Car theft victim slapped with $1,700 tow bill to get car back

EDMONDS, Wash. -- When an Edmonds woman found out her stolen car was recovered, she was thrilled -- until the $1,700 bill came to get her car back from the tow lot.

The car was stolen on April 1, and Judy Sparks just recently got it back.

"I was missing my cane," Sparks said. "Thank goodness they left something."

Thieves ditched Sparks' car in Seattle. It sat on private property and finally wound up in a tow lot.

The company says it notified Judy within 24 hours, but weeks passed before she called.

During that time, she racked up a $1,700 bill.

"I'm the victim," she said. "I didn't steal my car. I'm not the one parked illegally to getting it towed."

It's an issue the Problem Solvers documented through the year and the city tackled with new legislation. Starting in January, there's a price cap -- tow operators can't charge more than $183 for a tow that takes an hour or less. And storage is capped at $31 a day.

"It's consumer protection," said Seattle City Councilman Nick Licata. "You always have consumer protection. This isn't a question of charging a $1.50 instead of a dollar for a hamburger. This is a question of abusing your leverage in the market to create real harm to people."

The tow operator wouldn't speak on camera, but said his prices are fair to cover his property, insurance and other operating expenses. He says he'll challenge the city's cap when it kicks in.

Sparks hopes the city will do even more -- including establishing a victim's fund, so when someone loses their car in a crime, they don't feel taken again by the towing bill.

Spark's brother paid her towing bill for her Wednesday, and the operator says he knocked about $400 off the bill.

"I'll go surprise my daughter or somebody, and say, 'Hey I got my car!' " Sparks said.