Expertly Reviewed By: Serah Waweru, Esq., on May 31, 2023
The police towed and impounded your car after an accident. Why did they do that in the first place? Importantly, how can you get your car back? This article will walk you through the common reasons behind this action, how to get it out of impound, and other important information related to this issue.
Is It Legal for the Police to Impound Your Car After an Accident?
The issue of whether the police are legally authorized to impound your car will usually depend on the specific circumstances of the situation. There are some situations in which the police will impound your car, even if there was no crime that took place.
In general, the police can legally impound your car after an accident. This legal authority to impound vehicles is based on different factors, such as the laws and regulations in your state and the specific circumstances of the car accident.
How long can the police legally hold your car in impound?
There is no single, fixed answer to this question. Again, this will depend on the jurisdiction since every state has its own law for this type of situation. There are states that allow the police to hold your car in impound until ongoing investigations are over. On average, the police can keep your car in impound for 30 to 90 days.
Why Do the Police Impound Cars After an Accident?
Police officers can impound your car after an accident for several reasons. Here are a few common scenarios where impounding a car involved in an accident may happen:
1. The Vehicle Is Part of the Investigative Process
The police usually conduct an investigation after a car accident, especially if it involves significant damage or a high fatality rate. Your car can stay in impound for weeks or possibly months until the police investigation is complete. This gives them enough time to conduct a thorough investigation without altering or tampering with the vehicles involved in the accident.
The extent of a police investigation will greatly vary depending on several factors, such as:
- The severity of the accident can affect the investigation’s duration. The police will look into the severity of the injuries, the number of casualties, or the amount of property damage.
- The complexity of a car accident case may be due to several reasons, such as conflicting accounts by the witnesses and technical issues that require expert knowledge or technology.
- If the accident goes to court, the investigation may take longer than expected because of the additional time needed for collecting evidence and testimonies and filing reports.
- The investigative team could have difficulties gathering the necessary documents, statements, and other information because the involved parties refuse to cooperate.
2. The Driver Was Driving While Impaired
If the police determine that one or more people involved in the accident were driving impaired, they might impound their cars as part of their investigation. Doing this will help preserve evidence to build their case. The driver’s impairment will play a factor in the investigation, such as when determining the cause of the accident.
In addition, there is a possibility that the accident will lead to court or legal proceedings if an out-of-court settlement is not successful. Victims or their families might file a civil lawsuit to seek compensation for medical bills, property damage, emotional trauma, or other consequences related to the accident.
3. The Police Cannot Locate the Vehicle’s Driver
The police may impound a car because the driver is not present to move it from the scene. This may be due to several reasons: arrest, injuries, the car no longer operational, or the driver having to be transported to a medical facility. That is why the police may contact a tow truck company to impound it.
However, if you are not seriously injured and are able to call a tow truck company yourself, consider following these steps:
- Get your personal belongings out of your car. You do not know when you will get your car back once it is impounded.
- Take photos of the accident scene, including your car, for evidence.
Do not worry if you are unable to do these things; depending on the complexity of the case, you or someone you know can always collect your belongings at the impound lot.
4. Driving Without a Valid License or Insurance
Always drive with a valid driver’s license and insurance because you never know when you will get into an accident. If you ever get involved in an accident with an expired driver’s license or without car insurance, the police can impound your car for these reasons:
All states consider it illegal to drive with an invalid driver’s license. To enforce the state’s traffic laws and regulations, the police may impound your car after an accident.
The police may do this to verify your identity, vehicle ownership, and insurance status. Impounding your car gives them the opportunity to thoroughly investigate these issues to ensure the rights and interests of the involved parties are protected.
READ ALSO | Is It Illegal To Drive Barefoot?
The police may also impound your car to facilitate the investigation of the accident. This includes gathering key information and evidence about the accident.
Driving without a valid license could cause the police to doubt your ability to safely operate your car. So, in order to prevent further accidents and protect public safety, they may impound your car after the accident.
5. Concerns About Public Safety
Even if your car sustained minor damages or is drivable after the accident, the police may still impound it to keep the public safe. You may not be able to get your car until you have it repaired to ensure it’s roadworthy again.
⚖️ PRO TIP | If you are unsure if your car meets legal requirements following the accident, we suggest you consult with a qualified auto repair mechanic or your insurance provider. If the car was written off but is still repairable, you may be able to obtain a rebuilt title once it becomes roadworthy through repairs.
6. Stolen Vehicle
When the police arrive at the accident scene, one of the things that they may do is verify if the car involved in the accident was stolen or used in a crime. Here are some of the possible methods they may use:
- Run a license plate check through their database.
- Verify the car’s Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), an identifying code assigned to each motor vehicle.
- Contact the registered owner of the car to verify ownership.
- Check the law enforcement database for stolen or salvaged vehicles.
In this case, the police may release your car a few days after they have completed their investigation. However, if your car is an important piece of evidence in a criminal investigation, they may hold it until the investigation is over, which may take weeks or months.
What Should You Do When The Police Impound Your Car An Accident?
While a car being impounded is frustrating and inconvenient, you should do whatever you can to get it as soon as possible. Remember, you may have to pay daily storage fees.
Here is a general guide on how to get your car out of impound:
Locate your car: Begin your search by contacting the police station that impounded your car. If they don’t have that information, contact your local parking authority or the Department of Transportation. Make sure you have prepared the information they may need to locate your car, such as the license plate number and the VIN.
Get in touch with the impound lot: Confirm with the impound lot that they have your car. If they do, ask about their daily storage fees and requirements to release your car. Some of the documents you need to present are a valid state ID, proof of ownership (e.g., a title or valid registration), and valid insurance coverage.
Pay the fees for towing and storage: The exact amount for towing and daily storage fees in the United States can greatly vary. In California, for example, the average daily storage fee is $42.50 if your car gets stored at the local official police garage. The fees you need to pay will depend on different factors, such as your car type, location, and the policies of the impound lot.
Schedule the release of your car: Once you have the money and necessary documents, talk to the impound lot to set a time for the release of your car. Do not forget to bring with you the required payment and documents on the day of the release. Once they have released your car to you, inspect it before leaving.
Recovering, cooperating with law enforcement, getting compensated, and retrieving your impounded car can quickly prove overwhelming. So, if you or a loved one were involved in an accident and the police impounded your car, do not hesitate to ask for help from a reputable attorney.