Audit: San Jose Should Slash Vehicle Impound, Towing Fees

In San Jose, getting a towed car back after one day of storage costs $639.50. That’s about 50 percent more than what San Diego and Los Angeles charge, and pricier than the rates in San Francisco. An audit headed to the San Jose City Council on Tuesday recommends slashing some towing and impound fees and subsidizing rates for low-income drivers.

According to a report from the office of City Auditor Sharon Erickson, the San Jose Police Department calculated its exorbitant fees based on the assumption that sworn staff take about two hours and 20 minutes to process each vehicle. But team of auditors found that non-sworn Department of Transportation employees whose time is about half as expensive as that of police officers are the ones doing the bulk of the work—and that it only takes about 35 minutes per car.

By those estimates, the city should only charge $142 to release a car from impound. Auditors recommend cutting the vehicle release fee—one of several costs to reclaim an impounded vehicle—from $292 to $142.

But even though could be cost-prohibitive for low-income residents, especially as more and more people are living out of their cars amid a historic housing affordability crisis.

“San Jose’s relatively high fees to recover vehicles can have an adverse impact on vehicle owners,” the audit notes. “Vehicle owners may be more likely to abandon their vehicle in the tow yard if the cost exceeds the value of their vehicle.”

From Jan. 1 to June 27 last year, the average car impounded by the city for violating the 72-hour parking rule was 20 years old. Just a few days of storage would cost more than the value of the vehicle, and losing a means of transportation could ruin lives.

“The loss of a vehicle in that case could impact a vehicle owner’s mobility and even employment,” the audit states. “On the other hand, if a vehicle owner does pay for all fees incurred, it can pose a significant financial burden.”

While the California Highway Patrol sets fees for towing and storage, cities enact charges based on local cost-recovery policies. San Francisco adjusted its towing fees this past year by giving low-income car owners and first-time offenders a break. As of July, S.F. charges $283.75 to release a car, $200.75 if it’s a driver’s first violation and nothing at all for those who qualify as low income.

This article has been updated. 

More from the San Jose City Council agenda for September 25, 2018:

  • The council will consider authorizing the Mineta San Jose International Airport to waive certain fees and offer marketing support to airlines bringing new routes to SJC. “The result will be a higher tolerance for initial route startup risks by airlines, while increasing chances to gain long term maturity and associated profitability,” Director of Aviation John Aitken wrote in a memo. He clarified that the program is not a subsidy to any airline and remains “revenue positive” during temporary fee waiver periods because of the ongoing collection of other fees for things like offices and baggage space.
  • The city will consider chipping in $1 million so the San Jose Stage Company can buy new theater equipment and seating for its future new facility.
  • After weeks of delay, the city will discuss its waste-hauling contracts, which have been severely impacted by China’s crackdown on recycling imports.

WHAT: City Council meets
WHEN: 1:30pm Tuesday
WHERE: City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose
INFO: City Clerk, 408.535.1260

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.


  1. I can already see more driveways will being blocked, a lot more blight (as a result of abandoned vehicles) on the rise and the further promotion of irresponsibility, by our own city leaders (should they approve of this), will continue to be the norm.

    • Because since impounding would be less expensive, people would park illegally more often since impound would now be a relative deal? ???

  2. Why were sworn officers doing this work in the first place? get them on the streets mand leave the administrative stuff to non sworn officers.

  3. When my stolen van was found, police had it sent to impound for a few hours until I arrived. This lead to me having to pay to pay $350 in impound fees.

    • Anthony thanks for that information. So it was $350 and not $639.50? How long ago was that?

      Thanks to a IPA recommendation, SJPD will call victim’s of stolen vehicles so they can pick up there vehicles. However, if they can’t come right away then the vehicle will have to be impounded for safe keeping. I think that is what happened with you.

  4. From the audit:
    “It is also assumed that a sergeant spends 15 minutes supervising the impound.”

    What? Where do they get that? They just assume? How much assuming is going on in this audit?

    The City Council need s to send this Audit back just like they did with the IPA.

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