Your rights with tickets, clamping and towing when you park unlawfully or for too long. These rights depend on whether you’ve parked on public or private land.

Public parking

Parking on public roads is governed by laws and regulations. Public roads include beaches, bridges, ferries and other places the public have access to. Find parking rules in the:

Privately owned car parks

Private, commercially-operated parking is governed by a contract between you and the operating company. There is no specific law relating to privately owned parking, although certain aspects – such as signage, may be covered by the Fair Trading Act and Consumer Guarantees Act.

If you breach a parking operator’s terms and conditions, for example by not paying the parking fee or by overstaying, then they may clamp or tow your vehicle, or issue you with a breach notice. This will generally be associated with a fee. Whether this fee is enforceable will depend on your specific situation, such as whether signage about the terms and conditions of parking is clear.



Know your rights

Your rights depend on whether you park on:

  • public land – roads and council parking
  • private land – commercial car park buildings and shop car parks.

Public parking

On roads and public land, the Police and parking wardens have the power to:

  • issue infringement notices for parking offences under transport legislation
  • prohibit or restrict parking on any road as long as they display certain signs; they may also fine and tow away vehicles that breach parking bylaws
  • have a vehicle towed if they believe its location on a road causes an obstruction, or if towing it is in the interests of road safety or the public interest; so they may tow your vehicle if you’ve parked on yellow lines, on a pedestrian crossing, over a fire hydrant, on the footpath or over a driveway or road entrance.

Visit the New Zealand Transport Agency (external link)  website for more information. Local authorities may also issue a wide range of road bylaws.

The Transport (Towage Fees) Notice tells you the maximum amount you may be charged for parking offences and for having your car towed. Most council websites have information about parking offences and local parking policies, including fees.

Privately owned car parks

Industry Code of Practice

In December 2015, selected members of the parking industry published a Code of Practice for Parking Enforcement on Private Land. The Code sets out procedures for ensuring that the control of parking on private land is fair and undertaken professionally. It also provides for processes to resolve disputes.

While the Code is voluntary, the Disputes Tribunal may take it into account when considering parking-related disputes that involve a signatory to the Code. You can read the code here [PDF, 3.2 MB].

Signage is your parking contract

You may be trespassing if you park your car in a private car park without paying, in a car park which is only for shoppers, or if you have overstayed in a paid car park.

Any signs or information given to you by the operator before you park become part of your contract with the car park owner. Signs must be clear and accurate, and obvious. By parking in the car park you are agreeing to the terms of the contract written on the sign.

If you have paid for parking then the car park operator can include in the contract the right to tow, clamp or charge a fee. If you overstay, then under contract law a car park operator can only claim for the actual and reasonable costs they incurred. Reasonable costs may be:

  • Tow costs: similar to the cost of towing a car a similar distance, storing it, and having someone present to release it
  • Parking fees: similar to what you would have paid for the time you overstayed plus administrative costs in issuing tickets and recovering fines.

Unclear signage

If there are no clear signs about towing or clamping, you may be able to dispute payment of any infringement notice and tow or release fee by arguing this is misleading under the Fair Trading Act.

The Consumer Guarantees Act (CGA) guarantee for services applies to parking policies for paid parks. This means policies must be implemented using ‘reasonable skill and care’. You have the right to clear instructions about operating hours, fees and payment, reserved and unreserved parking and consequences of breaching conditions. The policies must be enforced using reasonable skill and care.

Tow truck services

Tow truck operators have to pay for any reasonably foreseeable damage to your car if their service is faulty, under the Consumer Guarantees Act, eg such as towing fees, storage costs, and getting to the tow yard. But they may limit their liability for loss as a carrier in their terms and conditions, under the Carriage of Goods Act. If a vehicle recovery service unlawfully tows or clamps your car, and intends to hold it until they are paid release fees, they may be liable for unjustified holding of your car under ‘torts of conversion and detinue’.

Land Transport Rule 81001

This rule says that tow truck operators must take ‘all reasonable precautions’ to prevent loss from or damage to any vehicle being towed. If they do not comply with this section they can be fined by the Police.

Private carparks for shoppers

If you parked in a car park reserved for customers only, you only have to pay for the damage or loss that you caused to the landowner, ie legitimate shoppers may not have been able to find a car park and this may have caused the shops to lose business.

Private owners may also rely on an old common law doctrine known as ‘distress damage feasant’ to seize or clamp your car until you pay for damages. The law is still uncertain on this in New Zealand. The landowner must prove:

  • the vehicle must have caused the landowner to suffer some actual damage
  • any steps taken must be justifiable and reasonable given the nature and degree of the trespass
  • the vehicle owner can’t be present at any time while the vehicle is being immobilised or towed because there is a risk of confrontation which can lead to a breach of the peace.

Public land 

You may contact the responsible agency if you believe the infringement notice or release fee is unjustified, unreasonable or unauthorised on public land. Information about how to make a complaint will be on the back of the ticket.

Privately owned car parks

Prevent a towaway if it’s safe: You may be able to prevent your car being towed if you get to it after the tow truck arrives but before they hook it up. If you are on private land and if it is safe, get into your car. They must release the car if you are in it. If your car is already hooked up to the tow truck, then the tow operator may ask you to pay a call out or release fee to have your vehicle released. You may have to pay this and dispute it later if they won’t release the car. Apply to the Disputes Tribunal.

Unreasonable towing or clamping: If you believe towing or clamping was unreasonable, offer in writing to pay a reasonable amount, and explain why. Keep a copy of your letter. If the landowner or their parking enforcement company still demand you pay in full, tell them that you dispute liability.

If they refer the debt to a debt collector, tell the collector that the amount is in dispute and send them copies of the letters you’ve exchanged about the fine. Also tell them that if any default is listed on your credit rating, you will complain to the Privacy Commissioner.

No clear signage: If there is no clear signage and your car is towed or clamped then you may be able to claim damages from car park operators under the Fair Trading Act (FTA) in the Disputes Tribunal.

Damaged car and lost property: If your car is damaged or property lost, make a written complaint to the tow company, explaining what happened, and setting out the repair costs and the compensation you seek under the Consumer Guarantees Act.

Your insurance company may try to claim against the tow company's insurer. If you are not insured and the tow company refuses to assist, you can file a claim for your loss in the Disputes Tribunal.

See also:

Next steps

If you are unable to resolve your issue directly with the service provider, our Resolve It tool has information to help you take the next steps. These may include going to the Disputes Tribunal or District Court.

Resolve it: Faulty products and services

Resolve it: Parking fines, towing and clampings

Need more help?

Contact us for more guidance.

Common situations

Damage during towing

Jack’s car is dented by the tow truck operator when they tow it away from a shopping mall after Jack overstayed the 2-hour maximum parking period. Jack is annoyed about the dent and complains to the tow truck company. The company is liable for the cost of the repairs as they ‘failed to take all reasonable care’ under the Consumer Guarantees Act when towing Jack’s car.

A tow is prevented, but there’s a release fee

Alan sees a towie hooking up his car and runs over to talk to him. He gets into the driver’s seat to prevent his car from being towed. Alan is only 5 minutes late for the parking limit. The towie can’t tow his car with Alan in it and must release the car. As the towie has begun hooking up the car, Alan will have to pay the release fee.