Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 22, 2020

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What you need to know…

  • Police tow a car when it is undrivable or believed to be related to a crime.
  • Your car goes to an impound when police tow your car.
  • If there is a police hold or immobilization order, you may have to request a hearing to get your vehicle released from impound.
  • If you lose the hearing and can’t afford to get your car out of impound, the automobile will likely either be sold or destroyed.

What happens when police tow your car? How do you get it back? One thing is certain, it won’t be easy or cheap. This article answers questions about where your car goes when it gets towed and what happens when your car is impounded. It also explains how to get your car out of impound and what happens if you can’t afford to get your car out of impound.

You need to act fast because the towing and storage fees are expensive and the deadlines are short to retrieve your automobile before it’s sold or destroyed.

After you know the answer to, “What happens when police tow my car?” If you need help getting your car back after it was towed and impounded by the police, enter your ZIP code above to talk to a car accident attorney in your area.

Why would the police tow your car?

Police will usually tow a car when it is undrivable or believed to be related to a crime. They may also tow your car when you are taken into custody and no other arrangements can be easily made for your vehicle.

Can police tow your car for speeding or DUI? The answer is yes. While it’s unlikely that you’d be taken into custody for speeding, if you are arrested and cannot easily arrange for someone else to take your car, the police could have it impounded.

Your Car Was Towed Because It Was Undrivable

Maybe the vehicle is undrivable and police towed your car after an accident or because the vehicle was unregistered, the driver was uninsured or was arrested for a driving violation, like being stopped for drunk driving. According to the Insurance Information Institute, states can impound vehicles as a penalty for driving without compulsory auto liability insurance.

In cases where a vehicle is undrivable, law enforcement would have the vehicle towed to a holding facility, referred to as an impound. Towing an undrivable vehicle is necessary to clear the street or to keep the car safe until the owner is able to legally retrieve it or the violation at issue is resolved.

Your Car Was Towed Because It Was Used in Crime

If the vehicle was suspected of being used in a crime, it will be towed to a location for police investigation before being impounded. If your vehicle was used for an illegal purpose, the government can seize your car in an asset forfeiture proceeding if they have evidence to show you profited from its use.

This video offers some insight on your legal options if your car is seized.

We’ll talk more about how to get your seized vehicle out of police impound below.

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Where does your car go if it gets towed?

When your car is towed by the police, it goes to an impound, which is a holding facility. The impound may be operated by the law enforcement agency or by a private third-party holding facility.

You should make sure the police provide you with the impound lot information. If you don’t have the impound lot information, try calling your city or town hall and ask the clerk how you can find out if your vehicle was recently listed as impounded.

You should try to get the vehicle released as soon as possible. Otherwise, the police or impound will claim it was left voluntarily or abandoned and will charge you storage fees.

What happens when your car is impounded?

If your car was impounded, it will not be released until further action is taken. So, just how long can police impound your car? Sometimes the car will be released once you’ve proven ownership and paid a fine and storage fee. In other cases, the police may require the vehicle to be held pending a criminal investigation. Therefore, you need to ask if the car is subject to any sort of hold before it can be released from impound.

How do I get my car out of impound?

The way to get a car out of impound depends on whether or not there is a police hold or immobilization order preventing the release of the impounded vehicle.

Getting a Car Out of Impound When There is No Police Hold or Immobilization Order

Some jurisdictions, like Arizona, have laws regarding police ordered tows and the process for vehicle retrieval. Generally speaking, if there is no hold, contact the tow company to determine where your vehicle is being stored. Then, request the total bill amount from the tow and/or impound company. Make sure you receive a detailed invoice showing a complete breakdown of the charges.

You’ll need to bring proof of ownership or agency, such as the car title, registration, or rental agreement. If your license and title documents are inside the vehicle, you should be allowed to retrieve them at no charge, but you may not be able to get your other belongings from your towed car.

Take a look at the video below to see how the process works in Oregon.

A frequently asked question is: Can someone else get your car out of impound? Generally, the answer is yes, as long as they present the required documentation. If someone other than the registered owner is retrieving the vehicle, that person typically will need a valid driver’s license, a signed and notarized statement from the registered owner authorizing that person to retrieve the vehicle, and a photocopy of the owner’s valid driver’s license or official government photo identification.

You may also need to show proof of insurance depending on the requirements of your state. It’s very difficult to get your car out of impound without insurance, especially if you were pulled over for driving without insurance in the first place.

Make sure the vehicle has valid license plates or you will not be permitted to drive it away from the holding lot. If the vehicle is not drivable due to invalid plates or accident damage, you will be responsible for towing or hauling your vehicle away.

Getting a Car Out of Impound By Requesting a Hearing

If the law enforcement agency placed a hold on the car, you may still have the right to retrieve your property through an administrative hearing before an administrative judge or officer. Some jurisdictions require formal written requests and a filing fee, and most have very short filing deadlines. In Illinois, you have to ask for a preliminary hearing within 15 days of your car being impounded.

At the hearing, the government must present evidence concerning why they impounded the car, which is normally a police report or law enforcement testimony. You will be allowed to present valid defenses.

Ask the police or your city or town hall for information on the hearing procedures for getting a vehicle released from impound. It may be time to seek lawyer involvement because the process will involve filing a petition for release, and presenting evidence and asserting limited defenses.

Generally, the only successful defense is that the car was stolen and reported stolen in a timely manner. Usually, the fact that someone else was driving your car is not a valid defense because in most jurisdictions, unless the car was stolen, owners can be fined even if they were not driving and did not know how the car was being used.

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What happens if you can’t afford to get your car out of impound?

Impound fees are extremely expensive because the storage facilities charge by the day, and many people can’t afford to get their car out of impound. If you want to know how to get your car out of impound for free, the only likely way will be if you win at the hearing and the order states that you are not responsible for paying the towing and storage costs.

If the fees to get the car back aren’t paid, the car will likely either be sold or destroyed. You should be given notice of the sale and can try to buy the car back then. Even if the car is destroyed or sold, the jurisdiction will still try to collect the fees owed for violations, towing, and storage in the same way that other debts can be collected.

When police tow your car, at a minimum, you can expect to pay significant money for towing and storing costs. There’s even the potential to permanently lose your car. Don’t underestimate the seriousness of having your car towed and impounded by the police. If your car has been impounded and you don’t know what to do, click here to consult a car accident attorney about the facts and circumstances of your case and for guidance on your next steps.