What happens if your car is impounded?

If your goal is to maintain your affordable auto insurance, an impounded car can ruin that. Cars are typically impounded if you've committed some kind of moving violation like having an out-of-date vehicle registration or are driving under the influence. Since insurance companies check your driving history regularly, you could rate increases. If you haven't already, you need to buy auto insurance because an impounded car won't be released unless you have an active policy.

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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...

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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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Reviewed by Cynthia Lanctot
Licensed Agent Cynthia Lanctot

UPDATED: Jan 30, 2022

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A Concise Overview

  • Having your car impounded can be quite costly
  • A car can be impounded for a variety of reasons
  • You can contact a local authority to find out if your car has been impounded

Knowing how to buy auto insurance and how to regain control of your impounded car — after it’s been towed due to some type of moving violation — are two very important topics that every driver should be knowledgeable about. Sometimes your car will be towed away before your very eyes, but on occasion, you may emerge from your local bakery to discover that your vehicle has vanished without a trace.

Now, even if you have affordable auto insurance, an impounded car can end up costing you a pretty penny. Once you locate your car, you’ll need to ensure that you’ve paid off any fines you received — on top of the impound fees — before you can drive your vehicle again. It’s also important to note that if you once had low car insurance rates, an impounded car can change that.

Cars are typically impounded when drivers commit some type of moving violation, and insurance companies tend to take those offenses very seriously. This can cause an increase in your rates as a possible repercussion. However, if you are facing a steep incline in your rates, try shopping online to find a new insurance company that can meet the needs of your budget and still provide you with excellent coverage.

Keep reading to learn what happens if your car is impounded by police and what you can do to retrieve it.

If your rates increased after regaining possession of your impounded car, enter your ZIP code to obtain free insurance quotes from insurance companies near you.

Can drivers find out if their car was impounded?

Before you become concerned about your future with your auto insurance company, you need to determine why your vehicle was towed away. A car that is impounded by police can usually be found by contacting your local police station. In order for the station to properly implement its impounded vehicle locator, you’ll need to share the following information:

  • Your car’s VIN
  • Your license plate number

Now, if whoever is on duty can’t help you locate your vehicle, you’ll need to reach out to the local parking authority.

Of course, if you were driving your car and were pulled over by a police officer prior to your vehicle’s impoundment, you should be notified as to where your car will end up. Generally, the police officer will share the tow truck company’s name and phone number with you, and you will be able to call them to find out the location of your vehicle.

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Why would a car be impounded?

There are several reasons why a car would be impounded. You could witness your car’s impoundment for these reasons:

  • You didn’t have an up-to-date registration
  • You were driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • You committed vehicular manslaughter
  • You parked your car illegally
  • You abandoned your car
  • You were driving recklessly and endangering yourself or others
  • You were driving your car without insurance

You must keep in mind that different states have their own approach to traffic laws and to what justifies a car being towed. It’s important to know the laws where you live, so if you’ve moved to a new state or simply want a refresher on what could get your car towed, you can find your state’s rules below.

Vehicle Impoundment and Confiscation Laws by State

StateVehiclce Impoundment and Confiscation Laws
AlabamaA vehicle may be impounded if a driver is found to be driving with a revoked license or driving with a license suspended because of a DWI-related offense or refuses a breath test. 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. This law does not seem to be aimed at long-term prevention of drinking and driving by separating offenders from their vehicles.
AlaskaThe 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.
ArizonaUnder 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.
CaliforniaCalifornia 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. This first law prevents the vehicle from being impounded if it is the only vehicle available to the family or if another person has a community-property interest in the vehicle. 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. We found no information on reasons one law might be enforced rather than the other. There is no mention of laws concerning chemical test refusals.
ConnecticutConnecticut has a vehicle impoundment law. The 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. This law seems intended to prevent the offender from operating the vehicle immediately after the drinking-and-driving offense, rather than being aimed at long-term prevention of drinking and driving by offenders.
Washington D.C.The District of Columbia also 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.
FloridaFlorida has a vehicle impoundment law, under which 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 and, for a third DWI offense within ten years, 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. This law seems intended to prevent the offender from operating the vehicle immediately after the drinking-and-driving offense, rather than being aimed at long-term prevention of drinking and driving by offenders.
IllinoisIf 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. This law seems intended to prevent the offender from operating the vehicle immediately after the drinking-and-driving offense, rather than being aimed at long-term prevention of drinking and driving by offenders.
IowaFor 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.
KannsasFor 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. This law went into effect on July 1, 2003.
MaineMaine also 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. This law seems intended to prevent the offender from operating the vehicle immediately after the drinking-and-driving offense, rather than being aimed at long-term prevention of drinking and driving by offenders.
MarylandThe 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.
MinnesotaUnder 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. This law seems intended to prevent the offender from operating the vehicle immediately after the drinking-and-driving offense, rather than being aimed at long-term prevention of drinking and driving by offenders.
MississippiFor 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.
MissouriMissouri 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.
NebraskaAn 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 JerseyAccording to Century Council (2003), New Jersey has a vehicle impoundment law under which an offender’s vehicle must be impounded for 12 hours at the time of arrest. This law seems intended to prevent the offender from operating the vehicle immediately after the drinking-and-driving offense, rather than being aimed at long-term prevention of drinking and driving by offenders. NHTSA (2003a) does not report any vehicle impoundment laws in New Jersey, which raises a question as to which source is correct.
New MexicoNew Mexico also has a vehicle immobilization law, under which 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.
OregonVehicle 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.
VirginiaAny 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.
WashingtonWashington has a vehicle impoundment law. 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.
WisconsinThere is a policy in Wisconsin that allows temporary vehicle impoundment, as part of the immobilization process. This is not a law, just a policy, and is used only temporarily and at the discretion of officers in the field.
WyomingWyoming has a policy that allows for temporary vehicle impoundment. An offender’s vehicle may be impounded following an arrest if a sober driver is unavailable. This law seems intended to prevent the offender from operating the vehicle immediately after the drinking-and-driving offense, rather than being aimed at long-term prevention of drinking and driving by offenders.
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Obtaining insurance after a DUI charge can be difficult, but it is imperative that you do so in order to retrieve your car. If you do not have an active license or an insurance policy, you will not be allowed to regain possession of your car.

How can a car be retrieved from an impound lot?

While it’s easy to acquire free auto insurance quotes, an impounded car is much harder to obtain, but it can be done. Some states will require you to make an appearance in court with documentation like your vehicle registration, a current insurance policy, and your driver’s license. Remember to contact your local parking authority to ensure that you have everything you need to retrieve your car.

How much does it cost to get a car out of an impound lot?

Be prepared to pay over $100 for the impound fees alone. Most impound lots will charge you a fee for every day that your car is impounded, and those rates tend to be quite expensive. You will also be held responsible for towing fees. To reduce these costs, you should attempt to retrieve your car as quickly as possible.

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What You Need to Know if Your Card is Impounded

If you’re currently driving without any coverage on your vehicle, you need to purchase auto insurance because an impounded car will not be released to you without an active policy. And if you have an active insurance policy, you may never have to worry about your car being impounded.

Now, if your car was impounded and you don’t know where it is located, you can contact your local police station or parking authority and ask for their assistance. Once you locate your car, you may need to go to court. Therefore, you should ensure that you have a ride or access to a public transit that can help you arrive on time.
If you have an impounded car but no insurance, enter your ZIP code to obtain free quotes today.

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