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Abandoned vehicles

Nationwide, abandoned vehicles, RVs, off-road vehicles (ORVs), snowmobiles, and watercraft pose an environmental, health and safety hazard. They also lower property values and have a negative impact on our quality of life. The task of identifying and removing junk cars and boats diverts local, county, and state government resources from more serious issues such as protecting the public and crime prevention.

Michigan is taking action to protect the public as well as the beauty and integrity of its communities. Michigan passed legislation in 2005 and 2014 to help reduce the number of abandoned vehicles and vessels. The laws streamlined the procedures for identifying and processing abandoned vehicles and vessels, while protecting the rights of owners.

Owners, law enforcement, and "custodians" (towing agencies, law enforcement agencies and municipal impound lots) can use the Abandoned Vehicle Search through Online Services to combat this problem.

  • According to state statute, abandoned vehicle or vessel applies not only to the "junkers" that are dumped on the roadside, but vehicles or vessels on private or public property that have been removed either by request of the property owner or because the vehicle or vessel was parked or left in violation of a law.

    A vehicle or vessel may be considered abandoned when it is:

    • A vehicle or vessel on private property without the consent of the owner
    • A vehicle or vessel that has remained on public property for not less than 48 hours
    • A vehicle that has remained on a state trunk line for not less than 18 hours if a valid registration plate is affixed to the vehicle
    • A vehicle that has remained on a state trunk line if a valid registration plate is not affixed to the vehicle
    • A vessel that has remained on a state trunk line and is not on a motor vehicle or trailer and is not under the immediate custody of the owner
    • A vessel on a motor vehicle or trailer if the motor vehicle or trailer displays a valid registration plate and has been on a state trunk line for no less than 18 hours and is not under the immediate custody of the owner

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

    • If the vehicle or vessel is in such a condition that the operation of it will constitute an immediate hazard to the public.
    • If the vehicle or vessel is parked or idling on the highway so that it creates an immediate public hazard or an obstruction of traffic.
    • If the vehicle or vessel is parked in a posted tow-away zone.
    • Removal of a vehicle or vessel is necessary if it is a threat to public safety because its presence impedes rescue efforts during fire, flood, storm, snow, natural or man-made disaster, or other emergency.
    • If the vehicle or vessel is hampering the use of private property by the owner or person in charge of that property or is parked in a manner that impedes the movement of another vehicle or vessel.
    • If the vehicle or vessel is Illegally stopped, idling, or parked in a designated disability parking space.
    • If the vehicle or vessel is located in a clearly identified access aisle or access lane immediately adjacent to a disability parking space.
    • If the vehicle or vessel is interfering with the use of a ramp or a curb-cut by people with disabilities.
    • If the vessel is submerged in, partially submerged in, or floating unanchored or untethered upon a public waterway.

    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:

    • If the vehicle or vessel is believed to be stolen.
    • If the vehicle or vessel is seized to preserve evidence of a crime.
    • If the vehicle or vessel is involved in a crash.
  • When an abandoned vehicle or vessel is taken into custody, the owner and any secured party (most often a lending institution) are notified by mail of the vehicle or vessel's status and location. To claim an abandoned vehicle or vessel, as the owner you must:

    • Visit the custodian (police agency, towing agency, or municipal impound lot) holding the vehicle or vessel within 20 days of receiving notice. The custodian may be found on the abandoned vehicle or vessel notice you received in the mail or by entering the vehicle's identification number (VIN) or license plate number through the Abandoned Vehicle Search under Online Services.
    • Please contact the Abandoned Vehicle Help Desk at 517-636-5234 for assistance regarding an abandoned vessel or snowmobile. The custodian may ask for proof of ownership (title or registration).
    • Pay any towing and storage fees, including the $40 abandoned fee.

    If you do not redeem the vehicle or vessel, or request a hearing within 20 days, the secured party may obtain release of the vehicle or vessel by paying the towing, storage, and abandoned fee 10 days after the date of notification. The secured party may also request a hearing 10 days after notification of abandonment.

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

  • You may challenge whether your vehicle or vessel 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 or vessel 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 form.

    An owner who requests a hearing may obtain release of the vehicle or vessel by posting a towing and storage bond with the court, or by paying the abandoned fees to the court and the accrued towing and storage fees to the custodian instead of posting a towing and storage bond. If the court finds the vehicle or vessel was improperly deemed abandoned or removed, the law enforcement agency will reimburse the owner for the towing, storage, and abandoned fees.

    Petition Regarding Impoundment of Motor Vehicle or Seizure of Motorcycle form

  • Owners who abandon a vehicle or vessel risk fines and penalties.

    Michigan law [MCL 257.252a, 81151, or 82161 2014 PA 549] presumes that the last owner of record of a vehicle as kept by the Secretary of State is responsible for abandoning the vehicle unless the person provides a record of sale or transfer. Michigan law (80130f 2014 PA 549) presumes that the last titled owner, or if there is no titled owner the last registered owner of a vessel, is responsible for abandoning a vessel unless the person provides a record of the transfer of the vessel to another person.

    A violation for abandoning a vehicle and not redeeming it before disposition is determined under MCL 257.252g or Section 81151(3) or Section 82161(3) 2014 PA 549, or for abandoning a vessel and not redeeming it before disposition is determined under Section 80130k, will result in a civil infraction and subject the owner to a civil fine of $50 plus costs, state assessments, and other statutory penalties.

    A person who abandons a motor vehicle or vessel may also be found responsible for littering under the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act [MCL 324.8905a(4)]. This is a state civil infraction subject to a civil fine from $500 to $2,500 plus costs, state assessments, and other statutory penalties. The penalty for abandoning a second vehicle or vessel is a civil fine from $1,000 to $5,000 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 or vessel:

    • 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 vehicle or vessel title, reassigned vessel registration, 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 or vessel.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

  • Private real property owners may contact a local towing company or law enforcement. Towing services are required by law to contact law enforcement before a vehicle or vessel is removed from private real property. Law enforcement is responsible for determining whether the vehicle or vessel is stolen.

    There are specific requirements for apartment complexes and owners and lessors of private real property. Under section 257.252k or 80130o, 81151, or 82161 2014 PA 549, each apartment complex or private real property owner that has a vehicle or vessel removed must have a warning sign posted stating that unauthorized vehicles or vessels will be removed at the owner's expense. The notice must include the name and telephone number of the towing agency that will remove vehicles or vessels 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 from the ground and prominently displayed at each point of entry for vehicles or vessels. If the property does not have curbs or access barriers, there must be at least one notice for every 100 feet of road frontage. The notice must be in place at least 24 hours before vehicles or vessels can be removed from the property. Private real properties that are single- or dual-family residences are exempt from the notice requirements and vehicles or vessels removed under MCL 257.252d or 80130h, 81151, or 82161 2014 PA 549.

    Posted notice is not required if the vehicle or vessel owner has been given personal notice that the vehicle or vessel is parked in an unauthorized area and is subject to removal. The law does not specify whether verbal or written personal notice must be given but a notice may be written into a lease or rental agreement. However, it is recommended that private real property owners provide written personal notices and retain a copy for their files.

    A custodian is the person or business or legal entity responsible for the storage of an abandoned vehicle or vessel. Usually, this is the towing agency.

  • The Secretary of State will send notice of abandonment to the last owner of record as kept by the Secretary of State. The owner of record changes when a purchaser applies to transfer the ownership into his or her name. The law creates a presumption that the last owner of record as kept by the Secretary of State is responsible for abandoning it. The owner of record may be liable for all fees and penalties associated with the abandoned vehicle or vessel unless the person provides an acceptable record of sale.

    If you traded in the vehicle to a dealer, the title application for your new vehicle should show that your previous vehicle was traded in. If you donated your vehicle or vessel to a charity, the charity should provide a receipt with a description of the vehicle or vessel including the year, make, VIN, HIN, serial number, and date of donation. Either one may be considered an acceptable record of sale.

    You cannot redeem a vehicle or vessel that you previously sold. If you are ticketed, fined, or involved in a civil or criminal proceeding, you should present your record of sale to the court. Otherwise, no action on your part is required.

  • A vehicle or vessel can be considered abandoned if it is involved in a crash and not redeemed by the owner within 20 days after it was released by law enforcement.

  • A custodian is the person or business or legal entity responsible for the storage of an abandoned vehicle or vessel. Usually, this is the towing agency.

  • You have 20 days from the date of the notice sent by the Secretary of State to redeem your vehicle or vessel by paying the towing, storage, and abandoned fees to the custodian. The secured party may redeem the vehicle or vessel after 10 days from the date of notice, by paying the towing, storage, and abandoned fees to the custodian. Some municipalities may also require you to pay additional fines or fees.

    Your Notice of Abandoned Vehicle/Vessel form (TR-52E) tells you where your vehicle or vessel is located. You may also Search for an Abandoned Vehicle by entering your vehicle’s VIN, or plate number. Please contact the Abandoned Vehicle Help Desk at 517-636-5234 concerning an abandoned vessel or snowmobile. You will need the HIN or serial number for the vessel or snowmobile. You may be required to show proof of ownership before redeeming the vehicle or vessel.

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

    Search for an Abandoned Vehicle


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