Picture this — you’ve gone to your car and found it nowhere to be seen. And to make matters worse, there’s a hot red “tow-away zone” sign looming above your head. In this scenario, you’ll probably be searching for the answer to the question, “the police impounded my car, how do I get it back?”
As you’ve likely figured out by now, the answer is rather complex. It takes more than simply picking the car up from the police. What’s more, the car won’t even be with the police. It will probably be at a private car lot that the police contracted to hold impounded vehicles.
If you’re anything like me, you’re probably looking around bewildered and wondering where your vehicle is. I know I did that first time. I couldn’t even figure out if the car was stolen or impounded. Hence, my guide on getting your vehicle back starts with step #1 — figuring out what happened to your car.
Step #1 — Dude, Where’s My Car?
So, as we embark on this journey of finding your four-wheeled baby, the first thing you have to do is figure out where your car is, or rather where it COULD be.
For example, maybe someone stole your car. That is, of course, the worst-case scenario. However, don’t worry. Figuring out what happened to your ride is actually pretty simple.
If you can’t find your car where you left it, simply look around. If you see a sign that prohibits parking or marks the space as a tow-away zone, then the vehicle is probably with the police.
Either way, you should call or go to the local police station and see if they know what happened to your vehicle. If they don’t, then you’re in the right place to report a crime.
The next step is to find out WHY the car got taken away. This step is pretty important as the reason often has specific stipulations that will facilitate the whole process of you getting your car back (or make it more difficult).
Why Did They Take My Car?
So to get your car back, you have to figure out why it was taken in the first place. There are many reasons a vehicle might get impounded, and parking in a no-parking area is just one of them.
You might have had the misfortune of someone taking your car for a joy ride and dumping it. If that happened, they probably weren’t kind enough to dump it in a proper parking space. Thus, the thieves probably left the car somewhere, and the police found it and then promptly towed it away.
Mind Your Parking
Illegal parking, one that causes obstruction for other drivers or breaks the law, is another reason the police might have taken your car. If you’re the one who parked the car illegally, then there’s probably no confusion on your part about why this misfortunate event upended your day.
However, if someone else illegally parked your car (if they took it without your knowledge), then you’ll have to argue that it wasn’t your fault. First of all, there will be fines (and I’ll talk more about that in detail later) that you shouldn’t have to pay. So if this happened to you, getting a professional opinion from a lawyer might be a good idea.
Car Jump and Dump
If your car was stolen, you need to report the theft to the police. Like I said, contacting a lawyer who will sort the fees out is also a good idea. But what happens if you lend the car to a friend or someone you know takes your car without your permission and then gets it impounded?
Well, then you’re in a bit of a pickle. No matter who made the offense, the owner of the car gets stuck with fees. You can always press charges if someone took your car without your knowledge, even if it’s a friend or a family member. But hey, that’s a whole different set of problems, and I don’t really have a 4-step guide to resolving that one.
So let’s move on with our guide on getting your car back. Other than what I already mentioned, your vehicle might get impounded if it was:
- Involved in a traffic violation, collision, crime, or an accident
- Driven recklessly and dangerously or under the influence.
The police might also take your car if you have a lot of unpaid parking tickets or if you don’t have car insurance. Furthermore, if you’ve forgotten to register your vehicle properly or if your license isn’t valid, the police may take the car to stop you from driving it illegally.
No matter what the case is, when taken by the police, the vehicle gets towed to a private towing lot. The police, or rather the government, doesn’t own the lot, and it contracts private businesses to store impounded vehicles.
Therefore, you’ll have to find out where exactly your car is (in which lot). To do that, you have to ask for the release of the vehicle.
Asking for the Release
No matter what the reason is, you should move quickly and ask for your car to be released as soon as possible. There are several reasons for that. Firstly, you probably need it back. However, more importantly, each day your vehicle spends in the tow lot increases the amount of money that you’ll have to cough up to get it back.
Storage lots charge fees for each day they keep your car. The more days you let it sit in the lot, the higher your costs. What’s more, if you don’t ask for vehicle release, the police and the lot will act as if you voluntarily left it there for safekeeping, and the lot will charge you (an arm and a leg) for it.
So get your affairs in order (prepare paperwork and money for the fees) and ask for immediate release.
What If They Say NO?
If the police (or the lot) refuse to give you back your car after you’ve requested the release, then you’ll have to get a court order. The police can keep your vehicle in storage, but they have to justify that in court.
If they do have legal reasons to keep your vehicle, they also have to pay for storage fees. However, you still have to cover the initial charge for towing the car to the lot and any other fees (for illegal parking or other illicit activities if there were any).
Furthermore, if the police snatched both you and your car (in other words — arrested you), the vehicle will get a lengthy vacation in the impound lot. You can petition the court to have it released while you’re awaiting trial. Unless the car is a vital part of the investigation, the police will probably comply.
If that’s the case, you only have to pay the storage expenses up until you file a release motion and the initial storage fee. If the police keep the car even after that, they will be responsible for paying the fees. However, if you get convicted of the crime that the police arrested you for and that got your car impounded in the first place, then all fees will revert back to you.
Step #2 — Finding Your Car
Unless you live in a tiny town that only has one car lot, then you probably won’t be able to tell straight away where your car was towed. That’s especially true if the police took your vehicle when you weren’t present.
If You Weren’t There
If that’s the case, you should look around for traffic signs. You know, the ones you should have been on the lookout for before you left your car there? The ones that say “NO PARKING?”
The sign will usually have the information about where impounded vehicles get taken. Alternatively, they’ll have the number that you can call to get the information you need.
It might also be a good idea to ask around where you parked. Perhaps someone from the surrounding businesses saw your car being taken away and can help you narrow down your search.
If that doesn’t work, call the police or the city office building to find out where the car is. The police might even have a specific number and a department that deals with this. Both institutions should be able to run your vehicle number and check if the car has been towed.
The police or the clerk you talk to at the city office will give you info about the lot that has your car. However, keep in mind that the information exchange between them and the lot might not be as swift as one would like.
In other words, after they give you the details about the lot, the lot might not be able to confirm that your car is there right away. So wait a few hours and check-in with them again, or ask the lot to call you when they get your car.
If You Were There
If you were involved in an accident or a crime, the police probably came to investigate. In that case, the officers probably gave you information about the towing company. You should call them to see where the lot is and what their working hours are. That way, you’ll know where to go.
In this situation, it’s also a good idea to ask what the necessary paperwork is and how much all of this will cost you.
Still Can’t Find It?
If all of this fails, there’s a strong possibility that your car was stolen. If the police don’t have information about towing it and the impound lots haven’t received it, then your bad day might have gotten way worse.
So if you suspect that your vehicle has been stolen, contact the police immediately and report the theft.
Step #3 — Getting Your Affairs in Order
Here’s the thing — getting your car from an impound lot is tedious. The line itself is mind-numbing! So believe me when I say that you don’t want to have to wait in it several times.
Therefore, before you go to rescue your baby on wheels, make sure that you have everything you need.
Don’t go in blind. Once you find out which service lot has your car, call them to check on a few things:
- their working hours
- the paperwork you need
- the amount of money you owe
- payment methods the lot accepts
“Close enough” won’t get you your car back, and you really have to have all the necessary paperwork.
Don’t Forget Anything
Proof of Identity
The first thing you need is proof of identity. Any government-issued photo ID will do — passport, driving license, immigration card, etc. Student or employee cards, even with a photo, aren’t applicable.
Proof of Ownership
A logbook or proof of sales (or purchasing) will suffice here.
Proof of Insurance
This piece of paperwork is the most vital. A current, active policy has all the necessary information about your vehicle and insurance carrier. That means that the impound lot will easily recognize your car as insured, and thus, release it to you (after you give them cash, of course).
Proof insurance holds information about:
- VIN (Vehicle Information Number)
- Necessary information about the policyholder
- Policy expiration date
- Model, make, and year of the vehicle
You can take your hard copy of the policy to the impound lot. Alternatively, you can use electronic proof of insurance if you have it. However, it’s best not to rely on this option, as some lots won’t accept it as valid. Therefore, make sure to call and check with the lot if an electronic proof is acceptable. Don’t waste a trip just so that they can turn you away.
What Happens If I Don’t Have Proof of Insurance?
This conundrum has a simple solution. However, getting to it is somewhat tricky.
If you don’t have insurance, you need to get it. Not having it in the first place might have been the reason you lost your car. Here’s the kicker, though. Getting insurance after you didn’t have it for a while is an expensive ordeal. The government frowns upon drivers without insurance, which is why they have to pay higher fines and taxes.
What’s more, if you don’t have insurance, you’ll probably get the label “high-risk driver,” which makes getting it even more difficult and expensive. Such a joy, right? But don’t worry, you can work around it.
What Type of Insurance Do I Need?
Because time’s a-ticking, you need to get insurance as fast as you can. However, don’t just settle for the first offer you find. Take some time to shop around and see what different agencies offer.
Furthermore, although I’ll be the first to tell you not to trust sales agents, the insurance people who tell you that minimum coverage insurance won’t be enough are right. Listen to them. Taking the insurance with a higher liability (and cost) might pay off more in the future.
Apart from that, consider looking into an agency that specializes in high-risk drivers. Search for them online and don’t think that you have to settle just because you’re in a hurry. In fact, see if there are any available discounts that come with the policy. Who knows? Maybe this is the perfect time to upgrade your insurance.
What to Ask the Insurance Agency
The most important thing is to get that proof of insurance ASAP. At this point, you’ve already lost enough time while trying to locate your car and shopping around for the best insurance rates and offers. So try to make the rest of the process as swift as possible.
You should ask the agency to fax the proof of insurance to you or directly to the impound lot as soon as you make a deal with them. Furthermore, if you’re in a pickle and also need to reinstate your license along with getting insurance, ask the agency for SR 22 insurance filing.
This “power move” will alert the state that your license is up to date and that you have insurance. What’s more, it’s not even that expensive.
Once you file this paperwork and have proof of insurance, you can go to the lot and get your car back.
Step #4 — The Inevitable Fees
Of course, your drama doesn’t end there because you can’t simply waltz in and demand your car back. You have to pay your dues first.
The best way to get around that is to calculate the total amount you owe before you get to the lot. Talk to the police clerk or the people at the service lot to see which fines you have to pay.
If you have outstanding tickets or other fines, you’ll have to cover those first. Then, you’ll have to scrape the money for the towing charges and storage fees. Keep in mind that storage fees will pile up with each day your car is in the impound lot. So make it quick.
If you don’t have enough money for the fees, try to borrow it. Ask a friend, a family member, or take out a small loan. The sooner you cover the charges, the sooner you can take your baby home. And, more importantly, avoid further fining.
A Few Parting Words
Having the police take your car sucks. Believe me, I know. But sometimes, life throws us a curveball, and we have to roll with it. The most important thing to take away from this article is the order of doing things:
- Locate your car
- Get the paperwork in order
- Scrape up the money to pay the fees
- Pay everything you owe
- Get your car back
It’s not easy, and it sure isn’t cheap, but I hope that this guide will at least make the whole ordeal a bit less stressful.