince the hearing officer you were wrongfully towed. The city will try to poke holes in your story and make their case. Ultimately, the ALO will render a decision. If the city wins, the tow stands. If you win, the city has to refund your money. Although it can take four to eight weeks to see the check.
In the photo above, Expired Meter reader “Matlock” successfully argued the tow zone signs restricting parking were not displayed properly as they were wrapped around a pole and therefore unreadable. In addition no other properly posted signs were posted nearby. “Matlock” says the hearing officer agreed, ruled in his favor and refunded his money.
GEEK TIP: If another person was with you and can also back up your story, try to bring them to your hearing. If they can’t come, ask them to write a letter to bring to the hearing explaining what happened. Make sure they have it notarized so it’s considered sworn testimony.
Contesting The Tow Ticket
Most likely, due to being towed, there is probably a ticket associated with your fun outing to the auto pound.
If you somehow filed to contest the ticket right away, you may be able to fight the ticket at the same time as the tow hearing. If your violation is in the Department of Revenue database, then you can fight it immediately after your tow hearing.
If the ticket isn’t in the system, you’ll have to wait until you get your Hearing Notice in the mail.
GEEK TIP: If you prevail and beat the tow, use the decision by that Administrative Law Officer as evidence you’re not liable for the parking ticket at your hearing.