Colorado settles with towing company for $1 million. Customers will get some of the money

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Wyatt’s Towing sign in the parking lot of Felicia Jan Bryant’s apartment complex. Bryant got her money and her car back after it was towed away from there by Wyatt’s Towing. She was able to leverage a new state law aimed at reining in predatory towing practices, which is managed through the Department of Regulatory Agencies

Attorney General Phil Weiser has settled with Wyatts Towing for $1 million dollars following a months-long investigation that found “numerous violations of state law.” 

The state concluded the company towed thousands of cars without proper authorization, charged unlawful fees, and engaged in deceptive and unfair business practices. 

“Wyatts Towing used deceptive practices and broke the law to make a quick buck,” Weiser said in an announcement Thursday. “While consumers who knew to complain got their money back, those without the time, training, or awareness to act as their own lawyers got cheated out of their hard-earned money.”

The settlement includes an agreement that Wyatts will not collect $236,000 the company says it is owed by car owners. The company will pay $764,000 to the state, some of which will go back to consumers. The rest will be used for future fraud enforcement.   

Wyatts Towing did not respond to CPR News’ requests for comment.

“We recognize that this settlement does not completely address the range of concerns raised about misleading signage and other failings in the towing industry,” Weiser said. “We intend to continue to work with the legislature in its efforts toward continued improvements in our laws to protect consumers and hold accountable those who prey on vulnerable Coloradans.” 

The state says Wyatts towed cars between 2020 and 2023 without a towing permit required by state law. This included a period in September 2022 when Wyatts and affiliated companies towed hundreds of cars and collected $100,000 in fees and auction sales. The AG’s office claimed Wyatts violated the Towing Bill of Rights, which passed in 2021 and went into effect August 2022. 

Under the law, customers are allowed to retrieve their towed car after paying 15 percent of the towing fee, at a maximum of $60. Vehicle owners could then pay the rest of the debt later. But, the attorney general said the company deterred customers by not providing proper documents or requiring customers to enter into a loan agreement – and asking for personal information. Under the loans, it would then charge the highest interest rate possible without a lending license. 

According to investigators, Wyatts committed other violations, including:

  • Driving up storage fees for higher priced cars
  • Charging vehicle owners a $75 notification fee for a non-consensual tow, even though the state found no evidence the company sent the notifications through certified mail as required by state law. 
  • Keeping money from unlawful tows.
  • Selling vehicles in auctions and keeping the money when owners could not pay their fees as well as selling abandoned vehicles at excess prices and keeping the proceeds. Under the Towing Bill of Rights, companies are allowed to sell abandoned vehicles to pay for towing fees and costs, “but may not keep excess proceeds from the sale.” That extra money is supposed to go to the state and vehicle owners. 

Wyatts is owned by Towing Holdings, which contracts with private parking lots to gain exclusive towing rights. 

According to the settlement, Wyatts has agreed to a set of business practice changes:

  • Refunding fees and costs in future unlawful tows.
  • Not charging notification fees.
  • Not “imposing additional obligation” for consumers to retrieve their cars using the standard PUC form and paying 15 percent of towing costs.
  • Clearly document every vehicle sold or auctioned.
  • Conduct three audits a year to monitor “erroneous towing trends.”