The Abandoned Motor Vehicle (AMV) Process

  • 5 min read

An abandoned vehicle is one where the vehicle owner has dumped the vehicle with no intention of returning to claim it. Typically, if you know where the vehicle came from or who it belongs to, it’s not an abandoned vehicle. There are many ways to claim a vehicle that is abandoned on your property, the first thing to do is to avoid calling the vehicle abandoned. Depending on the jurisdiction, referring to the vehicle as abandoned to the DMV or law enforcement will automatically trigger the removal and disposal of the vehicle. In many states, you cannot get a title for an abandoned vehicle without going through an auction process.

If you are a private property owner who has been left with an abandoned vehicle on your property, it can be incredibly stressful and overwhelming to have to deal with the necessary steps to get rid of the vehicle. This blog discusses general steps to take if you have discovered an abandoned vehicle on your property and what other options for title recovery may be available.

Get good legal advice

Each of the 50 US states has a different process to file for an abandoned vehicle. With each state having different legal requirements, it’s important to contact an attorney that specializes in vehicle title laws in your state. This article is not legal advice, we recommend speaking to an attorney prior to beginning your abandoned vehicle process.

Consider other title options

What are your intentions with this abandoned vehicle? Abandoned vehicles aren’t necessarily a “finder’s keepers” type of situation. In most states, if you file an abandoned vehicle, you’re intending for the vehicle to be towed and disposed of. Many abandoned vehicle title processes do not allow for the property owner to take possession of the vehicle. If you’re planning to keep the vehicle and possess it or sell it, consider other title options such as a bonded title or a court-ordered title.

Court-ordered title

A court-ordered title may be a valuable alternative to an abandoned vehicle process. A court-ordered title can be applied for by filing a court case with your local county or circuit court to declare you as the vehicle owner. This is often the last resort title recovery method, but it is a great choice if you are missing most or all of the ownership paperwork. This is not legal advice, before using this method, be sure to obtain good legal advice for success in your county and state.

Bonded title process

A bonded title may be a valuable alternative if you live in a state that allows for this method. A bonded title requires you to obtain a surety bond to secure the title of the vehicle. Obtaining the surety bond releases liability from the DMV in the event that there is an ownership discrepancy over the vehicle.

Begin with a DPPA request

The Driver’s Privacy Protection Act (DPPA) is a federal statute that protects driver information from being public records. According to the DPPA, to obtain personal driving information, an individual or organization must submit an official form to the state DMV requesting specific information. To obtain information protected by the DPPA, you must disclose your reasoning in your official request. Just because the DMV receives your official request form doesn’t mean they will give out the information. The information you obtain from the DPPA request can help you locate the prior owner and will assist in the title or removal process. Not all states allow for this information to be requested. Arkansas and Wyoming do not allow for DPPA information to be provided about other individuals, in these states you can only request your own driving and vehicle records.

Do not move the vehicle

In some states, the property owner must sign an affidavit that states the vehicle has not moved from the original location in which it was abandoned. By moving the vehicle, you may be inadvertently invalidating the abandoned vehicle process.

Consider small claims court

In certain cases after all other methods of title recovery have been exhausted or if your state requires it, you may need to have a judgment against the prior owner of the vehicle. Certain businesses such as storage and towing companies may be able to charge storage fees for the abandoned vehicle, but private property owners are not permitted to do the same. Private property owners can use the court process to obtain a judgment against the owner for abandoning the vehicle on their property.

The abandoned vehicle process is a complicated legal process. If you are a private property owner with an abandoned vehicle of any kind whether it’s a truck, car, motorhome, or another type of vehicle, you may be able to file for an abandoned vehicle and have it removed from your property. In most states, an abandoned vehicle title is not a regular method of obtaining a title. When choosing your method of title recovery, first decide the desired outcome of the situation. Do you want to keep the vehicle? If so, try a bonded title or court-ordered title. Do you want to dispose of the vehicle? An abandoned title process may be right for you. Always seek professional or legal advice before proceeding with your title recovery method.

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