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Instructions for Owners

Definition of an abandoned vehicle

The legal definition of "abandoned vehicle" has a slightly different meaning than what is generally understood.  According to state statute, the term abandoned vehicle applies not only to the "junkers" that are dumped on the roadside, but vehicles on private or public property that have been towed away either by request of the property owner or because the vehicle was parked or left in violation of a law.

A vehicle may be considered abandoned when it is:

  • On private property without the owner's consent, or
  • On public property, including county roads and city streets, for at least 48 hours, or
  • On a state road or highway (e.g., M-99, U.S. 23, I-96) for at least 18 hours if a valid license plate is on the vehicle, or
  • On a state road or highway for any period of time if a valid license plate is not on the vehicle.

 Also, a vehicle removed under the following conditions is considered abandoned if not redeemed by the owner within seven days:

  • Parked or idling on the highway so that it creates an immediate public hazard or an obstruction of traffic.
  • Parked in a posted tow-away zone.
  • A threat to public safety because its presence impedes rescue efforts during fire, flood, storm, snow, natural or man-made disaster or other emergency.
  • Hampering the use of private property by the owner or person in charge of that property or is parked in a manner which impedes the movement of another vehicle.
  • Illegally stopped, idling or parked in a designated disability parking space.
  • Located in a clearly identified access aisle or access lane immediately adjacent to a disability parking space.
  • Interfering with the use of a ramp or a curb-cut by people with disabilities.

 A vehicle removed under the following conditions is considered abandoned if not redeemed by the owner within 20 days from the date of release by the law enforcement agency:

  • Believed to be stolen.
  • Seized to preserve evidence of a crime.
  • Involved in a crash.

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Claiming an abandoned vehicle

When an abandoned vehicle is taken into custody, the vehicle owner and any secured party (most often a lending institution) are notified by mail of the vehicle's status and location.  To claim an abandoned vehicle, as the owner you must:

  • Visit the custodian (police agency, towing agency or municipal impound lot) holding the vehicle within 20 days of receiving notice. The custodian may be found on the abandoned vehicle notice you received in the mail or by entering the abandoned vehicle's identification number (VIN) or license plate number in the Michigan Auto Lost & Found. The vehicle custodian may ask for proof of ownership (vehicle title or registration).
  • Pay any towing and storage fees, including the $40 abandoned vehicle fee.

If you do not redeem the vehicle or request a hearing within 20 days, the secured party may obtain release of the vehicle by paying the towing, storage and abandoned vehicle fee.

If you or the secured party do not redeem the vehicle, it may be sold at public auction, and you lose all rights to the vehicle.  Public notice will be published at least five days before the sale in a newspaper within the county where the vehicle was abandoned.

> FAQ - Vehicles

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To contest the status or towing and storage fees of an abandoned vehicle

You may challenge whether your vehicle was properly deemed abandoned or the reasonableness of the towing and storage fees by filing a petition with the court having jurisdiction over the location from which the vehicle was removed.

A petition can be filed with the appropriate court either by mail or in person and must be filed within 20 days from the date you first received notice in the mail.  A copy of the petition is included with the notice or may be obtained by completing a PETITION REGARDING IMPOUNDMENT OF MOTOR VEHICLE OR SEIZURE OF MOTORCYCLE (DC-90) form. 

To reclaim the vehicle, you must either post a bond equal to the accrued towing and storage fees and $40 abandoned vehicle fee. If the court finds the vehicle was improperly deemed abandoned or removed, you will be reimbursed for your fees and your vehicle will be released.

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Penalties for abandoning a vehicle

Owners who abandon a vehicle risk fines and penalties.  Michigan law (MCL 257.252a) states:

"A person shall not abandon a vehicle in this state.  It is presumed that the last titled owner of the vehicle is responsible for abandoning the vehicle unless the person provides a record of sale as that term is defined in section 240.  A person who violates this subsection and who fails to redeem the vehicle before disposition of the vehicle under section 252g is responsible for a civil infraction and shall be ordered to pay a civil fine of $50" (plus costs, state assessments, and other statutory penalties).

To protect yourself, you must do one of the following, when you sell or transfer ownership of a vehicle:

  • Accompany the buyer to a Secretary of State branch office to assure that the vehicle's title is transferred.
  • Maintain a record of the sale for at least 18 months.  A record of the sale means either a photocopy of the reassigned title or a document that includes the name, address, driver's license number, the purchaser's signature, purchase price and date of sale.

If you fail to maintain proper records of the sale, you are subject to the following penalties if a subsequent owner abandons the vehicle:

  • A civil infraction with a fine of $15 plus costs, state assessments and other statutory penalties.
  • Towing and storage fees assessed by the towing agency or custodian of the vehicle.

Abandoning a vehicle is considered "littering"

Anyone who abandons a vehicle may be found responsible for littering in violation of the Natural Resources Environmental Protection Act.  "Littering" when used for abandoned vehicles is a state civil infraction and carries fines from $500 to $2,500 plus costs, state assessments and other statutory penalties.  The penalty for abandoning a second vehicle is a civil fine from $1,000 to $5,000 plus costs, state assessments and other statutory penalties (MCL 324.8905a(4)).

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How to find the VIN

The Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) is a unique identifier assigned by the manufacturer to a vehicle. Most vehicles have a 17 character VIN containing both letters and numbers (ex. 1FMEU19H9SLA23318). The VIN can be found on the vehicle's title, registration or certificate of insurance. The VIN may also be on your purchase records, warranty information, the window sticker, etc. Your insurance company may also have the VIN.

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Glossary of Terms

Abandoned vehicle  

A vehicle:
  • On private property without the owner's consent, or
  • On public property, including county roads and city streets, for at least 48 hours, or
  • On a state road or highway (e.g., M-99, U.S. 23, I-96) for at least 18 hours if a valid license plate is on the vehicle, or
  • On a state road or highway for any period of time if a valid license plate is not on the vehicle.

 

Under certain conditions, vehicles impounded or removed for safekeeping under MCL 257. 252d may be deemed abandoned.

Custodian

The person or business/legal entity storing an abandoned vehicle taken into custody. Usually, this is the towing agency.

Dealer

A "dealer" is a person who, in a 12-month period:

  • Engaged in the business of purchasing, selling, exchanging, brokering, leasing, or dealing in vehicles of a type required to be titled, or
  • Engaged in the business of purchasing, selling, exchanging, brokering, or dealing in salvageable parts of five or more vehicles, or
  • Engaged in the business of buying five or more vehicles to sell vehicle parts or process into scrap metal, or
  • Engaged in the actual remanufacturing of engines or transmissions.

 

A dealer does not include a vehicle custodian who has received a vehicle under section MCL 257.252g(3)(a) for the purpose of selling that vehicle to a licensed dealer.

 

Disposition

The final arrangement for an abandoned vehicle (sold, redeemed, scrapped or transferred).

EFT

Electronic Funds Transfer.

Impounded vehicle

Michigan law [MCL 257.252d] outlines circumstances when a police agency may authorize immediate removal of a vehicle from private or public property to a place of safekeeping at the owner's expense. The conditions for immediate removal include when the vehicle is: 

  • Parked or idling on the highway so that it creates an immediate public hazard or an obstruction of traffic.
  • Parked in a posted tow-away zone.
  • A threat to public safety because its presence impedes rescue efforts during fire, flood, storm, snow, natural or man-made disaster or other emergency.
  • Hampering the use of private property by the owner or person in charge of that property or is parked in a manner which impedes the movement of another vehicle.
  • Illegally stopped, idling or parked in a designated disability parking space.
  • Located in a clearly identified access aisle or access lane immediately adjacent to a disability parking space.
  • Interfering with the use of a ramp or a curb-cut by people with disabilities.
  • Believed to be stolen.
  • Seized to preserve evidence of a crime.
  • Involved in a crash.

 

LEIN

Law Enforcement Information Network - a computer network used by law enforcement agencies to exchange information.

Lienholder

An agency or creditor to which an owner has given a pledge of payment or obligation. Also known as a secured party.

Littering

The act of illegally leaving rubbish, refuse, waste material, garbage, offal, paper, glass, cans, bottles, trash, debris, or other foreign substances or a vehicle that is considered abandoned under MCL 257.252a.

Owner of record

The person named on the Secretary of State's motor vehicle records as the title-holder of a vehicle.

Petition   

A formal written request made to an official person or organized body (such as a court).

Record of sale   

A photocopy of the reassigned title or a document that includes the name, address, driver's license number and signature of the person to whom the vehicle was sold, along with the purchase price and date of the sale.

Redeemed   

The owner or a secured party has paid all fees and charges and obtained release of the vehicle from the custodian.

Registered abandoned scrap vehicle   

Vehicle is abandoned, at least seven years old, is inoperable or extensively damaged so that repairing it for safe operation exceeds the fair market value, and is currently registered or titled in Michigan or has a current-year registration plate from another state.

Salvage vehicle 

A vehicle for which a salvage title has been issued by the Secretary of State.

Scrap vehicle   

A vehicle with a scrap title issued by the Secretary of State. It may be assigned only to a scrap metal processor, an automotive recycler, used or secondhand vehicle parts dealer, or a foreign salvage vehicle dealer and the second reassignment may only be to a vehicle scrap metal processor.

Secured party   

An agency or creditor to which an owner has given a pledge of payment or obligation. Also known as lienholder.

Signage Requirement

Under MCL 257.252k, each apartment complex or private property owner that has a vehicle towed must have a warning sign posted that unauthorized vehicles will be towed at the owner's expense. The notice must include the name and telephone number of the towing agency that is responsible for removing vehicles from that property and be in letters at least two inches high on a contrasting background. Notices must be permanently installed with the bottom of the notice at least four feet or higher from the ground and prominently displayed at a point of entry for vehicles. If the property does not have curbs or access barriers, there must be at least one notice for every 100' of road frontage. The notice must be in place at least 24 hours before vehicles can be towed from the property.

 

Signage is not required when:

  • The real property is part of a single- or dual-family residence, or
  • Personal notice is given to the owner or driver of the vehicle, or
  • The vehicle removed from private property was impounded under MCL 257.252d.

Tagged vehicle   

A vehicle with a written notice affixed by a law enforcement agency.  The written notice serves as a warning that the vehicle is subject to being taken into custody at the owner's expense or scrapped.  Under the abandoned vehicle law, tagging a vehicle is optional.  

The law   

As used here, "the law" refers to Michigan Compiled Laws, specifically, Public Acts 493, 494 and 495 of 2004 and Public Act 539 of 2008.

Towed vehicle   

A vehicle that was removed from a location because it met the definition of an abandoned vehicle (MCL 257.252a) or qualified to be immediately removed under the conditions outlined in MCL 257.252d.

Towing and Storage Bond

A monetary surety made to guarantee a court appearance equal to $40 plus the accrued towing and storage fees.

TR-208   

TR-208 Certificate of Scrapping available to law enforcement from the Secretary of State Web site for the purpose of scrapping abandoned vehicles.

TR-52   

A 5-part carbonless form no longer used by law enforcement agencies.  This form has been replaced by the TR-52E Notice of Abandoned Vehicle, TR-52P Petition for Hearing on Abandoned Vehicle, and TR-52L Abandoned Vehicle - Bill of Sale which are mailed by the Secretary of State.

Unlicensed dealer   

A person or business/legal entity that is not legally licensed by the Secretary of State as a dealer, but is required by law to have a dealer's license because of the person or business/legal entity's business practices.

Unregistered abandoned scrap vehicle   

Is abandoned, at least seven years old, is inoperable or extensively damaged so that repairing the vehicle for safe operation exceeds the fair market value, and is not currently registered in Michigan or does not display a current-year registration plate from another state.

VIN   

Vehicle Identification Number - A unique identifier for a vehicle.  For modern vehicles, the VIN is 17 characters long.

 

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