How to get your car out of impound

Brian Acton


Brian Acton

Brian Acton

Contributing Reporter

Brian Acton is a contributing reporter at Policygenius, where he covers personal finance and insurance news. His work has also appeared in The Wall Street Journal, TIME, USA Today, MarketWatch, Inc. Magazine, and HuffPost. 

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Updated December 2, 2020: There are many reasons your car could be towed to an impound lot. Maybe you were parked illegally or caught driving without insurance. Or you were arrested. Or your car was impeding traffic.

“Your car can be towed and impounded for illegal parking or expired tags. It can also be impounded if you are arrested for something like an invalid license or DUI and there is no one else present to drive your car," said Jake McKenzie, content manager at Auto Accessories Garage. "The police will impound it rather than allow it to clutter the roadside and create a safety hazard."

Getting a car back from impoundment isn’t fun. You’ll need to gather some paperwork and pay some hefty fees. While details vary between jurisdictions, there are some commonalities no matter where your car was impounded.

Here’s how to get your car out of impound.

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1. Find out where your vehicle is located

This depends on the situation. If you were arrested and your car was towed on the spot, the police will likely inform you of its location. But if your car was towed from a parking space when you weren’t present, you may need to do some digging.

If the car was illegally parked, do research to find where the closest impound lot is or ask a nearby local business. Still can’t find your car? Contact the city or county office.

“It varies by area but in many states you can contact your local parking authority and provide your license plate and VIN number to find out where your car has been towed,” said McKenzie.

If you have checked with the local impound lots and still can’t find your car, it’s possible that it may have been stolen. In that case, you will need to report your vehicle stolen to the police. Here's how.

2. Call the impound lot

Before you rush out to pick up your car, it’s a good idea to call ahead to the impound lot and verify that your vehicle is there. If the impound lot doesn’t have a record of your vehicle, don’t panic. If it was recently towed, the lot may not have processed it yet.

Once you’re verified on the phone that your vehicle is at the lot, determine what you need to get it returned to you. The required paperwork varies based on why the car was impounded. You’ll also need to pay some fees. Most impound lots will charge a towing fee and daily storage rates (make sure you know what forms of payment the lot accepts).

In some cases, your vehicle must be held for a minimum amount of time. Make sure you can get your car out before you head to the lot.

Verify all this information before you go to the impound lot. You don’t want to wait in a long line only to be told you don’t have enough money or the right paperwork.

3. Gather your paperwork and payment

“Most likely you’ll need your valid driver’s license and proof of insurance,” said McKenzie. “Payment can vary so make sure to ask ahead of time how much you owe, and which payment types are accepted.”

Proof of insurance is a document that shows you have an active car insurance policy, and may contain the name of the insured, an address, vehicle information and insurance policy details. The required paperwork may also include proof of ownership, such as vehicle registration and/or title.

4. Pick up your car ASAP

As soon as you know your car’s location and you’ve gathered the required paperwork and payment, go pick up your car as soon as possible. Impound lots usually charge daily fees for storing your vehicle, which means the longer you wait, the more you’ll have to pay.

There may be a line at the impound lot, so get ready to wait, but be prepared to provide payment and all the necessary paperwork. In case something goes wrong, you may want to have your ride wait until you successfully get the car out.

What if you don’t have insurance?

You’re going to need an active car insurance policy to get your car out of impound. If you can’t provide proof of insurance, your car will sit in impound and collect daily storage fees until you can prove the car is insured.

If you don’t have insurance, start shopping for a policy. While you may be in a hurry to get your car out of impound, it's a good idea not to pick the first policy you find — comparing quotes can help you get the best rate that meets your needs.

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Image: Arslan Ozgur Sukan

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