So DC Public Works towed and lost your car? Welcome to the District

So on Monday, the front page of the Washington Post Local had an article about a woman whose car was towed and temporarily lost by DC Public Works. It was accompanied by the following dramatic photo:

Anguish Via Washington Post

My response? Shrug. Look, this happened to me for the 5000th time YESTERDAY. And who can forget the Great Corolla Caper of 2010? I don’t know, maybe I am just worn down by the system, but having DC Public Works move your car and lose it seems like a rite of passage for a DC resident. For those who are uninitiated, here’s what happens:

  • You park your car in the morning, happy that you snagged such a clutch spot. As a newer DC resident, you do not yet view this parking serendipity with the necessary level of suspicion. Rookie mistake.
  • You come out to retrieve something from your car and find that your car has vanished. Yes, vanished. You think your car was stolen (it wasn’t).
  • If you have violated a signed law, you probably kick the sign pole, curse the heavens then call the number listed (mistake). 90% of the time this number is just the DMV number. You will be lead through a labyrinthine mess of numbers, transfers and menus. Save your effort, just call 202-541-6083. All DC tows, regardless of reason, redirect there. Trust.
  • If there is no sign, take a deep breath, your car has been “courtesy towed.” Upside, you didn’t get a ticket (yet). Downside, the likelihood of DC locating your car has automatically fallen by 50%.

  • In either case, you will be told conflicting information about your car’s whereabouts. Breathe. The best advice I can give here is as follows: if your car is ticketed and towed during peak driving times, they will likely tow it to some other street. They don’t want to drive to the impound lot during rush hour. During this time, you have a 1/25 chance of them actually knowing where it is. I would probably wait a couple hours and then call back. By then, they usually have towed it to a lot
  • If its courtesy towed, just keep calling until you get an answer. Courtesy tows never go to the lot, you’ve got to find them on the streets.
  • If it is in the impound lot, pick it up ASAP. If not, you run the risk of them towing it to Blue Plains. This is a massive hassle, so just leave work and pick it up. The internet gives conflicting hours, but the sign on the 15th Street NE lot door says 8-6:30, I would go with that.
  • After you finally get your car, you will be told that the confusion was somehow your fault. I have seen this happen multiple times. Accusations that you got your license plate wrong, your car color wrong etc. Honestly, don’t argue. You will never win and it will put you in a lousier mood when you find out you have a $100 towing fee in addition to the ticket. Just go home

A possible place your car could be*

It’s a sad story, but it’s reality. Lexus lady was just another person initiated into the system. And yes, I feel for her (save the handicapped element). However, rather than a headline, what these stories should warrant should be a letter to City Council on fixing this mess. Cars get moved, they get lost in the system and the customer gets blamed. The Great Corolla Caper of 2010 was a courtesy tow in which I only found the car through pure luck. Sadly it seems to be the rule, not the exception.

Happy Car Free Day!

*thanks to the Daily Mail for the pool photo (yes the 2nd photo is from the UK)

11 thoughts on “So DC Public Works towed and lost your car? Welcome to the District

  1. I read that WaPo article. That story is beyond ridic. As was the picture, I might add. I mean, losing a woman’s car while she goes to a fancy, uber-expensive gala? Of course, I did find it odd that no one questioned the obviously illegal use of her husband’s handicapped tag.

  2. this happened to one of my friends a few years ago. worse for him, he had out-of-state tags. DPW wrote his tag number down wrong, so there was absolutely no record of his car anywhere in the system. he reported the car stolen, the insurance company filed the claim, he got a new car… then one day he walked right past the old one, which had been courtesy towed 10 blocks from his place. it had been sitting there for three months.

    gotta love DC.

  3. magnolia – that is so terrible. I feel for your friend. Honestly, it’s what happens if you take the inadequacies of the system to their logical conclusion. I was about 2 days short of reporting ironcityspy’s vehicle as stolen earlier this year.

  4. Where would we be with out motor cars eh? Walking! and that would never do. I have just been looking at the new 2011 Mondeo, it seems to be great and I am seriously contemplating getting myself one this coming week.

  5. I called 202-541-6083, and let it ring for over an hour and no one answers! Then finally they answer, and said they have no record of it!

  6. Got my car towed on M Street near Wisconsin Ave in Georgetown last night. I didn’t see the sign that said no parking from 4pm-6:30pm. My fault I suppose (though the 6 different street signs all conflicted with each other about who can park there and when). I called 311 and the number on another sign – to lots of different recordings which gave another number to call. It noted that I’d need my car license plate number, which I do not have memorized (it’s new) and didn’t have on me, so I just accepted that I’d have to get it at home and started walking down M Street toward the Metro to get home. Suddenly in front of me, I see a car that looks a lot like mine parked on Pennsylvania Ave at Penn and M Street. I hit the clicker on my key, and *beep beep*, it’s my car!!! With $150 worth of tickets on it (at this point, I don’t care about the money). I accidentally found my car! I’m new to DC and had never EVER heard of relocation towing before. I figured I’d have to wait for it to get in the system and then go pick it up at some tow yard. Thank goodness I didn’t catch a cab home. Just by sheer luck did I walk that way toward the Metro and stumbled upon my car. Thank you Jeevus! I really like DC, but man that process sucks. What if something had happened to my car in its new location? Is this DC’s way of decreasing traffic – by making our cars “disappear?” Sigh.

  7. Thank you for this article, because here’s what happened to me:

    Rookie parking mistake in DC – a spot close to a stop sign. In New York and Chicago, you can squeeze in right by street signs and honey badger don’t care. Apparently, not so in DC. So when I walked in the bright sunshine to get my car the next morning, it was simply gone. My first thought is that it was stolen. But why? Then, that it was towed. But where? There was no sign anywhere.

    I called 911, who redirected me to the Dept. of Public Works. The woman who answered put the phone down and yelled out to the room, “Anyone tow a navy blue car with New York plates?” No. And the vehicle didn’t come up on this site, the Towed Vehicle Locator –

    Then I began googling anything and everything, and found this article, and learned about this magical “courtesy towing.”

    At this point I’d called DC Public Works 3 times and each time was told to keep calling back in 15 minutes. It was clear that I could spend my whole day like this, so I decided to go looking for my car.

    Voila. Half a block away, there it was. Two tickets – $100 for towing, $50 for parking too close to a stop sign.

    I got in my car and drove away, fast!

    Oh, DC.

    My advice thus, to those who don’t see a sign by the place you stopped: you may have been courtesy towed. Go look for your car.

  8. Pingback: When You’ve Tempted the Parking Gods, You’ve Tempted the Parking Gods « floWord

  9. THANK YOU FOR THIS POST!!!!!!!!!!! My car was just GONE this morning and of course public works had NO CLUE where it might be and no record of it being towed. It was just a few blocks away with $155 worth of tickets on it. They parked it at a METER so of course I got unpaid meter tickets. I never EVER would have found it if not for this post! It never occurred to me to LOOK for my car, so thank you! Kind of sad I had to type in “car towed in DC” and find this 2 yr old posting instead of the government sending me in the right direction, but I guess that’s just DC! Thanks again!

  10. Pingback: Dude where’s my car? « thejazzyolive

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