What to expect if you park illegally, if your vehicle is clamped or towed and steps to making a complaint.

The Land Transport Act sets out to protect the public from wheel clampers charging excessive fees. The maximum fee that can be charged is $100.

Parking safely

It’s better to park in a clearly identified parking facility than take a risk on a parking spot you’re not legally allowed to use. If there are signs, these establish the contract for parking, eg how long you can park, the fee you need to pay.

To prevent your vehicle being ticketed, towed or clamped:

  • Choose your parking spot carefully.
  • Read any signs near your parking space or at the point of payment.
  • Obey any conditions on signs — paying attention to time limits, fees, and what will happen if you break these conditions.
  • If you park on private land, even if there are no signs, your vehicle could be towed or clamped. You may need to pay.
By parking in a privately owned parking facility, you agree to the terms listed on its signs.

Different rules apply to parking on public roads

Parking on public roads is regulated by the Land Transport Act 1988 and local bylaws. Public roads include beaches, bridges, ferries and other places the public have access to.

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

  • issue tickets 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.

New Zealand Transport Agency website(external link)  has more information.

Most council websites have information about parking offences and local parking policies, including fees. If you have a dispute about any public parking tickets or enforcement actions, you should contact the relevant council or agency.

If your vehicle has been clamped or towed:

  • Try to stay calm. You may need to pay to have your vehicle released on the spot, but it’s possible you can recover some of your money later. You may also be able to negotiate a reduced fee to have your vehicle released, or pay part of the release fee and get an invoice for the outstanding amount. Remember that you can only be charged up to $100 in total if your vehicle has been clamped. 
  • Take pictures or make note of any unclear or obscured signs, or boundary lines that have worn away.
  • Ask if the person who clamped or towed your vehicle has authority to do so. Only an agent of the landowner or business, eg an employee or the owner themselves, can lawfully have a vehicle clamped or towed.
  • Ask for contact details of the agency responsible for clamping or towing your vehicle.
  • Ask for a receipt if you pay a fee to have your vehicle released.
  • A clamper has to be reasonably available to respond to your request to remove  the clamp, this includes removing the clamp as soon as reasonable after you have paid the fee.
  • If the clamper does not meet these requirements you may also try to remove the clamp, but you must not cause any unnecessary damage. Unnecessary damages to the clamp may result in the clamper seeking the cost of the damages from you.

If your vehicle has been ticketed:

  • You may need to pay the ticket. If the ticket is unjustified or unauthorised, or if the fee is unreasonable, you can complain to the land owner, tenant or the parking enforcement firm and refuse to pay it, or offer to only pay a reasonable amount.
  • If you intend to challenge the ticket, take pictures or make note of any unclear or obscured signs, or boundary lines that have worn away.

If the clamper refuses to release your car and insists on charging more than the maximum allowed, you can call the Police.

Your rights: Private parking tickets

A person who pays for their vehicle to be released from a clamp or towing facility has the right to seek a part or full refund, or in some cases, compensation, when:

  • You were misled by signage.
  • The ticketing, clamping or towing was unjustified or unauthorised.
  • Enforcement fees are unreasonable.

Rights of the landowner or enforcer

Landowners, tenants, and their employees, have the right to take action, like ticketing a vehicle, or arranging for a vehicle to be clamped or towed, when:

  • You park on their land without permission. This is trespassing, and landowners or leasers may not need to have signs stating this.
  • Your parking goes against the terms you agreed to by using a facility with signs clearly stating what is included in the service, eg time limits, fees, action to be taken if you break the agreement.

Two perspectives on wheel clamping

Example — A short stop after a long day ends in wheel clamping

Brent looked for a car park so he could pick up fish’n’chips on a Friday night. He pulled in to a parking lot outside a nearby convenience store. Brent saw a sign in front of the park he chose, but it was dark and he was in a rush. He didn’t read it. He planned to be quick, and thought he would be okay.

Brent picked up fish’n’chips for his family and returned to his car. When he saw his wheel had been clamped, he was angry. It had been a long week and he looked forward to getting home.
Brent read the sign in front of the park he had chosen. It said the park was for customers of the convenience store only, and anyone parking there for another purpose risked having their wheel clamped or their vehicle towed — with release fees to be paid at their own expense.

After a tense conversation with the owner of the store, Brent paid to have the clamp removed. He appealed to the owner for a discounted rate because the dim light around the car park’s sign meant he didn’t fully understand what he was risking by parking there. The owner’s agreement made Brent feel a bit better about his disappointing end to the week.

Example — Small business tired of losing income and paying for other people’s car parking

Sia’s store was busy, like Friday nights always are. She was serving a line of customers when she saw someone pull in to one of her car parks, and then cross the street to the takeaways shop. Sia noticed two of her regular customers driving slowly through the parking lot, unable to find somewhere to stop so they could come in. She was annoyed because, while Friday nights are always busy, the shop had been very quiet lately — and she needed all the business she could get.

Sia called her security company to arrange a wheel clamp. People often used her car parks without buying anything in her shop, and the parks cost a lot to rent. She didn’t like having to call security, but she felt doubly bothered by losing potential income and paying for people who aren’t customers to park while they ran their errands.

The man whose wheel had been clamped was upset. Sia understood, but was upset too. He pointed out there aren’t any lights above the sign telling people what will happen if they park in the space, and said it was hard to read. Sia had been meaning to install a light, so she agreed to lower the release fee by $50.

The vehicle owner pushed for the whole fee to be waived, but Sia refused. She needed to cover the cost of the security call out, a portion of her car park rent, and revenue lost from not being able to serve her regular customers.

Understand enforcement and fees

Knowing whether enforcement or fees are unjustified, unreasonable or unauthorised is not always simple. If you feel your vehicle was clamped, towed, or ticketed without good reason, you may need to present your own case for why you deserve a partial or full refund, or in some cases, compensation.

Unjustified: Ticketing, towing or clamping could be unjustified if your parking did not break any laws (e.g. trespass) or contract terms. For contract terms to be binding, the terms and what happens if you break them must be set out sufficiently clearly and visibly on signage.

Unreasonable: If you have trespassed, fees could be unreasonable if they exceed the cost to the landowner, tenant and the parking enforcer. These costs include towing and storing your vehicle, and any loss of income caused by your parking, eg if you park in a space reserved for customers only or block access to or from a business. Fees set out on signage for breach of parking conditions must not be disproportionate to the interests of the land owner or tenant. Clamping costs have been capped at $100 and any amount over this will be seen as unreasonable.

Unauthorised: Enforcement could be unauthorised if the person who arranged for your vehicle to be clamped or towed is not the owner of the land, the owner of the business, or an employee of either.

To question or appeal a fee

Sometimes you need to pay to have your vehicle released from clamping or towing — even if you think you parked lawfully. If you think a parking ticket or release fee is unjustified, unreasonable or unauthorised, steps you can take include:

  • Contact the landowner, tenant or parking enforcement business. For private parking tickets, information about how to make a complaint or challenge the fee may be on the back of the ticket.
  • You can try to negotiate for a reduced fee or partial refund if you think the fee paid was unreasonable.
  • You can request a refund of any infringement fee if you use a parking facility but there are no clear signs about towing or clamping.

Making a complaint

Next steps

If you can't reach an agreement with the person that ticketed, clamped or towed your vehicle, and you think the enforcement was unjustified, unauthorised or the fee was unreasonable, you can:

  • Make a claim to the Disputes Tribunal — they can make a ruling, which must be followed. If in your favour, this might be refunding part or all of the fine.
  • Report the company to the Commerce Commission — this will not solve your particular issue, but may lead to the company being warned or fined.

How to make a claim(external link)  — Disputes Tribunal

Make a complaint(external link) — Commerce Commission

More help

Get support at any point from:

  • Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) — a free, independent service, run by volunteers. CAB can advise you on your consumer rights and obligations, in person, by phone, or online.
  • Community Law Centre — offers free one-on-one legal advice to people with limited finances. The organisation has 24 community law centres throughout the country. You can find legal information and other resources on its website.

Find a CAB(external link)  — Citizens Advice Bureau

Our law centres(external link) — Community Law Centres