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Towing a Rental Car

Hello everyone.  It’s Anthony Bandiero, attorney and legal instructor for Blue to Gold Law Enforcement Training.  Here is today’s question.  Can cops automatically tow a rental car if the driver is not on the rental agreement?

Well, the answer is that we don’t really have a lot of case on this very issue.  Because really, it’s necessarily going to be a search or seizure issue.  It may come up if drugs are found and so forth, but fundamentally, it’s a tort claim.

So here is my advice.  It’s a civil issue.

You are a criminal investigator, you investigate crimes.  Is there a crime being committed in your presence by a non-authorized driver driving the Hertz or Enterprise rental car?  I don’t see it.  Do you have a law that says they can’t do it?  If you do, that’s a different story.  But if they have a valid license, and the car is not reported, stolen, embezzled, and so forth, it’s not your fight.  That’s between them and Hertz.

If Hertz has a problem with what they’re doing, and they find out about it, then they can call a lawyer.  Now, does this prevent you from calling the rental company and letting them know what’s going on with their car?  No, I don’t see a problem with that.  That would fall under committee caretaking.

Do you reasonably believe that Hertz may want to recover their car if they find out that a non- authorized driver is driving it because that person may not have insurance, may not have a license, and therefore their vehicle may be damaged?  Absolutely!  Go ahead and call the rental company and ask them what they want to do.

But don’t forget a couple of things.  Number one, it’s the rental car company’s choice.  It’s not your choice.  It’s not your car.  Don’t say stuff like, “I think you should tow it.”  Just say, “Look, this is what I got monitoring a traffic stop.  What do you want to do?”

The other thing that cops ask me, while we’re talking about rental cars, is; “Anthony, can Hertz give me consent to search that car?”  Absolutely not!  Not until the point that they recover it. Now, if they recover it because of violation of the contract, then Hertz can give you consent to search the car.  You may search it anyway under inventory.

But that doesn’t answer the one burning question which is, “What about their backpack?”  Can Hertz give you consent to search that driver’s backpack?  Of course, not. The answer is “No.”

Also, you’re going to have to let them (the driver) grab their stuff, get some reasonable accommodation.  If they want to grab their purse or grab their backpack and walk, and it’s a street and it’s not a highway where they can’t, then why would you prevent them from doing that?

If you have to transport them off the highway, and you start looking into their backpack, the courts going to want to know why you did that.  Most courts want to see that you secured that backpack in the trunk, not searching it.

Can you get consent?  Most likely.  But you see my point.  So these issues are a little tricky. But as far as what the cop is saying, that they believe that they can automatically tow a vehicle with a non-authorized driver, I just don’t see the authority to do that.

If your policy says you can do it, then that’s a different story. If you have a law that presumes that cars are driven illegally if it’s not by the authorized driver, then do that.  But I don’t know of any law that says that.  Otherwise, I don’t see how you have the authority to tow that car.

All right.  I hope it helps, guys.  Tell your friends, and until next time, keep doing the great job you’re doing out there!


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