They Towed My Vehicle

Authored By: Northwest Justice Project - CLEAR Intake Line LSC Funded
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General information about your rights and responsibilities when your vehicle has been towed. Publication 0312EN.


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What is an impound?

It is a written order for a towing company to tow your vehicle.  There are two types:

Private impound –A towing from private property.  A towing company may tow your car immediately if one of these is true:

  • You illegally left it on private property where someone lives.

  • You illegally left it on private non-residential property with a posted warning sign.  

*Even if there is no posted notice, the towing company may tow your vehicle twenty-four hours after you illegally left it on private non-residential property.

Public impound – A towing from public property.  Examples: 

  • You left the vehicle on the public road or the side of it in a dangerous way.

  • You illegally parked on the street or in a parking space for people with disabilities without a proper license plate/card/decal.

  • You left the vehicle on a highway. It has been tagged for 24 hours. 

  • The vehicle's registration has been expired for 45 days. You parked it on a public street.

The police may take your vehicle for other reasons. Talk to a lawyer.

Can they tow my vehicle if they pull me over and arrest me?

Yes, if the arrest or is for driving

  • under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

  • without a license.

  • with a suspended or revoked license.

Talk to your criminal defense lawyer about the towing.

When they have impounded your vehicle for driving with a suspended or revoked license, the agency ordering the impoundment can order your vehicle held for up to thirty days.  If you already have one or more convictions for this, they can hold it for longer. You must pay all removal/towing/storage fees to get your vehicle back. You can still appeal the impoundment.  (RCW 46.55.120)

What happens after they tow my vehicle? (RCW 46.55.100 - 46.55.110)

Within six to twelve hours after the impoundment: Law enforcement gives the towing company your name (if you are the last legal/registered owner).

Within twenty-four hours of the impoundment: The towing company must mail notice of the towing to both

  • The vehicle's legal/registered owner

  • The owners of any personal property in the vehicle which is registered/titled with DoL

This notice says:

  • The towing company's name/address, and a twenty-four hour phone number to contact them.

  • Who authorized the tow.

  • How to get the vehicle back and challenge the towing in court. Ask the towing company for the hearing request form.

If you have not given the DoL your current address, you may not get this notice. This is not a defense to owing towing expenses. It is your responsibility to give the DoL your current address.

The towing was proper. Can I get my vehicle back? (RCW 46.55.120)

Yes, if you pay the costs of towing/storage.  They must keep normal business hours for you Monday – Friday, not counting holidays.

You can pay by personal check if the account is in the state of Washington and you have two forms of valid ID. If your check bounces, you may owe over twice as much.

What if the towing was improper? (RCW 46.55.120)

You can go to court.

District Court hears private impound cases and public impounds authorized by the state's agents, such as the State Patrol.

Municipal Court hears public impounds carried out by the municipality (the local police).

*The towing company's notice will state the name and address of the right court.

If you do not ask for a hearing in writing within ten days of getting the towing notice, you have waived (given up) your right to a hearing. Use the form the towing company gave you to make a hearing request.

You must usually pay a court filing fee. There are exceptions. Our packet called Filing a Motion for Waiver of Your Filing Fee has more info, forms, and instructions.

Within five days of asking for a hearing, the court will send you notice of the hearing date. At the hearing, you and any witnesses can give evidence showing the towing was improper.  Getting Ready for a Hearing or Trial has more info.

*The towing company must post towing and storage fees at its business. You cannot challenge a fee amount that is the same as the posted rates.

If the court decides the towing was proper, you must pay the towing/storage/court costs.

If the court decides it was improper, you do not have to pay. They must return all fees you already paid. Whoever authorized the impoundment will owe you for filing fees paid and reasonable damages from loss of the use of the vehicle.  (This is not always true if law enforcement authorized the impoundment. Talk to a lawyer.)

If the judge ordered you to pay the charges and you do not within fifteen days, you may also have to pay the tow company's attorney fees and other costs in enforcing the judgment. The reverse is true if the judge has ordered the towing company to pay you back for the fees and it does not within fifteen days.

What if I do not redeem my vehicle/belongings or challenge the towing in court?

Once the towing company has had your vehicle for 120 hours, they consider it and any personal property registered/titled with DoL abandoned.

*"Items of registered/titled personal property" are campers, snowmobiles, jet skis, or other vehicles attached to or on the towed vehicle.

Once it has had your vehicle for 120 hours, the towing company must give DoL an abandoned vehicle report. Within 72 hours of getting that report, DoL must give the towing company your contact info.

Within 24 hours of getting your contact info (not counting weekends or holidays), the towing company must mail you a notice of custody and sale. It must get a certificate of mailing from the post office to prove when it mailed the notice.

If fifteen days or more have passed since mailing the notice of custody and sale, and you have not gotten your vehicle back or challenged the towing, the towing company will sell the vehicle and registered/titled personal property at public auction. Any time before the auction, you can buy back the property by paying towing/storage fees.

*The towing company must publish the auction's date and time in the newspaper. You can try to buy your things back at the auction.

After the auction, you may still owe the towing company if their costs are more than what they got from selling your vehicle. This amount cannot be more than $500, unless law enforcement authorized the impoundment. Debtor's Rights: Dealing with Collection Agencies has more info.

Will I get a ticket for an abandoned vehicle?

Yes, usually. There are exceptions:

  • Someone stole the vehicle and you filed a theft report with the police. You will not get a ticket. You still owe the charges.

  • You sold the vehicle and properly filed a record of sale/transfer with the DoL before the towing. You will not get a ticket or be responsible for towing/disposal costs.

I cannot pay for the towing. Will they suspend my license? 

Yes, until you provide court proof that you have paid.  DoL will not suspend your license if, before its effective date, the court sends DoL a certificate showing you have settled the case. RCW 46.20.289.

What happens to the things I left in the vehicle?

You can get them from the towing company during business hours Monday - Friday (not counting holidays). Bring your photo ID.

The towing company may not:

  • use your things to satisfy a lien for your storage costs

  • sell your things at auction, unless they are registered/titled with DoL

If you do not claim your things, the towing company gives them to the police. The police will send you a notice and store your property for at least sixty days.

You can file a complaint about a towing company online at http://www.dol.wa.gov/business/vehicletransport/vtcomplaint.html, or call 360.664.6466.  Other offices' info is at http://www.dol.wa.gov/officelocations.html?fldt.




This publication provides general information concerning your rights and responsibilities. It is not intended as a substitute for specific legal advice.
This information is current as of May 2017.

© 2017 Northwest Justice Project — 1-888-201-1014.
(Permission for copying and distribution granted to the Alliance for Equal Justice and to individuals for non-commercial purposes only.)

Last Review and Update: May 30, 2017