If someone abandons a vehicle on private property - or public property, for that matter - you can’t simply claim it as yours. Even if the car has been sitting in your side yard for a year, don’t assume you can get a title and take ownership. The laws vary from state to state, but they are generally quite strict. It’s possible to get the car, but you have to follow legal procedures and maybe even go to a police auction (Method 1), or go to Common Pleas Court (Method 2).
State laws determine how abandoned vehicles are handled
In most states, an abandoned vehicle is considered junk or littering. The owner who abandoned the vehicle could be fined, in addition to having to pay the cost of towing and storage, if he or she tries to claim it. Law enforcement authorities have a procedure in place for handling abandoned vehicles, which includes:
- Posting a notice on the car after a certain length of time has passed (usually 24 to 48 hours)
- Sending notice to the owner through the mail
- Towing the vehicle to an impound lot
- Processing the vehicle as abandoned
- Selling the vehicle at a police auction
In some states, though, you can go to court to take ownership of the vehicle.
Method 1 of 2: Follow procedure and go to a police auction
Step 1: Contact law enforcement to report the abandoned vehicle. Wait at least 24 hours if the vehicle is on private property or 48 hours if it is on public property.
Step 2: Contact law enforcement or the County Clerk of Courts to get a timeline. The law enforcement agency, where you originally reported the abandoned vehicle, either local police, state police or the Sheriff, would be a good starting point.
They may be able to spell out the procedure step by step and give you a timeline. If not, they can point you in the right direction. You’ll want to find out when the vehicle will go to auction, where the auction will be held, and how to register for the auction.
Step 3: Go to the police auction. You will have to bid on the vehicle, along with anyone else who wants it. It will cost you more than a title transfer fee, but sometimes they go very cheap.
You could get a nice vehicle for a few hundred dollars. The auction house will handle transfer of title and other paperwork if you have the winning bid.
Method 2 of 2: Go to Common Pleas Court
Step 1: Follow Steps 1 and 2 in Method 1. This is crucial. You must comply with the law and the owner must be given reasonable notice.
Step 2: File suit in Common Pleas Court. This can be done by you if the vehicle was abandoned on your property. Request that ownership be awarded to you and all rights of the original owner who abandoned the vehicle be extinguished.
- Tip: If you aren’t awarded ownership through Common Pleas Court, you can go to the police auction to bid on the car, if you still want it.
Step 3: Take the court order to get the title. Take the court order to your local Municipal office or Clerk of Courts to get your title, if ownership is awarded to you.
You may have to get a form to fill out and take with you, along with a certified copy of the court order, to prove that you have been awarded ownership. You will also have to pay any fees and taxes owed.
Find out how much has to be paid ahead of time and how you can pay it. You may have to give them a certified check.
As soon as you find out that you own the vehicle, get it insured. You will need to have proof of insurance in order to take possession of the car. Once the car is legally yours, you’re free to drive - or tow - it away.