In every city, county, and state, there are laws regarding where you can park. You can’t park in a way that blocks sidewalks, crosswalks, or intersections in any way. You can’t park your car in front of a bus stop. You can’t park your car on the side of a freeway. You must not park in a way that blocks access to a fire hydrant.

There are many other parking laws as well that drivers must abide by or suffer the consequences. In some offences where your vehicle is parked in a safe manner but not in a correct location, you will usually find that you receive a fine or ticket on your windshield. In other cases, where your vehicle is parked in a situation that can be deemed unsafe to your car or others, it will likely get towed.

When your car is towed, it is taken to an impound lot. Depending on the agency enforcing the parking offence, your car may be towed to a state impound lot or to a privately owned impound lot. Typically, the process is the same in either way.

Part 1 of 3: Locate your vehicle

When you come looking for your car and it isn’t where you are sure you parked it, you’ll begin to worry immediately. But it is very likely that your car has been towed.

Step 1: Call the local parking authority. In some states, there are DMV-operated parking authorities while it is a separate entity in other areas.

Call the parking authority and ask if your vehicle has been towed. The parking authority will use your license plate number, and at times your VIN number on your car to find whether it has been towed.

It may take several hours for their records to update. If they don’t show your vehicle in their system, call back a few hours later to check again.

Step 2: Call the non-emergency police phone number. Ask if your car has been towed for a parking violation.

  • Warning: Do NOT use 911 to find if your car has been towed or report it stolen. It is a waste of 911 resources for a non-emergency situation.

Step 3: Ask bystanders if they saw anything. Approach people who may have seen what happened or local store employees if they noticed your vehicle or anything unusual.

Part 2 of 3: Collect your necessary information

Once you have discovered that your car has been towed to an impound lot, find out what you need to do to get it out, how much it will be for the fees, and when you can get it out.

Step 1: Ask when your vehicle is available for release. It may take some time to process your vehicle and hours of operation for impound lots vary.

Find out the hours of operation and what time your vehicle will be able to be picked up.

Step 2: Ask where you need to go. You may need to visit an office to complete the paperwork necessary to get your car out of impound, but your car may be at a different location.

Step 3: Inquire about necessary paperwork. Ask what paperwork you need to bring in order to release your car from impound.

You’ll likely need your driver’s license and valid insurance. If you aren’t the vehicle owner, you may also need the owner’s driver’s license or presence at the impound lot.

Step 4: Find out the fees for your vehicle’s release. If you aren’t able to make it for a couple of days, ask what the fees will be on your expected date of arrival.

Be sure to determine what forms of payment are accepted.

Part 3 of 3: Pick up your car from impound

Be prepared to wait in line. Impound lots are typically busy places with long lines full of frustrated people. It can take hours before it is your turn at the window so be sure you have all the information and payment you need before you get there.

  • Tip: Bring your car keys to the impound lot. It can be easy to forget them in the confusion and frustration.

Step 1: Complete the necessary paperwork with the impound agent. They deal with angry, frustrated people all day, and your transaction may be smoother if you are kind and respectful.

Step 2: Pay the necessary fees. Bring the correct form of payment as you discovered previously.

Step 3: Pick up your vehicle. An impound attendant will bring you back to your car on the lot where you can drive away.

Having your car impounded is no fun and can be a real pain. However, if you are armed with the general knowledge of the process before hand, it can be a little bit smoother and less stressful. Be sure to consult the traffic laws in the areas you frequent, and Ask a Mechanic if you have any questions about your vehicle, and have your parking brake inspected if needed.

This article originally appeared on YourMechanic.com as How to Get Your Car Out of Impound and was authored by Jason Unrau.


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