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driving concerns

I had my car towed for parking overnight on the street in front of a sign that read "two-hour parking from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m." I came out at 8 a.m. to find a tow-truck driver hooking up my car. He said it was in front of a construction site and they started at 7 a.m. and I'd delayed the workers. He said he'd normally unhook my car, but he wouldn't because it had been a tricky job and so I had to ride with him to the impound, pay the fees and be late for work. I went back later and, sure enough, there was a small photocopied sign about 15 feet away that said no stopping from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. from May to November. Can they tow me if there's more than one sign applying to the same area? Also, if I come to my vehicle as it's being towed, aren't they supposed to unhook it? – Henry, Vancouver

If you catch a tow-truck hooking up your car, you can ask the driver to let it down – but whether or not he does is up to him, said the City of Vancouver.

"Once the car is hooked, the tow-truck driver can proceed with taking that vehicle to the impound yard," the city said in an e-mail statement.

If you get there before the driver has started hooking up your car, you can pay him a fee – 50 per cent of the $70 towing fee – to let you go.

"If the driver moves the car before the tow truck arrives, he avoids the impound fee completely," the city said.

Other cities handle things differently.

In Toronto, the tow-truck driver has to release the vehicle if you catch him. How much it will cost depends on when you catch him, said Toronto Police Const. Clint Stibbe.

"Of course, you'll have to prove that the vehicle's yours," Stibbe said.

If the lights and chain aren't connected yet, the tow-truck driver has to release your vehicle and there's no charge, Stibbe said.

If your car's fully hooked up and the tow-truck driver is ready to pull away, you'll have to pay a release fee. It's less than the full amount and varies by towing company.

Once the tow-truck driver's moved your car – even if it's only a few metres – he can still release it, but you'll have to pay the full towing fee.

That ranges from $149 to $164.50, depending on the district.

"In all those cases, you still have to pay the original ticket," Stibbe said. "If your vehicle gets impounded you also have to pay storage fees."

Every driver carries a rate card that will say what he can charge, Stibbe said. Catching your vehicle before it gets taken to the impound lot can save you money. Storage fees range from $50 to $80 for every 24 hours – and for the first four hours your car's impounded, you pay 25 per cent of that first 24-hour fee per hour.

Duelling signs

So when can a tow truck pull you off a city street?

If you're violating a traffic law or if your vehicle is deemed abandoned. Here, you were parked in a temporary no-stopping zone put up by the construction company, the City of Vancouver said.

"Temporary no-stopping zones are enforced as the permit holder pays to use this zone," the city said.

Temporary signs take precedence over existing signs, the city said. So, it doesn't matter that there's an existing sign there.

So why don't they remove the existing sign – or at least cover it up?

Good question.

"The City's practice is not to remove existing signs as some temporary zones are only for a portion of the day and therefore defaults to the existing posted parking regulation when not in effect," the city said.

Toronto also has no stopping zones put up during events and construction – and the signs are enforceable.

"If you're in front of a construction site they'll have all the power to remove your vehicle," said Stibbe. "It's no different than parking in front of somebody's driveway."

But, in Toronto, the permanent existing signs have to be covered up or removed entirely.

"For short events, signs are often bagged – for more long term events, the signs are often removed," said City of Toronto spokesperson Jennifer Wing. "Any work to change the signs is paid for by the applicant, along with the costs for restoration."

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