What Happens to Abandoned Cars?


Cars are sometimes left abandoned on the sides of major interstates and roads, as well as in parking lots. The reasons owners walk away from their vehicles vary, but inability to afford tow service can be a primary reason. Many states have procedures to help rid their roads of abandoned cars and find the owners. Once a car is reported as abandoned, local and state law enforcement officers usually take several measures to get it removed.

Abandoned-Vehicle Complaints

  • Most local police and state patrol departments learn of abandoned vehicles through complaints. Citizens might notice that an unfamiliar car has been left on their street for an extended period of time. They might notice cars abandoned along the sides of major interstates and state highways, although police and state patrol officers often notice and investigate these cases on their own. Once an abandoned-vehicle complaint is received, information is collected regarding its make, model, license plate and location.

Investigation and Tagging

  • After a complaint is received, a police officer or volunteer goes to the site reported for the abandonment. If a car matching the description is found, it's usually marked with some sort of tag to officially notify the owner of the vehicle that he needs to move the car within a certain time frame. Some states allow only 24 hours, and others allow up to 72 hours.

Removal and Towing

  • Police officers and volunteers usually go back to check the area where the abandoned vehicle was tagged. If the vehicle has not been moved, the police department calls an authorized towing service to remove and impound it. Vehicles that do not have current registration information will be considered to be the property of the last registered owner. Registered owners are typically notified by mail that their cars have been impounded.

Vehicle Retrieval

  • Owners who wish to retrieve their vehicles usually need to contact the towing company listed on the impound notice. They may be required to pay towing fees, penalties and impound release fees. Some states have time restrictions for claiming an abandoned vehicle from the towing company. If abandoned vehicles that have been impounded are not claimed within that period, the car may be sold at a public auction. Once the vehicle is sold at an auction, the title is transferred to the new owner.


  • Photo Credit Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images
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