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Finding a cool abandoned car might seem like one of the most exciting things for a car enthusiast. Let’s be honest; the classic barn find scenario is about as cool as it gets. However cool it may be, it isn’t the simplest way to get a car. So, what do you do if you find an abandoned car? 

A red car that's been abandoned in the woods
Abandoned car in the woods | Wikimedia Commons

As with most legal situations, every state has specific property laws. However, generally speaking, the first step of acquiring an abandoned car is to verify whether or not it is legally abandoned.

What is an abandoned car? 

In general, the law says that a vehicle left on someone else’s property for 15 days without notice to the property owner qualifies as “abandoned.” However, that time frame can range from a few hours to 30 days, depending on the state. This timeframe depends on whether the abandoned car was abandoned on public property, private property, or along a roadway. In some states, the property owner can then obtain legal ownership of the vehicle. Still, in other states, the property owner cannot take legal ownership.

According to Dirtlegal, any attempt to remove or claim ownership of the vehicle must start with the lawful owner of the property. The state-by-state laws are easily the most complicated part of all this. That being said, if you find an abandoned car, make sure you familiarize yourself with your state’s laws before doing anything. 

How to take ownership of an abandoned car 

If you are the owner of a business or other type of private property, you must first consult your state’s laws before even moving the car. After some time has passed, some states will let you remove the car from your property and even legally sell it. 

If someone ditched a car on your property, the first step should be asking local authorities if they can verify the car’s most recent owner. If the police can find the most recent owner, you should attempt to contact them. Once this has been done or attempted, the next step is filing the appropriate paperwork to get a title. 

The vehicle will either be sold at auction or sold/transferred directly to you, depending on the state. Additional paperwork is usually required regardless. Some states do not allow any of this and require the vehicle to be taken into government possession.

What if you want to buy an abandoned vehicle on someone else’s property? 

An old abandoned car left in a parking lot
Abandoned car | Wikimedia Commons

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The first step is to ask around as to who owns the property. If that doesn’t work, you can access public records to find who owned the property last. Another way to approach this situation is by finding the VIN on the car and using that to find who it was last registered to. 

Information is the key to any good car hunt, especially those in the barn find category. Just remember, with all car hunting expeditions, you are on someone else’s property. Depending on where you are hunting, you may well find yourself on someone’s land that does not want you there. Be smart. Be courteous.