How To Get Impound Fees Waived and Get Your Car Out for Free

Article Summary:

Having your car impounded will likely happen because of unpaid tickets, driving without insurance, and other personal infractions. It can also happen if someone steals your car and then parks it illegally. You can implement several solutions to have the fees either waived or reduced substantially.

“Dude, where’s my car?” Not only is this a famously dumb movie, but it’s a phrase that’s escaped from the lips of many of us. Most of the time, we just forget where we parked our cars. Sometimes, however, after hours wandering around aimlessly looking for your car, you realize it just isn’t there. This leaves two possibilities: either someone stole your car, or someone impounded it. More often than not, someone impounded your car.

Having your car impounded can be due to a variety of reasons, such as unpaid parking tickets, DUI, or driving without insurance. Once someone has impounded your car, getting it out of the impound lot will entail paying certain fees. But what if these are more than you can afford or are willing to pay? There are several ways you might get some or all of these fees waived. For instance, many cities and counties in the United States will waive impound fees for cars that end up in impound lots after owners report them stolen. Failing that, you may need to acquire financing to pay the fees and get back your vehicle.

Why did authorities impound my car?

Unless someone stole your car and it ended up in the impound lot, the impounding of your car is probably your fault. Authorities might impound your car when you are not in the vehicle. Or a police officer might impound your car after pulling you over while you are driving. Here are some examples of why authorities might impound your vehicle.

Impounded while not driving

If you weren’t driving and parked your car on the side of the road, only to have it disappear into the impound lot, it’s most likely because of the following reasons.

Unpaid tickets

When the police impound cars, they often do so because of unpaid traffic tickets or parking tickets. The police will run the license plates of any car they care to, particularly if it is parked in a suspicious manner. Make sure you pay for all your traffic and parking tickets on time. Otherwise, the authorities may boot your car or impound it.

Involved in a crime

If your car was involved in a crime at some point or just matches the description of such a vehicle, the police may impound it. If the crime in question was a large robbery or drive-by shooting, impounding is more likely. Impounding compels car owners unwilling to abandon their vehicles to speak to the police.

Your parked car is blocking traffic

If your car is parked illegally, particularly if it is blocking the flow of traffic, police may contact a towing company to impound it. Having a clean slate up to this point, meaning no outstanding parking or traffic tickets, will not help you avoid impounding.

Impounded while driving

If you are driving your car and the police pull you over, they might impound your car. Here is why that might happen:

DUI

If you made the mistake of driving under the influence and the police pulled you over, you are out of luck. The police cannot allow you to drive until your BAC (blood alcohol content) is under a certain level. In that case, you’ll most likely spend the night in jail or the police station, and the police will impound your vehicle.

Driving without insurance or a license

In all but a couple of U.S. states, you must have car insurance to drive legally. You may be able to prove financial responsibility in other ways and avoid purchasing insurance in the other states, Virginia and New Hampshire. In New Hampshire, you may be able to waive insurance without proving financial responsibility, though approval of this waiver is not guaranteed.

In all those states where you must have insurance, driving without it could cause authorities to impound your car. If a police officer pulls you over and you can’t show proof of insurance, the officer may impound your vehicle. It’s the same thing if you do not have a valid driver’s license or your license is expired, another situation where an officer may impound your car.

You have a warrant out for your arrest

If you have a warrant out for your arrest, a police officer who pulls you over for a traffic violation may arrest you. If the police arrest you on an outstanding warrant during a traffic stop, they will impound your car while you try to sort things out at the jail or police station.

Costs for impounding a car

If someone impounds your car, here are the potential costs involved. Keep in mind that these are generalized figures to give you a rough idea of the costs. (The daily storage fee is based on an average range in California.) The exact fees can vary widely.

Fee TypeAmountPurpose
Towing fee$100–$200A tow truck needs to tow your car from its location to the impound lot.
Impound storage fee$30–$40+ per dayThe impound lot charges a fee to store the car.
Impound release fee$75–$100The impound lot charges a fee to release the car.
Additional fees$0+The towing could incur a long-distance charge, or you might have left debris that needed to be cleaned up. Additional fees can vary.

How to reduce or eliminate impound fees and other fees.

So, authorities have impounded your car, and it’s your fault — allegedly. If this is the case, here are some ways you can eliminate impound fees and towing costs.

Dispute the ticket or reason for impounding yourself

One of the easiest ways to get your impound fees or tow fees reduced is to dispute the reason for impounding. Particularly if the police went outside the law, this is doable. If the police made an error in their impounding or arrest, you can fight the impounding fees and get them waived. You can dispute this directly at the police station or impound lot and hopefully get your car released.

Pro tip: If someone tows you car to an impound lot, make sure you keep track of the evidence. Take photos of the surrounding area where it was towed from. If there were police involved, make sure you take note of their badge numbers and names. The more evidence you have to dispute the basis for the impounding, the better your chance of getting fees waived.

Use a third party to dispute it

There are third-party companies that exist today for the purpose of fighting impounding fees on your behalf. The DoNotPay company is an example.

Prove you’re experiencing homelessness or qualify as low income

Since the county or municipality usually determines impounding processes and fees, some places give you options to reduce or waive the fees if you can prove you are experiencing homelessness or have a very low income. San Francisco, for example, waives or reduces most of the fees if this is the case. According to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, if you are homeless or very low income, you can have the following fees waived.

  • Administrative fee
  • Tow fee
  • Up to 15 days storage fees
  • Dolly fee

Go to court

If you can’t afford to pay an impound fee and can’t get it waived either by yourself or through a third party, you can take it to court. The ideal situation, in this case, is for you to lawyer up. However, lawyer fees can be much higher than impound fees, which would defeat the purpose. This option is more for people who’d like their impound fees waived on principal rather than because they can’t pay the fines. If you fight it yourself in court, there is a small chance the judge will rule in your favor.

Evidence someone stole your car

If someone stole your car and it ended up in the impound lot, there is a good chance that you will be able to avoid paying the fees. The City and County of Denver, for instance, waives the impound fees on stolen cars. You just need to present the police report you filed when someone stole your car.

However, this could vary by where you live and who owns the lot. For instance, what if your city or county has hired a privately owned lot to handle vehicle impounding? And what if the city or county contract with the lot does not require fee waivers when impounds result from theft? Private lots are profit-driven businesses that hold vehicles in the lots they operate at their own expense in order to make a profit from impound fees. This may mean you have to pay the fees even if someone stole your car, unless you want to abandon your vehicle.

In such a case, if the impound resulted from an error or crime by someone else, you may need to explore options for recovering your fees. If you are able to identify and file a lawsuit against the responsible party, that is one option. If your auto insurance covers theft, contacting your insurance company about this theft-caused expense is another.

Be aware that impound fees can accumulate, so you don’t want to leave your car in impound any longer than you have to.

What if I can’t get the fees waived?

If you can’t reduce or waive your impound fees, you’ll have to pay them. Here are some ways to do that if you don’t have sufficient cash or credit.

Take out a loan

There are a plethora of options to take out a personal loan to pay your impounding fees. This can be done either through a normal financial institution or an alternative lender, such as a provider of payday loans. Be careful, though. Alternative financing options like payday loans carry an incredibly high interest rate. Only use that option if you desperately need your car and are able to pay the loan off soon.

Looking to take out a loan to get your car released? Here are some great options to choose from.

Borrow the money from family and friends

If you need your car, your family and friends will probably be willing to lend you the money. Most impound fees are not exactly going to “break the bank.” Ask, plead, and beg for some human kindness in the form of a loan. If they know you well enough, it’s not too big of an ask.

FAQ

What happens if you don’t pick up your car from the impound?

If you have your car impounded, most places will keep the impounded car on the lot for 30–60 days. After this, they can auction it off or sell it for scrap.

Can my finance company get my car out of impound?

If you have your car towed and subsequently impounded, you might be able to get a personal loan from your financial institution to pay the car impound fees.

How much is the impound fee per day in California?

It really depends on where in California your car gets impounded. However, expect to pay $30–$40+ for each day your car spends on the impound lot.

Can someone else get my car out of impound?

Technically, only the owner of the car can get the car out of the impound. That being said, there are legal options, such as assigning power of attorney to have someone else get your car out of impound.

Do I have to pay an impound fee if my car was stolen?

In many cases, no. However, this can differ depending on where you are.

Key takeaways

  • If your car is impounded, you might have ways to reduce or waive the fees.
  • Your car might be towed and impounded for different reasons, such as excessive tickets or getting pulled over while driving under the influence.
  • If you want to waive or fight the fees, you can dispute it, go to court, or have a third party fight on your behalf. In some cases, if you can prove homelessness or low income, you can have them waived.
  • If you need to pay the impound fees but cannot, taking out a loan or borrowing from friends are two options.

Postscript: borrowing money against your car

If you’ve paid off your car and now hold the title, you can use your vehicle to obtain funds when you urgently need them. You’ve heard of pawning televisions, stereos, and musical instruments for quick cash, but did you know you can do the same thing with cars? In addition to pawning your car, you can get a loan secured by its title. To learn more about auto title loans and auto pawning, read these articles:

If you don’t hold title to your vehicle because you still owe money on it, you may still be able to borrow against it if it is worth more than what you owe. To get the best interest rates and terms when pulling equity out of your partially paid off vehicle, you should see if your existing auto lender will work with you, refinancing your loan back to the current value of your car and giving you the difference in cash. If that isn’t an option, you can look into an auto equity loan from a specialized lender. Read our Ultimate Guide to Auto Equity Loans to learn more.

Both auto equity loans and auto title loans might be options if you need to pay impound fees and can’t get the funds any other way. Pawning your vehicle could prove useful if you urgently need funds after regaining physical possession of your vehicle. None of these special funding options will get you great rates or terms compared to more traditional loans, however, and all can be risky. But if you really need the money and have run out of options, the articles just listed will tell you what you need to know.

View Article Sources
  1. Towing Complaints: Police-Authorized Tows — City of Seattle
    This and the following local resources illustrate the sort of online references most local governments will provide.
  2. Vehicle Impound — City and County of Denver
  3. Vehicle Impound Information — City of Corpus Christi
  4. Vehicle Impounds and Towing — City of San Diego
  5. Waivers for people experiencing homelessness or low-income and reduction for first time tow — San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency
  6. Best Auto Insurance Companies — SuperMoney
  7. Best Auto Loan Companies — SuperMoney
  8. Best Personal Loans — SuperMoney
  9. Pros and Cons of Auto Title Loans — SuperMoney
  10. Used Car Checklist: Check For This When Buying a Used Car? — SuperMoney
    In case you need to replace your impounded car, perhaps.