Leslie Kasperowicz holds a BA in Social Sciences from the University of Winnipeg. She spent several years as a Farmers Insurance CSR, gaining a solid understanding of insurance products including home, life, auto, and commercial and working directly with insurance customers to understand their needs. She has since used that knowledge in her more than ten years as a writer, largely in the insuranc...

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Melanie Musson is the fourth generation in her family to work in the insurance industry. She grew up with insurance talk as part of her everyday conversation and has studied to gain an in-depth knowledge of state-specific insurance laws and dynamics as well as a broad understanding of how insurance fits into every person’s life, from budgets to coverage levels. Through her years working in th...

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Reviewed by Melanie Musson
Published Insurance Expert Melanie Musson

UPDATED: Mar 26, 2022

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Just What's Essential

  • Impoundment is the legal process of taking a car to an impound lot or a tow yard
  • If you don’t pay your traffic tickets, the city can impound your car, and getting it back can take a lot of work
  • Before you can retrieve your car, you’ll have to pay a release fee

You rely on your car every single day for many purposes. So if you don’t have access to it, many challenges can befall you. Something that every driver should know is how to get a car out of impound.

Impoundment is the legal process of seizing a car due to a violation of the law. Your vehicle will be towed to either a tow yard or an impound lot. And you might have to pay an excessive amount of money to get it back.  There are many reasons to impound a car, and some of them are worse than others, so it’s beneficial to know exactly what impounding is and how to get your car back as soon as possible, without it creating a major dent in your wallet. 

Reasons for Impounding a Car

If a car is impounded, it could be for numerous reasons. Usually, a police officer or local municipality makes the decision to impound a car if there are infractions on the owner’s driving record, but that isn’t always the case. Here are the most common reasons to impound a car:

  • Unresolved parking violations of a certain age with unpaid fines
  • The car is parked in an unauthorized space
  • The owner of the vehicle has unresolved moving traffic violations
  • The vehicle is collected as evidence in a crime or potential crime
  • If police search your vehicle and find illegal substances
  • No qualified drivers to drive the car

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What is the impoundment procedure?

There’s a series of actions that the police or local municipality take after deciding that a car will have to be impounded, including:

  • Grant of authority. To impound a car, either the court must make a decision or certain requirements must be met to require an automatic right to impound.
  • Finding the vehicle. The impounding agency can either search for and locate specific impoundment candidates, or they can send out agents to search every car in a designated area against a list of vehicles to impound.
  • Towing. If the agent locates a car on the impound list, they can either tow it themselves or have a towing company take it to the impound lot.

How can I get my car out of impound?

Perhaps the most important thing to know regarding impoundment is how to get a vehicle out of impound. Although it isn’t a difficult process, you’ll need to know how to find your car and the items you’ll need in order to have it released back to you.

Locate Your Car

First things first, you’re going to need to actually find your car. If you are there when the car is towed, then the driver will most likely tell you where the car is going. But that isn’t always the case. Sometimes the car is impounded in the driver’s absence. The process of locating the car might be a little time-consuming.

You’ll want to call your local police station, or the station closest to where the car was towed, and ask if it’s listed as having been impounded. They might not have any information. So, next, you’ll need to contact your local parking authority. They will require your license plate and the vehicle’s VIN number to locate it. Sometimes they don’t have the information available right away, so you might have to call back every couple of hours to check.

Contact the Impound Lot

Now that you know where your car is, the next steps are a lot simpler. Before rushing over to the impound lot, call them first to confirm that they have your car. You don’t want to waste time traveling to an impound lot if the car isn’t actually there.

Have the Necessary Paperwork

To get a car out of impound, certain documents are required for them to release it to you. It might vary from state to state but, typically, you’re going to need a driver’s license, proof of car insurance, the vehicle’s title or registration, and proof of ownership. If you don’t present these documents, the lot could refuse to return your car. And the longer your car is in impound, the more money it’ll cost to retrieve it.

Pay the Required Fees

Before you get your car back, the necessary fees will have to be paid to the impound lot. They’re referred to as release fees. This covers the cost of towing and impoundment. Usually, this costs hundreds of dollars, becoming increasingly more expensive the longer the car sits on the lot. The average cost of the release fee is $150 for towing and $50 to $90 for every day that the vehicle remains on the lot.

How long can your car be impounded?

There is a finite amount of time that a car can remain in impound. In most states, there’s a 30-day limit for a car to be picked up from the lot. If you don’t retrieve your car in time, the impound lot will find other means to pay your fees. They’ll either auction off your vehicle to pay the fees, scrap it for parts, or take you to court to pay the money you owe. If you plan on getting your car back, the sooner you retrieve it, the better.

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Can you get your car out of impound for free?

If you can’t afford to retrieve your car from an impound lot, there are other ways to acquire the funds. You can ask family members or close friends to lend you the money or try to start a GoFundMe fundraiser. Some community action agencies will even provide grants and low-cost loans to help families and those in need pay the release fee. But otherwise, there is no way to get your car out of impound without paying.

Can you get you car out of impound without insurance?

Unfortunately, you’ll need to present at least your driver’s license and proof of insurance to pick up your car. This is to legally protect the impound lot from lawsuits and also to protect the legal owner of the car. Not to mention, you need insurance to drive in all 50 states, so you wouldn’t legally be able to drive it anyway. If cost is a factor, looking into discounts and comparing quotes from multiple companies are the best ways to find affordable car insurance.