§ 22651 CVC is the California law authorizing automobiles to be towed and impounded if the driver gets a DUI, has five unpaid parking tickets, or parks illegally on private property, in a handicapped space, at a bus zone, or anywhere that impedes traffic. Private property owners can legally call a tow truck operator to have a vehicle on its property hauled away without alerting the vehicle owner or local law enforcement agency.
1. When does 22651 CVC allow police to tow and impound vehicles?
22651 CVC allows for nine main circumstances where local authorities may initiate the removal of vehicles by a tow truck:
- Parking in handicapped spots without proper plates or tags. Disabled parking is very limited in most public parking lots. Simply ticketing the car does not create more space for disabled drivers. So traffic officers often elect to tow these cars.
- 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
- Blocked flow of traffic. This is when a parked car obstructs the free flow of traffic. Or presents a safety risk.2
- Car accident. The person driving may be hospitalized. Or otherwise too injured or incapacitated to drive.3
- No registration. Even legally parked cars can get towed for: Missing license plates. No registration. Registration that was more than six (6) months expired. Or fake or forged vehicle registration and/or plates.4
- No license. When a driver of the vehicle gets caught driving without a valid driver’s license (12500 VC) or driving on a suspended license (14601.1(a)).5
- Debt collection for past parking tickets. Even a lawfully parked automobile 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
- 72-hour ordinance. Some local laws require automobiles to be towed that are left parked for at least 72 consecutive hours.7
- Unlicensed car dealers. Cars being offered for sale by an unlicensed dealer get towed.8
The majority of parking violations do not result in vehicle 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 legal authorization for impounding the automobile.
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 an officer arrests the driver for DUI, then yes. The police department will take possession of the vehicle and have it impounded.9
3. Can my car be towed without warning?
Some parking spaces or streets have signs that warn about towing. And each parking ticket contains a notice that police have general authorization to call a tow company on repeat-offenders. But officers do not attempt to notify drivers before getting a towing company to impound the vehicle. And owners of private property can have vehicles towed from their property without giving notice.
4. How do people get back their impounded cars?
Legal owners of the vehicle should contact the impound lot at its telephone number for instructions as soon as possible after the time of the tow. If the impound lot is unknown, people can ask the local police. Lots should release towed vehicles to registered owners during normal business hours who present:
- A current driver’s license,
- Proof of current registration for the automobile, and
- Proof of insurance
Non-registered owners may claim impounded cars. But they will need a letter of written authorization from the owner.
5. How long can vehicles remain impounded?
Under the car towing laws in California, the removal of a vehicle is usually for a maximum of 30 calendar days. Then the lot will hold a lien sale (auction). Therefore, people should claim their automobiles before the auction.
6. What does it cost to release an impounded vehicle?
Towing charges depend on the impound location. But it can be in the hundreds or thousands of dollars at the owner’s expense. Especially if the owner does not pick up the car right away. Impound lots typically accept cash, credit cards, and cashier checks for towing and storage fees.10
People will have to pay the following fees:
- Administrative fee
- Towing fee
- Transfer charge fee
- Daily storage fee (storage charges get 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”). Depending on the amount, the case may be in small claims court.
7. Table of Storage / Impound / Forfeiture Authority Codes in California
(CVC unless otherwise specified)
(The automobile will be impounded in a storage facility unless otherwise specified)
|731 SH||Vending (selling) from a state highway.|
|5133(c) PUC||Carrying household goods to sell without a permit.|
|9801||Seizure of automobile after delinquent registration payment.|
|10751(b)||Possessing an automobile with an altered or missing VIN (vehicle identification number).|
|14602.5||Driving class M1 or M2 automobiles with a suspended or revoked license. |
The car will be impounded for 6 months for a first conviction, 12 months for successive convictions.
|14602.6||Driving with a suspended or revoked license or no license. |
There will be a 30-day hold in the car.
|14602.7||Fleeing a peace officer. |
There will be a 30-day hold in the car.
|14602.8(a)||2nd or subsequent DUI. |
There will be a 5 – 15 day hold.
|14607.6||2nd or subsequent driving with a suspended or revoked license or as an unlicensed driver (a misdemeanor). |
The automobile may be forfeited.
|22651(a)||Leaving a motor vehicle unattended on a bridge or causeway.|
|22651(b)||Obstructing or blocking traffic.|
|22651(c)||Stolen or embezzled automobile on public land.|
|22651(d)||Blocking private driveway.|
|22651(e)||Blocking access to firefighters, such as being within feet of a fire hydrant or blocking a fire lane.|
|22651(f)||Standing 4 hours on a freeway.|
|22651(g)||Driver is incapacitated.|
|22651(h)||Driver is arrested or served an order of suspension notice.|
|22651(i)||The registered owner of the vehicle has 5 or more parking violations.|
|22651(j)||Illegal parking with no license plate numbers or evidence of registration from the DMV (the Department of Motor Vehicles) displayed. |
The car will remain impounded until the owner or person in control of the vehicle gives the impoundment company proof of identity and an address.
|22651(k)||Violating an ordinance by parking for more than 72 hours.|
|22651(l)||Illegally parking in an area for road cleaning or construction.|
|22651(m)||Parking illegally in an area other than for traffic flow.|
|22651(n)||Illegal parking in violation of a local ordinance.|
|22651(o)||Automobile registration is incorrect, falsified, or expired by more than 6 months.|
|22651(p)||The driver is cited for driving without a license (12500 CVC) or driving with a suspended license (14601 CVC).|
|22651(q)||Parking for more than 24 hours in a common interest development.|
|22651(r)||Illegally parking while blocking a lawfully parked automobile.|
|22651(s)||Parking for more than 8 hours at a roadside rest stop or viewpoint.|
|22651(t)||Illegally flashing an amber warning light in violation of 25279 CVC.|
|22651(u)||Acting as a car dealer without a license or temporary permit.|
|22651(v)||Illegally letting stand a mobile billboard advertisement.|
|22651(w)||2nd or subsequent violation of an ordinance.|
|22651.2(a)||Parking a vehicle with signs or placards advertising an event.|
|22651.3||Car is parked in an off-street parking facility, and the vehicle has 5 or more notices of parking violations.|
|22651.4||Violating the Interstate Commerce Commission by operating a foreign commercial vehicle.|
|22651.5||Parking an automobile with the alarm sounding.|
|22651.6||Having a speed contest.|
|22651.9||Parking a vehicle for the purpose of advertising it for sale.|
|22652||Unlawfully parking in handicapped spaces.|
|22652.6||Violating local ordinances.|
|22653||Leaving a stolen or embezzled car on private property.|
|22655(a)||Hit and run.|
|22655.3||Using a vehicle to flee or evade. |
The vehicle will be removed for investigation.
|22655.5||Using a vehicle to commit a public offense. |
The vehicle will be impounded for evidence.
|22656||Leaving a vehicle on a railroad right-of-way.|
|22658||Abandoning a vehicle on private property without the property owner’s permission. |
If the vehicle has been issued a notice of parking violation, and 96 hours have elapsed, the police may remove it.
|22659.5||Using a vehicle for prostitution or illegal dumping of waste.|
|22660||Leaving a wrecked or inoperative vehicle.|
|22669||Leaving an abandoned vehicle.|
|23109.2||Participating in a speed contest. |
The vehicle may be impounded for 30 days.
|23224(c)||Being under 21 with alcohol in a car.|
|27159||A diesel automobile is causing excessive pollution.|
|34506.4(a)||Driving or parking a vehicle in an unsafe condition.|
|34506.4(b)||Unlawful driving of a farm labor vehicle.|
|34506.5||Unlawfully driving a farm labor vehicle after a prior impoundment. The vehicle may be forfeited.|
Questions about California towing laws or predatory towing? Or have you been cited for a traffic infraction? We may be able to persuade the District Attorney to reduce or dismiss the charge. Contact our legal team at Shouse Law Group. Disclaimer: Results cannot be guaranteed.
In Nevada? See our article about towing and impoundment.
- California Vehicle Code 22651(c), 22651(h) CVC.
- California Vehicle Code section 22651(a-b), (d-f), (l-n), (q-r) CVC; People v. Quick, 5 Cal. App. 5th 1006 (2016); People v. Nottoli, 199 Cal. App. 4th 531(2011).
- Same at subsection (g)
- Same at subsections (j) and (o)
- Same at subsection (p); People v. Suff, 58 Cal. 4th 1013 (2014).
- Same at subsection (i)
- Same at subsection (k)
- Same at subsection (u)
- 2814.2 CVC.
- California Civil Code Section 1748.1.