Parking tickets can be one of the peskiest parts of owning a car. There are parking tickets for seemingly everything, from egregious missteps such as parking in a disabled zone, to common mistakes such as letting a parking meter run out, to the minor details such as having your wheels curbed in the wrong direction. It doesn’t help that different cities and states have different parking rules, and often different streets in the same city have greatly varying parking rules based on permits, street cleaning schedules, and meters. Unless you’re both extremely lucky and very careful, or never drive in cities, chances are you’ll find yourself with a parking ticket every now and then.
While parking tickets are often a lot pricier than you might think, the good news is that contesting them is fairly straightforward. The contesting process for a parking ticket doesn’t take much time or effort, and you’ll usually learn pretty quickly if you’ve had the citation dismissed. That said, it’s extremely difficult to talk your way into having a ticket thrown away if you really deserved it, so it’s not worth contesting a ticket unless you believe that it was given to you inaccurately, or you have a strong reason for why you don’t deserve the citation. If you do have a strong case, follow these guidelines to contest your parking ticket.
Read the details on the ticket
Every parking ticket comes with instructions on how to contest the citation. While the process is very similar everywhere, the amount of time that you have to contest can change depending on the city and state, and the ticket will also provide you with the proper contact information for contesting, as well as for any other questions that you may have.
Explain your case through the mail
The first step in contesting your ticket is usually done through the mail, though some cities allow you to complete this step online, so be sure to read the directions on the ticket. You’ll want to compose a concise and well-worded letter that explains why you feel you don’t deserve the ticket, and you should include any and all evidence that you can, such as pictures. You should provide your reasoning even if you know the ticket was technically warranted, but you don’t feel like you should be punished (for instance if the verbiage on the street signs was vague or confusing, or if you got an expired tags ticket when your registration was paid for but still in the mail). Oftentimes these situations will at least result in a reduced ticket price.
You should send your letter and evidence as early as possible, so that you hear back about the ticket before the deadline to pay the fee. The Department of Transportation in your city should let you know by mail whether or not your ticket has been reduced or dismissed.
Schedule a hearing
If you don’t get your ticket dismissed on your first try, you’ll want to schedule a hearing. Hearings must be requested shortly after the initial request is denied, and in most cities you’ll have to pay the ticket fee before they accept your request (you’ll then be refunded if the ticket is overturned). You can request the hearing through the Department of Transportation. If granted, the hearing acts as an in-person version of the case that you mailed in. You’ll meet with a hearing officer, and get the opportunity to present them with any evidence you have, as well as a thorough explanation.
Take it to court
If you still haven’t gotten the ticket dismissed, you have two choices: wave the white flag, or head to a superior court. Just as with a hearing, you’ll need to request a court hearing within a short time frame after hearing back from the hearing officer. If you go to court over your parking ticket, bring all the evidence you brought to your hearing, and present it to the judge, while offering your best explanation and pleading your case.
While you may get the ticket dismissed in court, it’s a step that many drivers prefer not to take, because most courts charge a filing fee if the ticket is not overturned. That fee, combined with the process of going to court, makes the process not worthwhile for some people, so it’s up to you to decide how important it is to fight your case.
When contesting a parking ticket, the most important thing is to not delay. If you miss the deadline to pay or contest the ticket, the fine will only grow, and you eventually may risk having your car impounded if you accrue enough outstanding parking tickets. So if you think you have a case for a dismissed or reduced parking ticket, just follow this guide, and you’ll have a great chance at having your ticket thrown away before you pay the hefty fine.
This article originally appeared on YourMechanic.com as How to Contest a Parking Ticket and was authored by Brady Klopfer.