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— If people cannot retrieve their cars on the day they are towed, the towing company adds an additional charge of $30 per day until they come and get it. After a month of the car sitting unclaimed, the company can auction it off. By that time, the bill is well over $1000. Ruford wonders whether the initial charge for towing, as well as the daily impound fees, are intended to make it so financially difficult for some people to get their cars back that they lose them to the auction. "Then the towing company makes a whole lot of money," he says.

Ruford has paid special attention to the way people's cars get towed at Longs Drugs. "I've noticed a 55- to 60-year-old Caucasian man slouching down in a sports car in the parking lot marking on a clipboard," he says. A Longs employee told him that people who park there but walk off the lot to another business are given 15 minutes until the tow truck gets there to take their cars. "But the tow trucks get there in one or two minutes," says Ruford, "because several of them hang out in the alley behind the Taco Bell next to the Longs lot waiting for the calls.

"Wouldn't it make more sense for Longs to hire someone to warn people off the lot rather than towing them away? It would only cost them about $65 a day. Since they do it by towing instead," says Ruford, "it makes me wonder about a possible percentage of the towing fee, maybe 20 percent, being paid to Longs. In all this, the money motive is too great."

Western Towing's Malone says "spiffing" is the name for the practice Ruford is talking about. He also insists that his company has never engaged in it.

Still, says Ruford, "Think of the profits. If the towing company tows 20 cars a night near the beach at $240 each, they're taking in $4800. And that's probably a low estimate."

As a cab driver, Ruford looks for return business. "An East Coast woman who had her car towed told me that she will never come back to San Diego. I tried to point out other good things she could enjoy in town if she would only follow the rules. 'I'm never coming back here,' she said."

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