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What Makes a Car Abandoned?
Abandoned Vehicle Definition

What Makes a Car Abandoned?
Abandoned Vehicle Definition

We've all seen damaged and decrepit cars sitting in fields or left out on the street: these vehicles are rusting eye-sores that often clog up otherwise beautiful streets, and can attract a host of issues including:

  • Drug Dealing
  • Scrap Metal Thieves
  • Illegal Dumping
  • Homeless People
  • Prostitution
  • Nuisance Parking
  • Littering
  • Illegal Dumping

Thousands of vehicles are abandoned every year; Due to the problems these vehicles can cause, it's always best to get more information before deciding how to handle the situation. So what defines an abandoned vehicle?

What is Considered an Abandoned Vehicle?

What is Considered an Abandoned Vehicle?

What constitutes an abandoned vehicle depends on what state and county the vehicle is abandoned in. Abandoned cars fall under a category known as "nuisance vehicles". Other cars in this category include derelict vehicles, which are usually inoperable and left on someone's private property. For a vehicle to be abandoned, it usually needs to be left somewhere public.

There are a variety of factors that determine whether a vehicle has been abandoned, including:

  • Condition: The vehicle's appearance is one of the easiest ways to determine whether the car has been abandoned. Extensive damage to the exterior of the vehicle is usually an indicator, with dented doors, smashed windows, and busted mirrors.
    The inside of the vehicle will also show signs of decay, with piles of garbage or removed car parts piled on the seats. Abandoned cars are often subject to fire damage from small fires or drug use, as many are used as temporary shelters by the homeless.
  • Location: As opposed to a derelict vehicle, an abandoned vehicle will usually be left on public property or private property without the permission of the owner. This includes public roads, parking lots, outside of private businesses, or near public parks.
    If the owner of the property sees a car they believe is abandoned, they are usually required to report it. For public areas like streets and parks, the vehicle will usually remain until a law enforcement agent is alerted or sees the vehicle on their own.
  • Documentation: Vehicles that have been abandoned will usually have outdated documentation both inside and outside the car. While you should never enter an abandoned vehicle (or any car you don't own) many documents may be lying out where they can easily be seen through a window. The car's license plates will also have outdated registration tags, inspection stickers, and other official decals.
  • Time: The length of time a vehicle stays in one area is an easy way to determine if it has been abandoned. How long a car can stay in one place depends on where it is: if the vehicle is parked on a highway or freeway, it can usually only stay there for 24 hours before being removed by the police.

Other places like parking lots or street parking usually give you a bit more time, but at most that will be a couple of days. If you see a vehicle in the same spot for weeks or months, it has almost certainly been abandoned.

Notification: Vehicles that have remained in one area too long are usually tagged with some notification requiring the owner to move them. This can be in the form of a sticker, ticket, or other document, usually placed beneath the windshield wipers or stuck to the window.

If possible, the owners of the vehicle will also be sent a notification via phone or mail. If their car isn't moved within a specific amount of time, it will be declared abandoned and removed.

Why Do People Abandon Vehicles?

Why Do People Abandon Vehicles?

So why would someone leave a perfectly good car on the side of the road? Well most of the time, the car isn't perfectly good at all. There are several reasons someone would choose to abandon a vehicle, including:

  • High Repair Costs: Often, a vehicle is abandoned due to repair costs exceeding the vehicle's value. If it costs more to fix the car than the car is worth, why bother repairing it at all? After a major accident or years of wear-and-tear, a car may stop working on its own accord. If the owner doesn't want to bother with the cost of taking it to an auto shop, they may find it easier to simply leave it on the side of the road.
  • Cost of Insurance: Even if the vehicle can still be driven, some owners cannot continue to make their insurance payments. Driving a car without insurance is illegal, and those who can't afford collision or full coverage on their car can't get their repairs covered by insurance. These factors combined with a breakdown may lead to someone simply walking away.
  • Low Scrap Value: So why don't they sell the car for parts? In recent years, the value of scrap metal has declined, and it may simply not be worth it for them to find a scrap yard. If the car is inoperable the owner would still need to pay to have it towed, and if there are few usable parts, the scrap payment could be less than their tow costs.
  • Cost of Legitimate Disposal: Well surely someone could, at the very least, get the vehicle removed legitimately. Unfortunately, unless a scrapyard is willing to cover the costs of removal, the owner must foot this bill on their own. If someone is already in a desperate financial decision, the costs of legitimate disposal will likely be too high to consider.
  • Natural Disaster: Cars aren't always abandoned due to negligence or financial hardship. Many natural disasters can occur quickly, causing untold devastation and forcing vehicle owners to make difficult decisions. If there is significant flooding or an approaching wildfire, the only option may be to leave a car and focus on survival.

Can I Take Ownership of an Abandoned Vehicle?

In certain circumstances, yes, you can take ownership of an abandoned vehicle. This can be done with a couple of easy steps.

Step #1: Determine If the Vehicle is Abandoned

Looking at the factors that define an abandoned vehicle listed above, make sure that the car is indeed abandoned. Check your state or county's requirements for what defines this type of vehicle by visiting your local DMV website. You'll also likely need to alert authorities about the car, and they may decide to auction it off.

Step #2: Attempt to Contact the Owner

If the vehicle was abandoned on your property, you can often purchase it directly from the owner. You can do this by finding the VIN number, usually located on a small metal plate in front of the steering wheel. If you can't find the owner, you can talk with the DMV about taking the steps to legally acquire the vehicle. This may involve extensive paperwork, including filling out an affidavit of loss to get a duplicate title.

Step #3: Prepare for Problems

Even if a car is abandoned on your property and you attempt to contact the owner, keeping the vehicle can lead to a host of issues. Finding the proper documents, the risk of being taken to small claims court, and the many repairs necessary to make the car street legal are often not worth the trouble. Make sure to really consider your options when choosing to keep or purchase an abandoned vehicle.

Abandoned Vehicle Frequently Asked Questions

Does an Abandoned Car Have an Abandoned Vehicle Title?

Yes, an abandoned vehicle will have a title; what title it receives will depend on the vehicle specifics and condition. Once a vehicle has been marked by local authorities and towed, the rightful owners will be given time to claim it. If they don't the vehicle will be put up for auction.

How to Report an Abandoned Vehicle?

The exact procedures to report an abandoned vehicle depend on your city and state, and it's always best to check your local DMV website. Usually you can contact the city or county dispatch or non-emergency number to report a car you believe is abandoned.

Can I Keep an Abandoned Car if it's On My Property?

Even if a vehicle is abandoned on your property, there are still several steps you must take to legally own it. Once you've determined a vehicle is abandoned, you need to alert local authorities. From there they will likely take the vehicle and put it up for auction. If they don't, you can attempt to contact the legal owner to purchase the car. If you can't find the owner there are steps you can take to get legal ownership. You can find these guidelines through your local DMV website.

Is it Illegal to Abandon a Car?

Yes, it is illegal to abandon a car. The time it takes for a car to be considered abandoned and the associated fines are determined by the city and state the car is left in.

How Can I Get More Information About a Vehicle?

Whether you want to get more information about an abandoned vehicle or one you are considering for purchase, you'll need to get a vehicle history report. These reports can give you all the essential details about a car, including its accident history, number of owners, and information on whether it's ever been stolen.

You shouldn't go into any car-buying situation blind, and a vehicle history report can help you get a more fair price. By doing proper research, you can make sure you aren't overcharged by unscrupulous dealers. Learning more about a car can also prevent you from being the victim of a car buying scam.