What can I do when the police tow my car?

Vehicles may be towed for many reasons. If the car or driver is not validly licensed, or is being arrested, the police may tow the car for safekeeping, or to conduct a more thorough search. Abandoned vehicles or illegally parked vehicles may be towed by the police to clear them from the street.

Unfortunately, many police agencies are unfamiliar with the law on towing and impound of cars. Most contract with a private towing and storage lot instead of maintaining their own equipment and storage facilities. These private lots understand that they are unlikely to get paid if they release the car without full payment for their time. They are also unfamiliar with the laws, so you may have a problem getting your car out of the lot once it has been towed.

DUI and Other Vehicle-Involved Crimes

If a driver is charged with drunk driving or driving under certain types of suspension, and when vehicles are used to commit serious crimes, particularly drug crimes, the vehicle can be forfeited to the state by a court order. In most instances, however, the police are not permitted to hold the vehicle if a properly authorized and licensed driver comes to the lot and asks that it be released.

Always Ask for Release Immediately

You should ask for release of the vehicle as soon as possible, even if the police had the right to tow it. The right to tow a vehicle is not the same as the right to keep it. If you don't ask, however, the police or storage company will claim that you left it in their lot voluntarily, or abandoned it, and will charge you storage fees.

A licensed driver with proof of liability insurance should be the one who asks for the car. If this person is not the owner of the vehicle, he or she should be accompanied by the owner, or have a notarized power of attorney signed by the owner. If the car doesn't have valid plates, you will not be permitted to drive it off the lot. You must either bring valid plates or arrange to have the car towed away.

Court Orders for Release

If you ask, and the lot refuses to return the vehicle to you, you may need an order from the court to get it released. If the vehicle is legally subject to impoundment, the police agency that told the lot not to return it to you is responsible for the storage fees. You may still be required to pay for towing, and any storage up to the time that you asked to have the vehicle returned, but you should not be required to pay for storage beyond that time unless the vehicle was subject to impoundment. Even if your vehicle may be subject to impoundment or immobilization after conviction of the offense charged, you may be able to petition the court for release until the case is resolved. That way, you will avoid big storage fees if you are not convicted as charged. Also, the case may take longer to get to trial than the period of impoundment authorized by law for a conviction. You should file a motion for release with the court as soon as possible, because storage fees are often very high.

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