Your Car Was Just Towed. Now What?

Follow these steps to get your vehicle back with minimal hassle.

Car tow regulations sign postGetty Images

Article QuickTakes:

If you’ve ever returned to your parking spot and found your car wasn’t there, you know that pit-in-the-stomach feeling of suspecting your ride was stolen. Discovering that it wasn’t stolen, but towed, may provide little consolation as tracking down and retrieving a towed-away car can be just as inconvenient.

Welcome to the complex world of tow trucks, impound lots, city bureaucracy, and plenty of fees. It's never fun, but following these steps can help you get your car back with minimal hassle.

Look for Signage

If you were towed, it’s most likely because you violated some type of posted parking restriction. You may also have run afoul of a seasonal restriction related to something like snow removal, or were unaware of scheduled road work that required your vehicle to be moved.

If you're on a public street, there should be a sign nearby explaining what you did wrong. If you’re on private property or in an off-street parking lot, it’s less certain that you’ll find a sign. It will depend on whether—and how clearly—the proprietor has posted something.

Make the Call

If you're lucky, the sign explaining why your vehicle was towed includes a number to call or a website you can access to find out which impound lot has your vehicle.

If not, you have several options. The first is to call local police (not 911), who can provide you with a list of potential impound lots to contact, or a citywide phone number where a dispatcher can help you find your car. If you were parked in a private lot or on private property, you can look up the contact info for the proprietor online and reach out directly.

Remember that you'll have to prove you own your vehicle when you arrive to pick it up. Be prepared to show proof of insurance, registration info, and a driver’s license that matches your registration. Also bring plenty of cash or a card (many accept only cash) to pay towing and impound fees.

Not Just Impound Lots

In some cities, a vehicle that's towed to make room for snow removal or roadwork may not end up in an impound lot at all. Sometimes tow trucks simply move cars to a nearby street or lot. In this case, contacting the city or local police is often the easiest way to find your vehicle.

Did You Miss a Payment?

Sometimes a vehicle is towed for reasons more serious than a parking violation. It may be repossessed for missed payments or impounded due to unpaid parking tickets or fines. Your vehicle may also be towed if it's unregistered or if your driver's license is suspended, although that's more likely to happen within the context of a traffic stop.

If a repossession company snagged your car, you'll have to reach out to your lender to find out what to do. If your car or truck was towed for overdue tickets or fines from the city, county, or state, you'll have to contact the appropriate authority to find out how to pay before you’re able to get your vehicle back.

This site is for educational purposes only. The third parties listed are not affiliated with Capital One and are solely responsible for their opinions, products and services. Capital One does not provide, endorse or guarantee any third-party product, service, information or recommendation listed above. The information presented in this article is believed to be accurate at the time of publication, but is subject to change. The images shown are for illustration purposes only and may not be an exact representation of the product. The material provided on this site is not intended to provide legal, investment, or financial advice or to indicate the availability or suitability of any Capital One product or service to your unique circumstances. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, you may wish to consult a qualified professional.
author photo
Benjamin Hunting
Benjamin Hunting is a writer and podcast host who contributes to a number of newspapers, automotive magazines, and online publications. More than a decade into his career, he enjoys keeping the shiny side up during track days and always has one too many classic vehicle projects partially disassembled in his garage at any given time. Remember, if it's not leaking, it's probably empty.