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Across Oregon, victims of auto theft have few options when cars are held by towing companies.

Trying to recover a stolen car can be a nightmare for an owner.

On top of the trauma inflicted by the actual theft, owners of cars that are found are still on the hook to bail their vehicles out of towing company lots — and the fees can be steep.

Lynda Drumm had her car stolen in August. The 1995 Honda Accord vanished from where it had been parked in front of her apartment in Hillsboro.

Drumm, thinking her Honda was gone for good, ended up buying another used car.

In December, she got a letter explaining that her stolen car had been found in Wilsonville and a tow company had hauled it to its lot in Tigard. Drumm went to the lot to retrieve her vehicle. But she was in for another shock.

"By the time we got there, it was like almost $700 (in fees)," she told Pamplin Media Group news partner KOIN 6 News. "Right now, it's clear up to like a thousand-something dollars."

Drumm said she doesn't have that kind of money to pay the full fee. She said the tow company told her that she could release the car's title so the company could sell it. If it sold, it might be deducted from what she owed in fees.

But Drumm couldn't find the car's title. She said she went through the process of getting a new title issued, but was still waiting on paperwork.

Meanwhile, the tow lot fees kept stacking up.

After several failed attempts to negotiate a lower bill, the tow company did eventually drop the bill from $1,150 to $670.

Her daughter, Cassandra Stutzman, said there doesn't seem to be any laws that protect people like her mother from these kinds of experiences with towing companies.

"There should be something where, if you're a victim of an auto theft, you shouldn't be treated the exact same as somebody who's intentionally going out and breaking the law," Stutzman said.

Changes ahead?

When a towing company tows a car, they check with police to see if it's stolen after the car is towed to their impound lot.

According to Stutzman, a towing company only has to notify police that it's removing a car — regardless of whether it's stolen. This leaves no room for the owner to make any requests.

At least one Oregon mayor is looking to change that.

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler has proposed new rules that would allow car theft victims in that city to avoid a tow fee by indicating on the police report whether the car should be left where it's found — after police notify them.

But that's only if police are involved. For Drumm, whose stolen car was found on private property, the tow company was called in without the involvement of police.

Wheeler's proposal could have a big effect on future experiences in the metro area, but it wouldn't change things on a statewide level.

There is, however, a bill currently in the legislature that instructs the Oregon attorney general to study consumer protection and towing and issue a report by the end of the year.

For Michael Porter with the Oregon Tow Truck Association, the proposed towing policy in Portland could work across the state of Oregon with a few tweaks, especially when it comes to the communication between various counties.

"Each county doesn't necessarily talk to each other," Porter said. "As a tower, we're kind of stuck in the middle of that and (the Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles) doesn't have a record that your car has been stolen."

For now, the only way to protect against big tow fees if a car is stolen is by having full-coverage insurance.

KOIN 6 News is a parter of

Pamplin Media Group.

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