California gives police the authorization under Vehicle Code §22651 to impound and tow away vehicles for reasons including DUI, multiple unpaid parking tickets, and dangerous parking. Automobiles parked at the wrong time or in the wrong spot likely won’t be towed.
When this happens, tickets are left on the dashboard by local law enforcement, and you will retain possession of your vehicle. If your automobile is towed and impounded, it will benefit you to learn about the law behind this law enforcement action. You can also contact the attorneys at Simmrin Law Group for help.
When Are Police Allowed to Tow and Impound Vehicles Under CVC §22651?
There are several specific circumstances where law enforcement is allowed to remove vehicles using a tow truck. These include:
- Car dealers selling unlicensed cars: Automobiles being sold by an unlicensed dealer will be towed.
- Parking in an accessible parking spot: Most public lots have a limited number of accessible parking spots; therefore, it will likely be towed if your car is spotted without the proper tags or plates. Authorities opt to tow in this case because ticketing doesn’t facilitate more spaces for physically impaired drivers.
- If the driver is arrested: Your vehicle will often be towed following an arrest for street racing (Vehicle Code §32109), a DUI, or traffic stops where law enforcement finds an active warrant for you or spots contraband in the car.
- If the driver was in a car accident: If you were involved in a car accident and were hospitalized or too incapacitated or injured to drive, your car will likely be towed.
- A lack of registration or license plate issues: Even if your vehicle was legally parked, you could get towed for not having your car registration or if it’s been more than six months since it expired. Also, if your vehicle is missing license plates or you have forged or fake plates or registration.
- The car is blocking traffic flow: If your vehicle presents a safety risk or interferes with traffic flow, police are authorized to tow it.
- A vehicle was left on a bridge: California’s vehicle code states that the police can tow your car if it was left on a bridge, causeway, viaduct, or in a tunnel and blocks traffic.
- The car is blocking fire-fighting equipment: If you parked your automobile in a spot blocking a fire hydrant or other firefighting equipment.
- Not having a license: If you’re driving on a suspended license or without a license and get pulled over, your car can be towed.
- Violating a 72-hour ordinance: Certain local ordinances mandate vehicles to be towed if they’ve been parked a minimum of 72 hours consecutively.
- Past parking citations: Again, if you legally parked your automobile, you can get towed if you have five unpaid parking tickets or if you neglected to pay a municipal parking garage fee.
- If the car was reported stolen: If law enforcement comes across a vehicle reported stolen on public land or a highway.
Most parking violations don’t end in a towed or impounded vehicle; however, automobile operators need to pay their citations on time. Accumulating a minimum of five tickets can allow the authorities to tow and impound your vehicle.
Can Vehicles Be Impounded at DUI Checkpoints?
If driving without a license is your only offense at a DUI checkpoint, then your vehicle won’t be impounded. However, if law enforcement arrests for a DUI, then the answer is yes.
Law enforcement will take possession of your automobile and have it impounded.
Will You Receive a Notice Before Your Car Gets Towed?
Parking enforcement officers generally do not notify vehicle operators before calling for a towing company to haul away and impound a vehicle.
Though some streets and parking spaces have warning signs regarding towing regulations. Additionally, parking citations include wording that spells out law enforcement’s authority to contact a towing company on repeat offenders.
Once Your Car Is Impounded, How Do You Get It Back?
As the legal owner of your vehicle, you can contact the impound lot for instructions on how to claim your car. If you are unsure of the impound lot, you can call your local police department.
An impounded vehicle will be released when you provide:
- Proof of insurance
- Current vehicle registration
- An-up-to-date driver’s license
Additionally, to satisfy VC §22651, you must:
- Pay towing and storage costs
- Submit evidence that you paid those fees
- Attest, through an affidavit, that you did not have the car at the time it was impounded
If you are not the registered owner of the impounded vehicle, you can still claim it; however, you will need an authorization letter from the owner.
What Will It Cost to Get an Impounded Vehicle Released?
Depending on where your vehicle was impounded, it may cost hundreds or thousands of dollars. In addition, you will be on the hook for the storage, towing, and administrative charges authorized under §22850.5.
Be sure to pick up your car as soon as possible to avoid extra storage fees. Impound lots generally take cashier checks, credit cards, money orders, and cash. In addition to towing, storage, and administrative fees, you may also have to cover:
- A transfer charge fee
- If applicable, an after-hours gate fee
- An auction fee (if applicable)
- Lien fees (if applicable)
If your car remains unclaimed, it may be sold at a loss. The lot will then sue you for the deficiency (or difference). They may take you to small claims court, depending on the amount.
How Long Can Your Vehicle Remain Impounded in California?
In California, your car is generally impounded for a maximum of 30 days. After this, the impound lot can hold an auction (lien sale).
If your vehicle was impounded, you must claim your vehicle prior to the lien sale.
An Experienced Attorney Can Explain How CVC §22651 Can Affect Your Case
Most people don’t think about California’s vehicle code until they’ve been given a citation or their vehicle has been towed or impounded. Unfortunately, California’s impound and towing laws, especially vehicle code §22651, can be challenging to decipher without professional help.
The legal team at Simmrin Law Group has years of experience dealing with every aspect of the vehicle code in California. If you feel you’ve been a victim of predatory towing or were unjustly cited with a traffic infraction, call us for a free case evaluation or complete our contact form.