Buying a Police-Impounded Car, Explained

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Participating in online or in-person auctions is the best way to purchase police-impounded cars.
Vehicles end up in police impound lots after a driver is caught committing a serious traffic violation. You have to pay a fine in order to retrieve an impounded car from a police lot.
Most drivers do end up paying to get their cars back but, for a variety of reasons, many do not.
When impounded cars go unclaimed, the police auction them off. This helps them clear out the impound lot and brings in extra revenue.
It can also be a great way to get a cheap car, but do your due diligence before making a bid—and make sure you’ve got the right car insurance coverage ready to go if you win!
If you’re wondering how to buy a police-impounded car, you’re in the right place. Insurance comparison shopping and broker app Jerry has compiled everything you need to know.
  • In-person auctions
  • Online auctions
  • Selling cars from an impound lot
  • FAQs
  • Insuring an impounded car
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In-person auctions

If you’re interested in buying a car from a police impound lot, contact your local police department and ask when they’ll be auctioning those vehicles off.
Auctions can be drawn out affairs, so prepare to be there all day.
Even if you aren’t sure if you’ll be bidding on a car, plan ahead and make sure you have someone to drive your own car home, if you do indeed buy a car from a police impound auction.

Inspect cars you want to bid on

If you’re serious about making a bid on a police-impounded vehicle, arrive early in order to give the car (or cars) you’re interested in a thorough once-over.
Take a good look at the car’s body and lights and check for any obvious dents, scratches, rust, or cracks that may cause alarm. Peek underneath the car and look for signs of rust or anything dangling—wires or otherwise—from the car.
Check the tire treads for evenness. Uneven tires can be a sign of suspension or alignment problems.
Pop the hood and take a look at the engine. Look for overall cleanliness and make sure there are no wires dangling aimlessly. You may not have time to check the engine fluids, but if you can, make sure they are topped up.
You’ll also want to take a look at the interior for cleanliness, and make sure the control panel and instruments are intact and in good working order. Make sure the seats are in decent condition.
Auctions can be exciting, but it’s important to make sure you don’t leave with a car that will be more trouble than it’s worth.
Key Takeaway Always do as thorough an inspection as possible when looking at cars at a police auction. Skip this step and you may end up taking home someone else’s problem—and paying dearly for it.

Bid (within your budget)

Only bid as much as you can afford. You don’t want to let your dreams of finding a gem at the police impound auction run away with your common sense, let alone your money, after an ill-conceived bid.
Once you’ve registered for your bidding number, you can bid away on the cars you want.

Complete paperwork if your bid wins

If your bid is a winner, congratulations! Complete the necessary paperwork, pay your bid, and enjoy your new car!

Online auctions

If an in-person auction isn’t your thing, some police departments also hold online auctions to get rid of impounded cars.
Similar to in-person auctions, you’ll have to call your local police department up and find out the date and times for their online auctions. Once you’ve done that, register online for the auction.

Make your online bid

Before you offer your firstborn (please don’t) for a car you must consider what you can afford when bidding on a car.
Keep an eye on the online auction page and watch for any late bids. If you can afford it and want the car you’re bidding on badly enough, up your bid to increase your chance of winning.
If your bid is a winner, you’ll have to arrange payment for the car according to the auction rules. This could mean having to make a bank transfer or using your credit card.
Once you’ve paid for and freed your new vehicle from the impound lot, go ahead and pick it up. You can even have it delivered, but you’ll have to pay extra for that.

Selling a car bought from the impound lot

If you bought a car from an impound lot and want to sell it, make sure you have a good idea of what the car is worth. The price you paid at impound is lower than what the car will fetch if sold as a new or used car.
Check reputable sources, such as Kelley’s Blue Book, Edmunds, or the National Automotive Dealers Association to gauge the value of your recently purchased car.
Enter your car’s information into the site and see what comes up. These sites track millions of used car sales each year, so they are a treasure trove of information that will help you get a fair price if you sell.
Key Takeaway If you are bidding for cars online and can’t inspect them in-person, make sure you research fair prices in Kelley’s Blue Book or other resources to make sure you’re getting a good deal.

Advertise your car

Once you have a good idea of how much your car is worth, advertise that you’re open for business. Nowadays, many people list cars for sale on sites such as Craigslist.
If you’re more the analog type, placing some ads in your local newspaper will pique potential buyer’s interest.
Now, if you’re downright old school, you can always place a “for sale” sign on the car’s front dash and park it at the bottom of your driveway or on your lawn. You might be surprised at how many passersby stop in their tracks upon seeing your car on offer.

Accommodate potential buyers

When you’re trying to sell a car, accommodating potential buyers is important to ensure that both the buyer and the seller get what they want.
Be willing to answer as many questions as possible about the recently-impounded car you’re selling. Allow potential buyers to test drive the car and see if it meets their needs.
Negotiation is a big part of the buying and selling process, so be ready for it. With a car bought from a police auction, you’ll be looking to maximize your profit, so don’t sell below what you paid for it.
Of course, be sensible and don’t jack the price up too high—potential buyers will walk away.

Complete the transfer

If you reach a deal and sell the recently impounded car, you’ll need to transfer the title to its new owner.
After collecting payment, fill out the back of the title by listing yourself as the seller and the buyer as—you guessed it—the buyer. Write “bill of sale” on the back and make sure both parties sign it before handing over the keys.

Frequently asked questions

What if the previously-impounded car’s former owner wants it back after I’ve bought it?

Once you buy a previously-impounded car, it’s yours. A former owner who lost the car because of violating traffic laws has no claim to it.

Why do the police impound cars in the first place?

Police will impound a car after seizing it from a driver who has had their license suspended. The owner of the impounded car can pay a fine in order to get their car back—but if they don’t, the car will be auctioned off and the police will keep the proceeds.

Insuring an impounded car

Whenever you buy a car, you’re going to need car insurance. Car insurance comparison app and licensed broker Jerry is just the place to quickly find the most affordable insurance options for you.
Jerry does all the hard work of finding the cheapest quotes from the top insurance companies and finalizing your new car insurance.
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The average Jerry user saves $879 a year. Best of all? Jerry is 100% free to use!
“I just got a new car and the quotes from other places were $250-$300 a month, some even as high as $500 a month. Jerry found me the same coverage for $150 a month and they canceled my old insurance for me so I wouldn’t have to deal with it. I highly recommend this app to anyone looking to save some money on insurance” — Satisfied Jerry User
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