“My car was towed” is a statement that we all dread making. In fact, getting your car towed is one of the worst feelings in the world. You park your car, only to return a few hours (or days) later to find an empty parking spot. Unfortunately, if you live in a city or county with limited parking, there’s a good chance that you’ll get your car towed at some point if you’re not careful.
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So, what can you do after the fact? What rights do you have as a car owner? What will you have to pay to get your car back? Most importantly, how can you find your car once it’s been towed?
How do I find out where my car was towed?
Figuring out how to find a towed car can get tricky. It will largely depend on where you live and where the car was parked at the time it was towed. If you live in a city, you’re local government probably has a “towed vehicle locator” website. Some states also provide statewide towed vehicle locator resources. For example, here are links to some helpful resources in a few different cities:
- New York City Towed Vehicle Locator
- Los Angeles Towed Vehicle Locator
- Chicago Towed Vehicle Locator
- Philadelphia Towed Vehicle Locator
- Atlanta Towed Vehicle Locator
In the vast majority of cases, you will either need to know your license plate number or your Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) to use one of these locators. However, not every city or state provides location services for impounded vehicles. If your city doesn’t have one, or if you’re unsure if it does, simply Google “[City Name] + Towed Vehicle Locator.”
My city doesn’t have a towed vehicle locator. What should I do?
If your city doesn’t provide towed vehicle location services, you have two options. Your first option is to Google “find towed vehicle near me” or “find impound lots near me.” Depending on where you live, impounded vehicles could be managed by the local government or a third-party towing company. In either case, you can find local impound and auto storage lots online.
Then, you can either call or go to the impound lot nearest to where your car was parked to ask about your vehicle’s whereabouts. However, going in person is not the most efficient option, especially without a car to get there! Also, keep in mind that you may have to visit more than one impound lot before you actually find the right one.
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Finally, you have the option of contacting your local police department or department of motor vehicles. They may not know the exact location of your vehicle, but they can generally provide you with contact information for nearby towing companies. This could save you a lot of time when tracking down a towed vehicle.
I found my towed car. Now what?
Once you find where your car is located, you’ll need to pay a fee to get it back. How much you pay and how quickly you can get back on the road will depend on the reasons for the impoundment. Here are a few reasons that you’ll get your car towed:
- You parked illegally (for example, you parked in a “tow-away zone”)
- You parked on private property and the property owner asked that it be moved in your absence
- You failed to pay tickets for previous parking or moving violations
- Your vehicle has been repossessed by a lender
- Your vehicle has been obtained as evidence by the state (less common)
If you parked illegally or parked on private property and do not owe money for any previous violations, the process to get your car back will be pretty simple. You’ll just need to pay a fee, show proof of ownership, and that’s it. Though fees vary by jurisdiction, you can expect to pay anywhere between $100-$1,000 to get a towed car back.
For people who owe money on previous violations, the process is a little more complicated and expensive. You will need to pay these fees first, which may require you to pay them online or through your local department of motor vehicles. Then, you will need to pay the towing company to get your car back.
Finally, if you’re vehicle was repossessed by a lender, you will need to settle your debts with the lender before the vehicle can be returned. In the unlikely event that your car was obtained as evidence by the state, you will have to wait until the case involving your vehicle has been closed. Then, you can go through the police or towing company to retrieve your vehicle.
My car was towed. What are my rights?
Unfortunately, your rights as a vehicle owner are limited once your car has been towed. You generally cannot access your vehicle, though some towing companies may give leniency if there is an important item (such as a wallet or medical device) inside the vehicle. You also have the right to know why your car was seized and how much it will cost to get it back.
Additionally, you get the “right” to 28 days of vehicle storage. This means that a towing company gives you 28 days to pay all applicable fees and get your vehicle back. Depending on where you live, you may lose your rights as the vehicle owner if you do not pay the required amounts during this period. After the 28 days are up, the local municipality or towing company may seize the vehicle and either send it to the scrap yard or break it down for parts.
The Bottom Line
Anytime you have to say “my car was towed,” you know it’s a bad day. It can disrupt your ability to get to work, run errands, and live your life as you usually would. Fortunately, there are ways to get a towed car back quickly. Unfortunately, you will have to pay fees and could risk losing your vehicle if you take too long to finish the process.
In any case, if your vehicle has been towed and you’d like to find out more about your legal rights as a car owner, check out our guide to free legal aid in all 50 states!