What Do I Do With an Abandoned Vehicle – Rust, Legalities and the Elements

An abandoned vehicle will draw mixed reactions from people. For a collector who stumbles across the right abandoned vehicle, the sight can elicit much joy. However, for property owners, an abandoned vehicle full of rust can draw a sense of disgust. So, what typically happens to abandoned vehicles? Aren’t there legal ramifications to an abandoned vehicle? And, how does it affect the condition of the vehicle?

Rust-filled abandoned vehicles – Eyesores and legalities

A rusty car in front of a barn in Iowa
The rusted body of an old car sits near a barn on January 29, 2016 in Iowa | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Abandoned vehicles typically become an eyesore. They will rust and decay right before the eyes of those in the neighborhood. Some municipalities will label them a derelict or blighted property that needs to be repaired right away. They may even require removal from the site. If nothing happens to the vehicle in a certain amount of time after the notice, then the municipality can step in and have the rusty mass hauled away, or they will let the property owner do it. Also, if nobody has claimed the vehicle after the appropriate notices are sent out, then sometimes the vehicle can be claimed by the property owner. However, if a municipality is involved in the process, expect there to be fees involved. 

What happens to the vehicle itself?

One might think that a vehicle that is left alone with age with grace. However, nothing can be further from the truth. Cars, trucks, SUVs, and motorcycles are meant to be used. Lack of usage doesn’t save the vehicle’s condition as much as one might think. Let me explain. 

Gasoline breaks down with time. So, does every other fluid in the vehicle. Combined with old brake lines, fuel lines, etc., the lack of usage and degraded fluid can harm vehicle systems. They may even cause clogs to assorted lines or cause the lines to rust from the inside faster than anyone might expect.  

Tires that aren’t used, even if they were new when the vehicle was abandoned, will lose air, dry rot, and flat spot. So, even if the air is put back in the tire, the flatspot will be noticeable when the car is at speed again. Also, an old tire could possibly destroy itself from the dry rot if one tries to use it on the car again. In other words, a car may or may not rust away, but the tires can still dry rot.

Critters love abandoned vehicles. An abandoned car with or without rust, is a great opportunity for the varmints to climb inside, undisturbed. Once inside the engine compartment or cabin, the pests can start to form their bedding, eat wires, and leave their droppings wherever they please. The creatures can also drag trash from outdoors inside. Of course, all of this is not ideal.  

What do I do with the rust bucket?

Typically the best thing to do with the rust bucket is to find the VIN number and forward it to the authorities. They will run it against a database to see if it has been involved in any reported crime. If the report comes back clear, then the property owner or municipality will be free to do what they want with it. Sometimes that means it gets sold off. Other times that means it gets restored and becomes decent transportation for someone. However, in the worst-case scenarios, a vehicle that has decayed enough to be of no use to anyone will be sent to the salvage yard where the scrap metal may be worth a few hundred dollars.


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The bottom line is that abandoned vehicles can be a treasure. But they can also easily be junk that is full of rust, rodents, and leaky fluids. If one finds themself with an abandoned mass on their property, due diligence with the local municipality is a good idea. Then the decision can be made to haul or sell the eyesore. The last thing anyone wants is to get rid of a vehicle that might have been a key piece of evidence in a legal case somewhere.