Drivers whose cars are towed in Montgomery County because they are illegally parked will soon be able to pay towing firms with credit cards or personal checks, at rates that must fall within county guidelines.

The Maryland Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, refused last month to hear an appeal to the county's three-year-old towing law filed by a group of towing companies that argued that allowing customers to retrieve their cars without paying cash could hurt their businesses.

In June, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals upheld provisions of the law that require towing companies to accept credit cards and checks in addition to cash. The law also prohibits, in most cases, the towing of vehicles with handicapped license plates, allows the county to set maximum rates for towing and storage, and mandates that private property owners post "clearly visible" signs stating the parking restrictions, the telephone number of the towing firm and other information about the tow.

The county had not enforced the general towing provisions involving credit cards because of the legal challenges.

William C. Brennan, attorney for the towing firms, has contended that the county does not have the power to determine what methods of payment private companies must accept.

Brennan said his clients fear that people who have parked illegally may be more likely to avoid paying for the tow by stopping payment on a check or credit card after they pick up their cars.

The county Department of Consumer Affairs will submit its recommended rates to County Executive Sidney Kramer, who will make recommendations to the County Council, which must take the final action.