How to Claim an Abandoned Car

Last Updated on February 19, 2022 by Auslar Chukwuka Chimuanya

This article explains how to claim an abandoned car if you recently found one on private or public property. The procedure can be complicated but depends on your state’s law.

To claim an abandoned car, you have to determine and notify the owner or lien holder. If the owner cannot be determined, you may be required to make a newspaper notification advising that the title will be claimed if there is no owner. Finally, apply for the title, pay the registration fees to register the car in your name.

As mentioned earlier, the procedure depends on your state law, but the laws are almost similar across all the 50 states.

how to claim an abandoned car

Do I take an abandoned car?

You can take an abandoned car. First, you want to know what car your state defines as ‘abandoned’. Generally, an abandoned car has been left unattended without notice to the owner of the property. To claim this car, you must follow the legal process outlined by your state whether the property belongs to you or not.

Meanwhile, New York DMV differentiates between an abandoned car and an unclaimed car. An abandoned motor vehicle is one that has been left unattended on another person’s property (for more than 96 hours) without the property owner’s permission.

On the other hand, an unclaimed motor vehicle is one, other than an impounded vehicle, that an automotive-related business holds, and can be legally released to the registered owner after specified payments have been completed for towing, repairs, or storage (as applicable).

If the police request a towing company to tow a car but do not take the car ownership into custody, the motor vehicle becomes an unclaimed motor vehicle. This means you can claim ownership of it.

Read also: what to do to get rid of an abandoned car

How to claim an abandoned car

This section covers the general steps to claim an abandoned car. The legal procedure may be slightly different across all the states but you must know the following to claim an abandoned car:

  1. Check if the car is stolen

Do not begin your claim procedure for an abandoned car without confirming its theft status. If such a car has been reported stolen, you could be claiming a problem.

In this case, you want to run a history check on the car. You can use the VIN (vehicle identification number). This can be done online using any VIN checking service. Note that these services rely on the database for information, so they may not be updated at the time of your search to reflect the theft status of the car.

You can also check if the car is stolen using the license plate, but can be complicated.

It is advisable to inform the police if you cannot establish the theft status of the car.

  1. Determine the owner or lien holder of the car

Typically, state laws mandate you to determine the owner or lien holder of the car. This can be done by your local DMV, titling or motor vehicle agency using the VIN.

The research should disclose the last known address and lien information (if any) and where the car was last registered.

If the ownership of the car cannot be determined, skip the next step. If the ownership of the abandoned car has been established, go to the next step.

  1. Notify the car owner

You will mail a letter to the registered owner or lien holder, including a description of the car (manufacturer, model/model year, registration number, color, etc.), the VIN, and the location where the car is abandoned. The letter must advise that if no ownership of the car is claimed within your state’s specified number of days (15, 30, or 60 days), the title will be legally claimed by the state’s abandoned vehicle law.

Below is a sample of what your letter to the identified registered should look like:

Date:

Name Address:

Dear [name]

Notice is hereby given that the following car has been abandoned for more than [number of days] on the property of [specify the name, address and phone number]. The car description is as follows:

[specify the car registration number, vehicle identification number, vehicle name, manufacturer, color].

Application for will be made for the title in accordance with [quote your state’s applicable statute] if this car is not claimed and removed from the above property within [specify the number of days of notice].

  1. Place a newspaper notice

If the address of the car cannot be established, your state law may require you to place a notice in a newspaper that is in general circulation within the location or county where the abandoned car is located.

Your newspaper notice should include the car description, location, VIN, or any identifying information on the car. Include a statement in the newspaper notification advising that ownership of the car will be claimed within your state’s specified number of days (15, 30, or 60 days) beginning from the date of publication of the notice in the newspaper.

Below is a sample newspaper ad notifying the general public about an abandoned car:

Notice is hereby given that the following motor vehicle has been abandoned for [specify the legal number of days] on the property of [the name, address, and phone number].

The description of the car is as follows:

[Vehicle registration number, vehicle identification number, vehicle name, manufacturer, color].

Application for will be made for the title in accordance with [quote your state’s applicable statute] if this car is not claimed and removed from the above property within [specify the number of days of notice].

  1. Obtain written authorization from the property owner

If the abandoned car is not on your property, you need the property owner’s authorization to claim the car and register the title in your name.

  1. Begin the title process

After the steps above, including the newspaper publication, if nobody shows up to claim ownership of the car, you will process the title application through your state’s DMV, submitting all your attempts to contact the owner, which may be called ‘Proof of Owner Notification’.

Your state DMV may require the following:

  • Clear photographs of the abandoned car.
  • Certificate of Publication for a legal notice issued by the newspaper.
  • Vehicle identification number.
  • Proof of owner notification (if the abandoned car is not on your property).
  1. Complete the vehicle safety and theft inspection test

Some states require emission tests, so you have to complete one before the car can be declared legal for roadways. You will be issued a certificate of emission test if the car passes the test.

How long before a car is declared abandoned

The local authority is also expected to investigate the vehicle for theft or lien record. If the car is discovered to be stolen, you may not be able to claim it. The police will attempt to find the registered owner. And if they cannot, the car may go to the police auction.

Read also: State procedures to title abandoned vehicle

  1. Apply for the title and registration

The title application must follow your state’s statute. This includes that the abandoned vehicle meets your state’s definition of “an abandoned vehicle”.

Finally, you will be required to submit the various paperwork gathered during the steps. Pay the title and registration, sales tax, and other fees.

The titling or motor vehicle agency typically accepts checks and money orders.

Final thoughts

The process of claiming an abandoned car typically takes about 60 days. After you finalize the process, and nobody comes forward to claim ownership or financial responsibility of the vehicle, you will receive the transfer of ownership through the mail to the address on file you provided your local titling or motor vehicle agency.

Read also: Tips to prevent the repo man

FAQs

Can I take ownership of an abandoned vehicle on my property?

You can take ownership of an abandoned vehicle on your property. However, your claim of the abandoned car must meet your state’s abandoned vehicle law. You may check with your local motor vehicle agency for the steps applicable in your state.

How long before a car is declared abandoned?

How long it takes for a car to be declared abandoned depends on your state. Typically, it takes 30 days for a state to consider a car abandoned. Some states give a minimum of 15 days or even up to 60 days for a vehicle on a private or public property to be declared abandoned. You may have to wait for some months for the state to take action and clear you to proceed to claim ownership of the car.

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