22651 CVC - California Vehicle Impound Laws


22651 CVC is the California law authorizing police to tow away and impound certain vehicles. Common reasons are dangerous parking, DUI, having five unpaid parking tickets, and various non-parking-related violations.

Cars that are simply parked in the wrong spot or at the wrong time should not get towed. Instead, police just leave tickets on the dashboard. And the driver remains in possession of the vehicle.

Tow truck about to tow an illegally parked vehicle; California impound laws are codified in 22651 CVC
22651 CVC permits the impoundment of certain automobiles in California.

1. When does 22651 CVC allow police to tow and impound vehicles?

22651 CVC allows for nine main circumstances where police may tow and impound vehicles:

  1. Parking in handicapped spots without proper plates or tags. Disabled parking is very limited. Simply ticketing the car does not create more space for disabled drivers. So traffic officers often elect to tow these cars.
  2. The driver is arrested. This typically occurs following: A DUI. Drag racing (23109 VC). Or traffic stops where police see contraband in the car or find an active warrant for the driver.1
  3. Blocked flow of traffic. This is when a parked car obstructs the free flow of traffic. Or presents a safety risk.2
  4. Car accident. The driver may be hospitalized. Or otherwise too injured or incapacitated to drive.3
  5. No registration. Even legally-parked cars can get towed for: Missing plates. No registration. Registration that was more than six (6) months expired. Or fake or forged registration and/or plates.4
  6. No license. When people get caught driving without a valid license (12500 VC) or driving on a suspended license (14601.1(a)).5
  7. Debt collection for past parking tickets. Even a lawfully-parked vehicle can get towed if: The owner has at least five unpaid parking citations. Or the owner failed to pay a municipal garage parking fee.6
  8. 72-hour ordinance. Some local laws require vehicles to be towed that are left parked for at least 72 consecutive hours.7
  9. Unlicensed car dealers. Cars being offered for sale by an unlicensed dealer get towed.8

The majority of parking violations do not result in towing. But drivers have to make sure to take care of their tickets. As discussed above, racking up five or more unpaid tickets gives law enforcement the authority to impound the vehicle.

2. Can vehicles get impounded at DUI checkpoints?

Not if the driver's only offense at the DUI checkpoint is driving without a license. But if the driver gets arrested for DUI, then yes. The police will impound the automobile.9

3. Do people get notice before their cars get towed?

Handicapped parking space that warns violators will be towed
Parking in a disabled spot is a circumstance that allows police to tow and impound the vehicle.

Some parking spaces or streets have signs that warn about towing. And each parking ticket contains a notice that repeat-offenders face towing. But officers do not attempt to notify drivers before physically towing away their vehicles.

4. How do people get back their impounded cars?

People should contact the impound lot for instructions. If the impound lot is unknown, people can ask the local police. Lots should release vehicles to registered owners who present:

  1. A current driver's license,
  2. Registration for the vehicle, and
  3. Proof of insurance

Non-registered owners may claim impounded cars. But they will need a letter of authorization from the owner.

5. How long can vehicles remain impounded?

Usually for a maximum of 30 days in California. Then the lot will hold a lien sale (auction). Therefore, people should claim their vehicles before the auction.

6. What does it cost to release an impounded vehicle?

It depends on the impound location. But it can be in the hundreds or thousands of dollars. Especially if the owner does not pick up the car right away.

People will have to pay the following fees:

  • Administrative fee
  • Towing fee
  • Transfer charge fee
  • Daily storage fee (which often gets more expensive after the first 24 hours)
  • After hours gate fee (if applicable)
  • Lien fees (if applicable)
  • Auction fee (if applicable)

Often impound lots sell unclaimed cars at a loss. Then they will sue the car owner for the difference ("deficiency").

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In Nevada? See our article about towing and impoundment.

Legal References

  1. 22651(c) CVC, 22651(h) CVC.
  2. 22651(a-b), (d-f), (l-n), (q-r); People v. Quick, 5 Cal. App. 5th 1006 (2016); People v. Nottoli, 199 Cal. App. 4th 531(2011).
  3. Same at subsection (g) 
  4. Same at subsections (j) and (o) 
  5. Same at subsection (p); People v. Suff, 58 Cal. 4th 1013 (2014).
  6. Same at subsection (i)
  7. Same at subsection (k)
  8. Same at subsection (u)
  9. Vehicle Code 2814.2 CVC.

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