Last Updated on October 7, 2022 by Bernard Juchli
You want to know how to get a title for an abandoned vehicle, but this can be complicated depending on your state laws. This article explains the general procedures to go about registering an abandoned vehicle in your name.
To get a title for an abandoned vehicle, determine if it is abandoned. Notify the owner through certified mail, and if they cannot be determined/contacted, proceed with the titling and registration steps applicable in your state. Pay the title/registration fees to legally register the vehicle in your name..
Again, the steps to claim the title of an abandoned vehicle depend on your state. You want to follow the legal procedures to prevent the owner from potentially returning to claim ownership against you.
How to get a title for an abandoned vehicle
We have mentioned already that this can a complicated procedure. But then, this section simplifies the steps to get a title for an abandoned vehicle:
Find out if the vehicle is abandoned
Your first step is to check if the vehicle meets your state’s definition of an abandoned vehicle.
Different states define abandoned vehicles differently. But there is a relationship in the various definitions – vehicles left on public or private property for a specified number of days (15, 30, etc.) and sometimes a matter of hours. In a state such as New York – 96 hours, without the owner’s consent.
Your state’s motor vehicle department website should contain information on this or you contact your local DMV office.
Inspect the abandoned vehicle
It is advisable to inspect the abandoned vehicle yourself to be sure it is not a stolen vehicle or was used during a robbery. Such a vehicle may as well become a nest for rodents and other insects, so you want to be careful. You can check if it is stolen using the registration plate.
You may be able to use the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) to tell if the car is stolen, salvaged, etc.
It may not be the right time to invite the mechanic since you want to establish whether car ownership is worth pursuing or to get rid of it. Or you could end up repairing it for free for the registered owner who may eventually claim ownership.
Determine the vehicle ownership
You may have to contact your state’s motor vehicle department to determine the owner of the vehicle. The VIN may not tell all you need to know, so the motor vehicle department of the local authority will assist you to trace the owner.
If the owner of the vehicle is not identifiable or traceable, skip the next step. However, if the motor vehicle agency or local authority is able to identify the owner, then you have to notify them about their abandoned vehicle.
Notify the owner or lien holder
When the contact information of the vehicle owner is retrieved, you contact them through certified mail. The notification letter you send to the owner must include a complete description of the vehicle, including the manufacturer, model, model year, color, VIN, license plates number, and any other identifying information.
Your notification letter must include that if the owner does not claim ownership within your state’s specified number of days, ownership will be claimed and titled in your name according to the state’s law.
If the owner responds, then you may persuade them to legally transfer the vehicle ownership to you. Nonetheless, they may have to pay a fine for abandoning the vehicle. If the vehicle is not abandoned on your property, you get nothing.
If nobody comes forward to claim ownership of the vehicle, move on to the next step.
Publish a notification on the newspaper
Some states mandate you to make a newspaper publication to notify the general public about the vehicle. You make the publication on a newspaper of general distribution, which will include a complete description of the vehicle. The publication must be done in a newspaper published in the same location, or sometimes county where the abandoned vehicle is found.
Your newspaper notification will include that ownership of the vehicle will be claimed after a specific number of days specified by your state, and the title registered in your name.
If nobody claims the vehicle within the specified number of days, you are getting closer to legally obtaining a title for it.
Contact the property owner
If the vehicle is not on your property, then you need a notification from the property owner allowing you to take the vehicle.
If the property owner refuses to let you get away with the vehicle, then you cannot have it because it is on their property. Good luck with it.
Inform the local authority
If you have the vehicle, report back to your local motor vehicle agency. You need the proof of notification letter you sent to the address of the registered owner and proof of newspaper notification from the newspaper company you used to notify the general public within your county.
Complete vehicle emissions and theft check
If your state law requires an emission test, then you take the vehicle to the nearest emission center to have it inspected. You will be issued a certificate of completion upon successful completion.
Contact your local authority for theft inspection. This is necessary to ensure that you are not titling a stolen vehicle. You will also be issued a certificate of theft inspection showing that the vehicle is clean.
Since you do not legally own the abandoned vehicle, you must have it towed to the various inspection centers.
Begin the titling process
Some states may not allow you to directly claim the title of the abandoned vehicle. In such a state, the vehicle is towed to the police auction where you get to bid for it with others and legally have it titled thereafter. This could be the case if the vehicle value exceeds a certain amount.
If your state motor vehicle department or titling agency allows you to proceed, you will be handed a certified bill of sale or a similar paperwork. In this case, the state is technically the seller, and you need whatever paperwork you are given to complete the registration.
Register the vehicle in your name
This step to claim the title of the abandoned vehicle requires gathering all the paperwork from the initial steps. The paperwork you need may include the state-issued bill of sale, police report, proof of mailed notification letter to the registered owner or lien holder, proof of newspaper notification, emission report, and theft inspection certificate.
Of course, you may also need your valid photo ID and driver’s license (not mandatory). There may be additional paperwork to this which will be communicated by your state’s titling or motor vehicle office.
Pay the title and registration fees
You have to pay the title and registration fees alongside other county or state fees. Regarding sales tax, your state motor vehicle agency will evaluate the value of the vehicle and then you pay the set percentage as sales tax. Some states may exempt the vehicle from sales tax for reasons that will be relayed to you.
Note that you can make your payment through cashier check, money order, or any specified payment method.