In the last several years, AutoReturn has become a serious player in municipal towing. If you have not heard of them, you probably will soon as AutoReturn now operates in several major cities, including Kansas City, Missouri. AutoReturn markets itself as the solution to the municipal tow industry’s problems of long tow wait times, vehicle damage, property loss, low levels of reporting and accountability, conflicts of interest, and plenty of unhappy customers. AutoReturn purportedly cures these issues by implementing increased oversight to each city it serves, which reduces response times and increases city and customer satisfaction.
Tow companies working for AutoReturn have varying opinions of the setup. However, one thing is for certain: the presence of AutoReturn, or companies like AutoReturn, present several novel legal and factual issues for the towing industry. Much has been written in these blogs and elsewhere about Michael McGovern’s “point to” test which requires a tow company to “point” to a legitimate legal right in order to have a legitimate claim to serve on a tow rotation. AutoReturn complicates the point to test because there is another player in the game. For example, tow companies in Kansas City towing for AutoReturn no longer contract with the city. Instead, AutoReturn contracts with the City. The tow companies, which are selected by AutoReturn, are AutoReturn’s subcontractors. Therefore, there is no contractual relationship between the tow companies and the city.
Further complicating the process is the fact that companies wanting to receive police calls must have both a city license and also a subcontract with AutoReturn. In Kansas City, a company cannot have one without the other. Complaints about tow companies are often simultaneously addressed by both the city and AutoReturn and both the city and AutoReturn both profit from the arrangement. With all of the above, sometimes, it is difficult to determine what exactly AutoReturn is? Government? Private company? Or somewhere in between?
With all of the aforementioned changes, the landscape of towing in Kansas City has been radically altered. Wreck-chasing seems to be down and the regulation of tow companies is up. Tow companies performing municipal towing must have verifiable addresses, worker’s compensation insurance, and are subject to regular audits. If a citizen (or a tow lawyer) needs to make contact with someone to discuss these issues, AutoReturn has an individual that can be easily reached. All of these changes are good. Meanwhile, AutoReturn has become a fixture not only in our local towing community but also seems to be an attendee at about every tow show I’ve attended throughout the country. No matter what personal opinions I may have about the concept, AutoReturn, it seems, is here to stay.