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What Happens to Cars That Are Abandoned on Public Roads?

Have you ever seen a random car sitting on the side of the highway or even on a regular road? If so, you’ve probably wondered why it’s sitting there all by its lonesome with no owner in sight. Maybe they ran out of gas and needed to walk to the station, or maybe they just abandoned the car altogether. But happens to the cars that are abandoned on public roads?

Is the vehicle abandoned or unclaimed?

According to Reader’s Digest, it’s good to know what kind of vehicle you’re dealing with when you see one on the side of the road. Different states have different laws that constitute whether or not a vehicle is abandoned. For example, in New York, a vehicle has to be left alone for 96 hours before it’s considered abandoned.

And in Texas, a vehicle is considered abandoned after it’s left on private property for more than 48 hours. However, if the vehicle is left at a business, then it’s possible that it’s being held there under the law until the owner pays for whatever fees needed to pick it up.

Abandoned car
Abandoned car | Getty Images

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What is the policy for removing abandoned vehicles?

In the case there is a vehicle left unattended on a public road, it’s up to the state and local municipalities to figure out what to do with it. In most cases, a civilian will notify the local authorities about the abandoned vehicle. The authorities would then identify the vehicle and then tag it so that they know how long it’s been sitting there.

A car lot filled with abandoned cars
A car lot filled with abandoned cars| Dieter Klein / Barcroft Media (Photo credit should read Dieter Klein / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

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If the owner doesn’t come back to claim the vehicle within the allotted time (96 hours, for example), then the vehicle will be towed to an impound lot. Once there, it will remain until the owner comes to claim it. But if the owner doesn’t claim it after a certain period of time, then the vehicle will be put up for auction or possibly even be sent to get crushed.

Abandoned cars used to be a huge issue in most metropolitan areas. In fact, New York city removed around 148,257 cars in the late 1980s and it was such an issue that the state almost decided to ban cars from the downtown section of Manhattan. Fortunately, that never happened.

Abandoned car by side of road in snowy weather
Abandoned car by side of the road in snowy weather. | (Photo by Adrian Sherratt/Construction Photography/Avalon/Getty Images)

What should you do if you find an abandoned car?

If you happen to notice a car in your neighborhood or an area nearby, that looks like it was abandoned because it’s been sitting in the same spot for a few days, notify your local authorities about it. If it’s on a public street, then it’s possible that you’ll know it’s abandon right away due to the numerous parking tickets that will likely be on it.

However, it’s still possible that the owner could come back to claim it. If the car is parked on a private lot or at a business, then keep track of how long it has been there and let the authorities or business owners deal with it accordingly.