Investigation Finds Some Tow Companies Stalking Lots and Using Spotters to Haul Away Cars Within Minutes

Inside Edition found one tow truck driver stalking a parking lot and swooping in to take away cars.

Are some tow truck drivers lurking near private parking lots, waiting to haul off your car?

Inside Edition received a tip from a viewer about a particular towing operation patrolling a McDonald’s parking lot in Brooklyn, New York. The tipster said he repeatedly saw cars getting hauled away within minutes of drivers leaving their vehicle to run a quick errand.

In that McDonald’s lot a sign declares that if you’re not a McDonald’s customer your vehicle may be towed if “you leave the premises for any reason or length of time."

So Inside Edition left cars as bait in the McDonald’s parking lot and set up cameras to see what happened.

The moment an Inside Edition producer parked his car and walked off to another store, a tow truck pulled up and hooked his vehicle. It took just three minutes for the vehicle to be hauled away.

When another Inside Edition producer parked her car in the McDonald’s lot, the same tow truck driver pulled up just eight minutes later and towed her car off the lot.

So how did the driver know when to strike? He was lurking around the corner waiting for a call from a spotter inside the McDonalds who was watching for improperly parked cars.

The tow truck driver works for Cyclone City, Inc., a towing outfit also based in Brooklyn. On the days our producers’ cars were towed, records show Cyclone City was operating with an expired license.

Cyclone City also has a history of complaints from angry drivers who say they were overcharged after their cars were unfairly towed, according to the New York Department of Consumer Affairs.

Video obtained by Inside Edition actually shows the same tow truck driver lashing out at a motorist who was filming him over a disputed tow from the same McDonald’s lot.

That's where Inside Edition Chief Investigative Correspondent Lisa Guerrero spoke to the tow truck driver.

"Are you a predatory tow company?” she asked. 

“No, we are not,” he said. 

“We've seen you tow car after car after car within minutes,” she said.

“Yes,” he replied. 

When Inside Edition showed up at Cyclone City’s impound lot to reclaim one of the towed cars, the same tow truck driver called the cops.

“So right now they're holding our car for hostage while we're waiting for the police to show up,” Guerrero said. 

Once police arrived, the tow truck driver opened its gates, allowing Inside Edition to retrieve the car.

“Is it fair to consumers for you to, within minutes, be towing their cars?" Guerrero asked the operator. 

“So I have a job to do," he said. "What it is, is private property. If you're not inside McDonald’s, you have to leave." 

Chuck Schmidt of Charles Schmidt and Sons Towing says tow truck drivers like the one Inside Edition witnessed give the industry a bad name.

“Is it fair to be stalking parking lots and swooping in within minutes to haul off cars?” Guerrero asked Schmidt. 

“Absolutely not,” he said. “It's unethical. It's unfair.” 

As for the spotter Cyclone City was using, he retreated into the McDonald’s when Inside Edition tried to confront him.

And when Guerrero attempted to speak to a McDonald’s manager, he shut the door on her. 

The owner of the McDonald’s franchise said that they are no longer using Cyclone City and otherwise had no comment.

The owner of Cyclone City also had no comment.

The New York Department of Consumer Affairs has since revoked Cyclone City's license to operate. 

So what can you do to prevent your car from being towed?

In most cities — including New York — if you interrupt a tow truck driver in the process of taking your car, the driver is required to release the vehicle and only charge you what’s called a drop fee, which is typically half the price of the tow, usually about $60. 

Experts also advise being on the lookout for signs that might warn the lot is private property, and to call law enforcement and your local department of consumer affairs if you feel you have been a victim of an unfair tow.