What happens if your car is impounded?
If your car has been impounded there are several ways you can get it back. However your auto insurance rates could go up depending on the reason your car was impounded in the first place.
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UPDATED: Jul 10, 2022
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- If police impound your vehicle, you must pay a specific amount to get it back from the impound lot
- Law enforcement can impound your vehicle for a variety of reasons, but calling your local police station should help you figure out where it is
- You can expect to pay more in auto insurance once your provider learns of your moving violation
If someone towed your car due to a specific moving violation you’ll have to deal with possible points on your license as well as the likelihood that your vehicle will end up on an impound lot. Sometimes, this can happen in your presence, and you can learn precisely where your vehicle will be. Other times, your car could be impounded while you are working, shopping, or out having lunch, and you’ll have to figure out what to do next.
In most cases, law enforcement officers impound a vehicle due to a specific moving violation. If that violation is severe enough to go on your driving record, you can expect your auto insurance rates to increase once the company discovers the news. Once this happens, you’ll have to learn more about impounded car insurance and your next step.
What happens if my car is impounded?
If local law enforcement officers have impounded your vehicle, a few things will need to be done.
First, you will need to figure out where your car is. If you were around when the company towed your vehicle away, you might have been able to ask where you could find it. But if you walk out of your home or office to a missing car, you’ll have some work to do to see exactly where it ended up.
Next, you must pay to get your vehicle off the impound lot and back in your possession. Once you’ve done this, you may still have to contend with law enforcement or your local department of motor vehicles for the right to drive your car. But this depends on the nature of your moving violation.
Once you have your car back and are legally allowed to drive it, you’ll need to figure out what will happen with your auto insurance policy. Some companies may not increase rates after your car ends up on an impound lot, but many companies will. Speak with your insurance provider and learn what to expect to make an informed decision about insurance.
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Why was my car impounded?
There are several reasons why officers impound vehicles. Some of the most common include:
- Your registration is not up-to-date
- You drove under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- You committed vehicular manslaughter
- You parked your car illegally
- You abandoned your car
- You drove recklessly
- You operated your vehicle without insurance
Keep in mind that different states have different approaches to traffic laws concerning impoundment. Therefore, you will need to check with your local department of motor vehicles if you have questions or concerns regarding your vehicle’s impoundment and how or when you’ll be able to retrieve it.
What are the state laws for impoundment?
Twenty-two states have current laws regarding vehicle impoundment. The table below shows rules and regulations regarding vehicle confiscation and impoundment in those states.
State Vehicle Impoundment and Confiscation Laws
Alabama A vehicle may be impounded if a driver has a revoked license or is driving with a suspended license due to a DWI-related offense. However, the law provides that the vehicle will be released to the registered owner if the offender is not the owner. Further, police can release the vehicle, rather than impounding it, if it is determined that the driving is due to an emergency.
Alaska The municipalities may enact ordinances to impound or confiscate motor vehicles for violations of local DWI offenses or refusal of chemical test laws for first and subsequent offenses. However, these laws are not mandatory.
Arizona Under Arizona’s temporary vehicle impoundment law, the offender’s vehicle may be immediately impounded for 30 days if the driver is arrested for any of the following offenses: (1) DWR for any reason; (2) DWS where the suspension was based on driving under the influence; (3) DWS where the suspension was based on a drunk-driving offense; or (4) DWS where the suspension was based on the frequency of traffic law violation convictions. The vehicle may be released before 30 days if the offender’s driving privileges have been reinstated or if the offender’s spouse enters a five-year agreement with the state to not to allow an unlicensed driver to operate the vehicle.
California California has two vehicle impoundment laws. The first law states that a vehicle owned and driven by an offender may be impounded up to 30 days for a first or second DWI offense and up to 90 days for third and subsequent offenses, if the offense is committed within five years of a prior offense. The second law states that the vehicle owned and driven by the offender may be impounded for up to six months for a first DWI offense and up to 12 months for a subsequent DWI offense.
Connecticut In Connecticut, a vehicle may be impounded for refusing a chemical test, which is a criminal offense and a felony DWI for a third or subsequent DWI offense. An ALR suspension counts as a prior DWI offense. There is also limited vehicle impoundment of 48 hours if a driver is arrested for drinking and driving with a suspended or revoked license.
Washington D.C. The District of Columbia has a limited vehicle impoundment law, under which impoundment is limited to 24 hours. However, the vehicle may be released to a legally licensed driver.
Florida In Florida, the vehicle that is used and owned in a first DWI offense may be impounded for ten days. This action may not be concurrent with probation or imprisonment. For a second DWI offense within five years, the vehicle can be impounded for 30 days. For a third DWI offense within ten years, the vehicle can be impounded for 90 days. This applies to all vehicles owned by the offender and may not be concurrent with probation or imprisonment. However, unlike first DWI offenses, it must be concurrent with the driver’s license revocation. For first, second, and third DWI offenses, these actions are conditions of mandatory probation; however, the court may decide not to order vehicle impoundment if the family has no other means of transportation. There also is a limited vehicle impoundment law for a DWI offense if, at the time of the DWI offense, the offender was driving with a license suspended for a prior DWI offense.
Illinois If the DWI offender is the registered owner, then the vehicle can be impounded for 24 hours for a second DWI offense or 48 hours for a third DWI offense. The vehicle may be released sooner to a competent, licensed driver with the owner’s consent. There also is a limited vehicle impoundment law, under which law enforcement can impound a driver’s vehicle for not more than 12 hours following a DWI arrest. Limited impoundment may be used if the officer reasonably believes that the arrested offender will commit another DWI offense if released.
Iowa For a second or subsequent DWI offense, the vehicle owned and used by the offender can be impounded or immobilized and the license plate seized (and registration confiscated if the vehicle is in custody) by law enforcement authorities. New registration plates are issued only at the end of the driver’s license revocation period or 180 days, whichever is longer.
Kannsas For DWI violations, judges, at their discretion, may order vehicle impoundment or immobilization of the vehicle used in the offense, for up to one year. The offender pays all costs. Judges must take into account hardship to family.
Maine Maine has a temporary vehicle impoundment law. The vehicle used in a DWI offense or for DWS for a prior DWI offense may be seized; however, the vehicle may be released after eight hours.
Maryland The vehicle can be impounded or immobilized (by suspending license plates) for not more than 180 days if the driver’s license is currently suspended for a prior alcohol offense.
Minnesota Under Minnesota’s vehicle impoundment law, a vehicle may be impounded after a DWI arrest and released to the vehicle owner with proof of a valid driver’s license and insurance.
Mississippi For a second or subsequent DWI offenses, all vehicles owned by the offender must be impounded or immobilized at the time of conviction and remain so until the license suspension has expired. If any other person must use the vehicle, an ignition interlock may be required as an alternative to impoundment or immobilization.
Missouri Missouri has a vehicle impoundment or vehicle forfeiture law; however, under Missouri law, cities with populations higher than 100,000 can make their own vehicle impoundment or forfeiture laws. The state law applies to the vehicle operated by the offender regardless of ownership; consequently, the vehicle is subject to impoundment or forfeiture if the driver has had one or more DWI offenses, including illegal per se. The vehicle also can be impounded or forfeited if the offender is driving with a license suspended for a prior DWI offense or for a DWI and involuntary manslaughter offense. Last, the vehicle can be impounded or forfeited if the driver has had two or more DWI offenses (including illegal per se) and, for either offense, had a BAC of 0.08 or greater (0.02 or greater for those under 21) or if the driver has refused to submit to a chemical test under the implied-consent law.
Nebraska An offender who is driving with a license suspended for a prior DWI or an implied-consent conviction may have his or her vehicle impounded for not less than ten days and not longer than 30 days. An offender under 21 may have his or her vehicle impounded if he or she has a BAC of 0.02 or greater.
New Mexico In New Mexico, a vehicle may be immobilized for 30 days if the offender was driving with a revoked license, unless immobilization poses a hardship to the family.
Oregon Vehicle impoundment or immobilization is limited to one year for a second or subsequent DWI offense or for driving with a suspended license. This action is at the court’s discretion and applies to all vehicles owned and used by the offender, even if not used in the offense. The offender must pay the costs of removing, storing, or immobilizing the vehicle.
Virginia Any vehicle used in a DWI offense may be impounded or immobilized for 30 days if the offender was driving with a license suspended because of a prior DWI, an administrative per se violation, or chemical test refusal. In addition, vehicles owned by an offender may be impounded or immobilized for up to 90 days even if the vehicles were not used in the offense. There are family hardship exceptions for households with only one vehicle.
Washington In addition to impounding the vehicle for other possible penalties for driving with a license suspended for a prior DWI conviction, authorities may also impound the vehicle for not more than 30 days on a first offense. For a second offense, the vehicle may be impounded for not more than 60 days or, for a third offense, not more than 90 days.
Wisconsin Wisconsin allows temporary vehicle impoundment as part of the immobilization process. This is not a law. Rather, this policy is used only temporarily and at the discretion of officers in the field.
Wyoming Wyoming allows for temporary vehicle impoundment. An offender’s vehicle may be impounded following an arrest if a sober driver is unavailable.
If you live in a state not listed above and law enforcement officers confiscate and impound your vehicle, you’ll have to check with local law enforcement to see why and what you can do to get your car back. In some states, you may have a waiting period before you can pay to have your vehicle taken off the impound lot. But this will likely depend on the nature of your infraction.
You may have to appear in court with proper documentation in some states. You may need to provide proof of insurance and registration in other states and pay a fine.
How can I find my impounded vehicle?
Drivers can usually find their impounded vehicles by contacting their local police department. The department will likely need some information to find your vehicle, including:
- Your name
- Your address
- Your driver’s license number
- The vehicle identification number (VIN)
- Your license plate number
If you discover that police cannot locate your car, you can call the local parking authorities to see if they can help.
You may know the reason your car has been impounded. For example, if a police officer pulls you over, you will receive a notification concerning where the company will tow your car. Sometimes, the officer may give you the establishment’s phone number to make it easier to find and pay for your vehicle.
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Is it expensive to get your car back from an impound lot?
You may be able to pay as little as $100 to retrieve your car from an impound lot, but the average is around $230. In addition, you’ll have to pay the towing charges for getting the car to the impound lot. Tow charges vary and could be anywhere from $65 to $700.
Some impound lots charge extra if your car remains there for multiple days. If you can find and retrieve your vehicle quickly, this would be your best bet to ensure you don’t end up paying hundreds or even thousands of dollars to get it back.
Will insurance rates go up if my car has been impounded?
You can expect your car insurance rates to increase if your car ends up on an impound lot, but the rate increase will be due to your moving violation rather than the impoundment of your vehicle.
Insurance companies pay close attention to their policyholders’ driving records. Therefore, if your insurer notices you’ve incurred a moving violation, you will pose more risk. This is especially true if your moving violation caused harm to someone else, damaged another vehicle, or resulted in a DUI or DWI conviction thus making you a high-risk driver.
Some companies increase rates as much as 75% after a person has been convicted of driving under the influence. If your car insurance rates rise, it’s a good idea to shop online and compare quotes from multiple providers to see if you can switch car insurance companies to get cheaper insurance elsewhere.
Car Impoundment: The Bottom Line
If your car ends up on an impound lot, you’ll need to figure out where it is. Calling your local police station is an excellent way to start your search for your vehicle, and it may be easy to locate your car. Once you’ve found your vehicle, you’ll need to pay the appropriate fines and fees to get it back.
Depending on why officers impounded your car, it may be a while before you are legally allowed to drive it. Before getting behind the wheel, you’ll need up-to-date registration and a valid car insurance policy.
You can expect your insurance rates to increase after your car has been impounded, though the increase will depend on the nature of your initial moving violation. To avoid paying too much for car insurance, you can shop online and compare quotes from multiple providers.
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Sara Routhier, Managing Editor and Outreach Director, has professional experience as an educator, SEO specialist, and content marketer. She has over five years of experience in the insurance industry. As a researcher, data nerd, writer, and editor she strives to curate educational, enlightening articles that provide you with the must-know facts and best-kept secrets within the overwhelming world o...
Cynthia Lanctot is an insurance professional with ten years of industry experience. Cynthia is licensed in several states, and holds an associate in claims law, as well as a bachelor’s degree in English. Cynthia’s experience includes the New England and Northeast states. She currently works as a liability claims professional and an occasional online contributor.
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