Car with clamped wheel

Car clamping

My car recently got clamped! I’d parked in an empty carpark and was gone for about 10 minutes but had to pay the guy with the wheel clamp $200 to release my vehicle. How can they get away with this?

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Wheel clampers are no strangers to complaints. Their stand-over tactics and steep fees continue to hit the headlines.

There are good reasons to question the practice. The legal basis for clamping is dubious and we’ve been calling for it to be banned.

How do they justify it?

Wheel clampers argue carpark signage makes clear the terms and conditions of parking. They claim consumers accept these terms when they park, so if they break the rules and get clamped it’s a fair cop. However, that argument quickly falls flat when signs are unclear, a common complaint, or lacking altogether.

If the conditions of parking are wholly unreasonable, it’s also unlikely they’d stand up in court. You’d be hard-pressed to find any reasonable consumer who thought it was fair to let clampers seize a vehicle parked in a shopping centre carpark for a few minutes and charge $200 (or more) to release it.

Another defence clampers use is a centuries-old remedy called “distress damage feasant”, originally intended to aid folk whose land was damaged by wandering livestock. If a cow strayed on to your pasture in rural England, you could hold on to it and demand payment from its owner for crop damage.

But applying this right to cars parked on private land is a different matter. It’s clear to us the hefty fees clampers charge show they’re more concerned with making a quick buck than recouping any alleged damage caused by a parked vehicle.

We're calling for a ban

Other countries have already outlawed clamping. The practice was banned in England and Wales in 2012. Scotland banned it in 1992.

Attempts to clean up the industry here through voluntary codes of practice haven’t worked. Fortunately, change is on the horizon. Both transport minister Phil Twyford and consumer affairs minister Kris Faafoi have said they want to clamp down on the clampers.

A ban is the best option. Trying to regulate this cowboy industry through licensing or other means would be costly and unlikely to work.

There are better ways for carpark operators to control what happens on their property than clamping. They can ticket cars that breach the carpark’s terms and conditions – similar to what happens when you park on a public street and stay longer than you should.

This would be a much fairer way to deal with the matter. Consumers would also be able to challenge breach notices issued unfairly – instead of having to fork out for the clamper’s bill without any right to dispute the matter before paying.

Support our call for a ban

If you want to support our call to get clamping banned, email transport minister Phil Twyford and consumer affairs minister Kris Faafoi asking them to outlaw the practice:

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