A section of Sports Arena Boulevard in San Diego's Midway District is shown on Nov. 9, 2022. (Zoë Meyers/inewsource)

Why this matters

For many, a single impound could put a vehicle out of reach for good, jeopardizing access to employment, education, medical care and sometimes even housing.

An inewsource analysis found San Diego police continue to tow cars for reasons that have nothing to do with public safety months after officials were warned the practice disproportionately hurts low-income and unhoused people.

Researchers call them “poverty tows,” which are the result of expired registrations, 72-hour parking violations and unpaid tickets. The owners of vehicles towed for these reasons are less likely to afford impound fees, and their cars are more likely to be sold at auction. The city loses money each time this happens, but owners potentially suffer greater costs — loss of their vehicles, jobs, access to education or medical care and, sometimes, their homes.

Last November, an audit recommended city officials consider other options. But not much has changed.

Here’s an interactive map that shows the percentage of poverty tows conducted by ZIP code since the audit was released more than six months ago.

Type of Content

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Cody Dulaney is an investigative reporter at inewsource focusing on social impact and government accountability. Few things excite him more than building spreadsheets and knocking on the door of people who refuse to return his calls. When he’s not ruffling the feathers of some public official, Cody...

Jill Castellano is an investigative data coordinator for inewsource. When she's not deep in a spreadsheet or holed up reporting and writing her next story, she's probably hiking, running or rock climbing. She also loves playing board games and discussing the latest chapters with her book club. Jill...