The Policy of Abandonment: How the Government Can Legally Steal Your Vehicle

Have you ever left your vehicle parked at a parking meter for over 24 hours?  Have you ever parked your vehicle on public property for over 24 hours without a current registration sticker? How about having your vehicle towed for having unpaid parking tickets? Did you know that, in Iowa, if you have done one of these things, law enforcement can take possession of your vehicle and SELL IT?  That’s right.  They can sell your car, and it’s completely legal…but only under certain circumstances.


If your vehicle is determined to be “abandoned,” Iowa Code section 321.89 gives law enforcement the ability to tow your vehicle and store it at a towing company lot.  An abandoned vehicle is one that meets any of the following definitions:

(1) A vehicle that has been left unattended on public property for more than twenty-four hours and lacks current registration plates or two or more wheels or other parts which renders the vehicle totally inoperable.
(2) A vehicle that has remained illegally on public property for more than twenty-four hours.
(3) A vehicle that has been unlawfully parked on private property or has been placed on private property without the consent of the owner or person in control of the property for more than twenty-four hours.
(4) A vehicle that has been legally impounded by order of a police authority and has not been reclaimed for a period of ten days.
(5) Any vehicle parked on the highway determined by a police authority to create a hazard to other vehicle traffic.
(6) A vehicle that has been impounded pursuant because the person was driving while intoxicated or driving while on a suspended license after receiving an OWI charge.

If your vehicle meets any of these definitions, law enforcement has the ability to tow it.  If they do, the owner of the vehicle must be notified by certified mail within twenty days of it being towed that the vehicle has been towed.  The notice must describe the vehicle, the personal property found in the vehicle, and where the vehicle is being held.  The notice also must state, that within 10 days of the mailing of the notice, the person can reclaim their vehicle and personal property contained in the vehicle if they pay the towing fees.  The notice must also state that the failure of the owner to reclaim their vehicle within 10 days of the mailing of the notice is deemed CONSENT TO THE SALE OF THE VEHICLE AT PUBLIC AUCTION.
Wait. WHAT?!?  That’s right.  If you take no action within 10 days of the notice being mailed (not received, but mailed) to you, your car can be sold at auction or, if it is determined that your car is not safe for use on the highway, it can be sold for junk or demolished and sold as scrap.  The purchaser of the vehicle gets your car free and clear of ANY claim of ownership by you.  Pretty scary, right?
The government still has to pay you for taking your car, though.  From the proceeds of the sale of the vehicle at auction or for scrap, the police will reimburse themselves for the expenses of the auction, the costs of towing and storing the vehicle, for mailing you the notice, the costs of inspecting the vehicle and any other costs incurred in the sale.  The rest of the money will be held for the owner for 90 days.  If you don’t collect your money within that time period, the money is deposited in the road use tax fund. 
The moral of the story: don’t leave your vehicle at a meter, or with unpaid tickets or with expired tags on public property for an extended period of time.  It can and will be towed.  If it is towed and you don’t collect your vehicle within 10 days of receiving notice that it has been towed, you could lose your set of wheels for good.  If you find yourself in the unfortunate position of having your “abandoned” vehicle towed, call the knowledgeable attorneys at GRL Law to protect your rights and fight for the safe return of your personal property.