Why Would the Police Impound a Vehicle?

This post is discussing Arizona state laws related to car impounds. Some cities, like Phoenix, have local laws about impound. In Arizona, the law requires the police to impound a vehicle under certain circumstances, including:

  • If the driver is driving on a suspended license.
  • If the driver has never been issued a valid driver license.
  • If the driver is required to have an ignition interlock device but does not.
  • If the driver is transporting an illegal alien.
  • If the driver is concealing an illegal alien in the the car.
  • If the car is for sale and the VIN has been destroyed, removed or altered.
  • Racing
  • Reckless Driving
  • Obstructing a Highway

You can read the statute (A.R.S. 28-3511) for more detail of the above, and some other circumstances a vehicle might be impounded that we are not covering here. A vehicle may also be impounded if the driver is charged with an extreme or aggravated DUI.

We often see cars impounded for driving on a suspended license.  The scenario usually goes like this: the police officer initiates the traffic stop. Once the officer has determined that the driver is driving on a suspended license, the officer will immediately impound the vehicle. The officer will call a tow truck to come and take the vehicle. Even if the driver is not arrested and booked but instead cited and released, the vehicle will still be impounded and the hapless driver will need to find a ride home.

How Long Will the Vehicle Be Impounded?

In most cases, a vehicle will be impounded for 20 days, but sometimes a driver can get the vehicle released early. See A.R.S. 28-3512. For example, if a vehicle is impounded due to a driving on a suspended license charge, the driver can get the vehicle released sooner than 20 days if the driver provides proof that his or her driving privileges have been reinstated. If the impounded vehicle did not belong to the driver who was issued the citation, the actual owner can often retrieve the vehicle from impound almost any time as long as the owner has a valid license, registration and insurance.

If a vehicle is impounded for obstructing a highway, it is impounded for 7 days.

How Does the Owner Get the Vehicle Back?

This will vary depending on which law enforcement agency impounded the vehicle. It is always a good idea to contact the law enforcement agency that impounded the vehicle for specific instructions before attempting to retrieve the vehicle. The owner will need to provide proof of a valid driver’s license, current registration, and current insurance before the vehicle is released. The owner will also have to pay an administrative fee to the law enforcement agency, as well as storage fees to the towing company storing the vehicle. If the owner fails to make a claim on their vehicle by the time the impound period ends, the towing company can apply to take title of the vehicle and sell it. See A.R.S. 28-3515. If the owner cannot afford the fees to get the vehicle released, or cannot otherwise meet the requirements for the release of the vehicle, they should contact the towing company to make arrangements and try to assure the vehicle is not sold.

What If the Charges Are Dismissed?

Tough luck. The state wants its money, and the owner still owes the impound fees. Neither the courts, nor the police, nor the private company holding the vehicle care about treating the owner fairly, as long as they are making some money in the process.

What If the Owner is Innocent?

In some rare cases, like if the vehicle was stolen, then the fees may be reduced — but usually the towing company and the law enforcement agency will expect the owner’s insurance to cover the fees, since that should be part of the owner’s coverage for stolen vehicles. Also, see above answer to “what if the charges are dismissed.”