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How to get your car out of impound

Fact-checked with HomeInsurance.com

Impound refers to an event in which your car is seized and towed to an impound lot. It can happen for a variety of reasons, but it’s usually related to traffic violations.

For instance, your car may be towed if you’re parked illegally and your car is blocking traffic, or if you’re parked in a no-parking zone. For more serious offenses, such as getting a DUI or if you are found to be driving without car insurance, the police can also impound your car.

If your car is impounded, there are ways to retrieve it, but the process can involve costly fines and be time-consuming. Here are the essential steps you need to take to get your car out of impound.

Steps to get your car out of impound

Find where your vehicle is located

As soon as you realize your car has been impounded, your first task is to locate the vehicle. This can be more difficult than you would think. When your car is impounded, the impounder typically does not leave a note letting you know where the car has been taken. It’s up to you to determine what happened and where the car may have been taken as a result.

If your car was impounded because you were arrested, the police will likely tell you where it was taken. You can call the station to confirm the location if you forget. In the event your car was towed because you were illegally parked, call the city and ask them to verify if the car was recently impounded and they may be able to give you the location.

In some tow zones, signs are posted to indicate where impounded vehicles are taken. That can help you determine where the car might be, or you can check with local businesses on the same street where your car was parked in case they know the impound location. For common impound reasons, we have listed below recommended points of contact to find your car.

Reason For ImpoundWhere to Look For Your Car
Arrested for DUICall the police station in the city of arrest
Driving without insuranceCall the police station in the city you were pulled over in
Illegal parkingCall the city the car was towed in; check tow-zone signs; ask local businesses
Expired tagsCall the city the car was towed in

If you’re worried about the car being damaged in the towing process, remember that most car insurance covers towing. In addition, if the tow truck was in an accident while towing your car, any damages to the car are covered. 

However, keep in mind that having your car towed for impound is different than towing for a breakdown. Towing for incidents unrelated to impounding is covered by roadside assistance.  

Call the impound lot

Once you’ve figured out where the car might be located, call the impound lot and confirm the car is there before you plan to visit. Processing and recording recent tows takes time, so if the impound doesn’t have a record of it, try calling back in a few hours.

The next step is to find out what you need in order to retrieve your car. Typically this involves paperwork, but the specific documents might vary depending on the impound. It’s also important to know the costs involved in getting the car out of impound, and what forms of payment you can use. When you contact the impound lot, these are the details you can obtain to help with the process. 

Gather your paperwork and payment

Next, gather the necessary paperwork. At a minimum, be prepared to present a valid driver’s license and proof of car insurance. You might also be required to bring documents that show proof of ownership, like the vehicle registration or title. 

This is also a good time to confirm you have the necessary funds to pay any fees or release costs. In the event the impound lot requires cash or check, be prepared for that in advance as well. Be mindful that you may encounter additional fees once you get to the impound lot, depending on the process.  

It can be expensive to get your car out of impound, and the cost varies by state, according to 2018 TechValidate dealer survey findings. It’s generally cheapest in the midwest, with an average rate of about $406. In the south, the average rate is about $437, which is the highest region for averages in the country.

What if I don’t have proof of car insurance?

If you can’t provide proof of insurance, you will unfortunately not be able to get your car back. Because driving without insurance is illegal, your car will remain in the impound lot until you can show proof of insurance.

If you don’t have insurance, you will need to obtain a policy prior to attempting to retrieve your car. Although you may want to get your car back as fast as possible, it’s recommended to take your time and get quotes from multiple providers. However, some companies offer same-day car insurance if you’re in a big rush.

What if I can’t afford to get my car out of impound?

Getting your car out of impound can be costly. If you can’t afford to get your car back, talk to the impound lot about a payment plan. It might accept installments overtime, rather than a one time payment. Another option is to take out a personal loan or a payday loan to get the money upfront, and pay it back later.

Pick up your car as soon as possible

The sooner you can recover your vehicle from impound, the better. Impound lots usually charge by the day, so the longer the car sits in the lot, the more it will cost to get it back. Because the recovery process can be time-intensive, as the lot attendant has to verify paperwork and perform other necessary administrative tasks, factor the additional wait time with any transportation measures you may have put in place (such as a taxi or rideshare) so you don’t run up additional bills for the wait. 

The takeaway

  • It’s possible to get your car out of impound, but it’s often costly and time consuming.
  • Locating your vehicle and obtaining necessary paperwork for retrieval can be tricky.
  • If you don’t have car insurance, you’ll need to purchase a policy before you can get the car back.
  • If you can’t afford to get the car back, consider getting a personal loan or ask the lot if they offer a payment plan.

Getting your car impounded can be extremely frustrating, especially if your car was towed without your knowledge. Finding out where the car was impounded is perhaps the most difficult complication. Once you have identified the impound, call the lot to confirm your car is there, then go over paperwork and payment details to get the car back.

Keep in mind that insurance is a requirement to the release of your vehicle, so if you don’t already have a policy in place, that’s an important step to prioritize.

Elizabeth Rivelli

Elizabeth is an insurance writer for coverage.com, where she covers insurance providers and reviews policies to help consumers find comprehensive and affordable coverage for every area of their life. She has more than three years of writing experience for top online insurance and finance publications.

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