San Francisco has just launched a first-of-its kind program that allows car owners — in certain illegal parking situations — to avoid costly tows via a text warning. But some warnings might only come a few minutes before the car gets towed.

Kind of like the much ballyhooed earthquake early-warning system that we've yet to see used in a major earthquake around the Bay, a new courtesy program from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) will give you brief window, via cellphone alert, to save yourself from possible disaster.

The SFMTA announced the first Text Before Tow pilot program on Thursday, which allows registered car owners to receive a text warning that a tow truck has been dispatched to tow their vehicle. If you own a car in the city and you park it on the street, it's probably advisable to fill out this application, and maybe you can avoid seeing your car towed the next time your bumper is a few inches over the line into someone's driveway.

The program, the agency says, will cover about 27% of situations when tow trucks are called. The four situations that the Text Before Tow service kicks in for are: (1) parking in the same spot for more than 72 hours, (2) blocked driveways, (3) construction zones, and (4) temporary no-parking zones such as special event or moving truck zones.

If you are parked in peak-hour tow-away lanes, yellow or white zones, and or any other towing situation, those aren't part of this program and you won't get a warning.

And it appears you don't have to live in San Francisco to join the program — but it's unclear how long it takes for one's application to go through

In the event that your car is in violation of one of the above, you'll get a text about the tow dispatch, and if you get to the car before the car is hooked to the tow truck, you will receive a citation but you won't be towed. As in other towing situations, once the tow is hooked, it's all over, and the tow can not be stopped.

Also, the SFMTA warns participants that a) your warning will not come with any specific countdown, and will only have the lead time allowed by the distance of the nearest tow truck, so it might be as short as five minutes; and b) this program is a courtesy, so if somehow a text message fails to come through, it's not their problem.

And, "Harassment of SFMTA or its contractor staff will result in immediate termination from the program and may result in criminal prosecution."

But that's nice of the SFMTA, for a change, allowing you to get a heads-up and potentially saving you hundreds of dollars and a lot of aggravation.

Apply here to be part of the Text Before Tow program.