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How to Find the Title to an Abandoned Car

abandoned car in middle of field

You’re driving down the road when you notice a car in rough shape with flat tires and maybe some broken glass parked on the side. At first you think nothing of it, but then you realize it’s a 1973 AMC Gremlin X - the same one your father wouldn’t let you buy when you got your driver’s license.

You may wonder how this car has gotten here and if it has been abandoned. Maybe if it’s abandoned, it could be yours for the taking! Before you haul it away, remember that state laws force you to undergo a process to claim or buy an abandoned car. Here is the process you must go through in order to get the title to an abandoned car.

Part 1 of 5: Find out if the car is really abandoned

This is the most important question to have answered before you begin the process of titling an abandoned car. You should always confirm by going to your state’s DMV website or office to find what is defined as an “abandoned vehicle.”

To help, here’s a state-by-state guide to defining what qualifies as an abandoned vehicle:

District of Columbia
New Hampshire
New Jersey
New Mexico
New York
North Carolina
North Dakota
Rhode Island
South Carolina
South Dakota
West Virginia

Part 2 of 5: What to do if the car is, by definition, abandoned

vin number locations

Step 1: Contact the owner. If you feel that a car has been abandoned, you may want to try contacting the owner of the car to see if they will sell it to you.

You can locate the owner by first finding the car’s VIN number. You may find the VIN number on the bottom corner of the windshield on the driver’s side, or inside the door post (where the door connects to the rest of the car).

From there you can contact the DMV and try to locate the original owner.

When talking to the DMV, explain what you are trying to do and they should help guide you on paperwork or other state guidelines you may need to follow in order to acquire the title to the abandoned car.

Step 2: If the owner cannot be located, you should contact local authorities. They’ll want to check if the car has been stolen or has been connected to some other criminal act.

At this time, you should also express to the authorities that you wish to purchase the car. They can help you understand local procedures for purchasing abandoned cars.

boot on front wheel

Step 3: Wait for the car to be claimed. When local authorities are made aware of an abandoned car, it will be towed and stored at an automotive facility.

The authorities will then attempt to contact the original owner and give him or her several weeks to try to reclaim their car. If the car is not claimed, it will most likely be sold at auction to the highest bidder it what is known as a lien sale.

Part 3 of 5: Determining if you want to purchase the car

Step 1: Be wary of an abandoned vehicle. They will often need extensive repair work to be drivable again and may need major parts replaced.

Step 2: Examine the car. See if it will be worth the effort to try to acquire the title.

You can examine the car yourself or have a mechanic examine it for you. A certified mechanic with YourMechanic will be happy to help you examine an abandoned car and see what work might need to be done to help make it road-worthy.

Our certified mechanics will not only help you examine the car but can give you an estimate on repairs needed. Based on this assessment, you can decide if you want to try to get the title for the car.

Part 4 of 5: Acquiring the title

So you’ve decided it’s worth it. After completing all the above steps, make another effort to get in contact with the owner if you haven’t already.

Step 1: Enlist the help of the DMV. You can ask the DMV to help you find the owner as long as you know the VIN number.

Remember, you can find a car’s VIN number on the lower, driver-side portion of the windshield or inside the door post.

Step 2: Notify the owner of your interest. When you get in contact with the DMV they’ll send a notification to the owner through certified mail that you are trying to acquire the title to their car.

The local county sheriff should also be notified and your attempt to get the title may be published in local publications.

Step 3: Purchase the car. You may have to purchase the car through an auction if the owner is unable to be located.

Buying a car at auction may be stressful, but it can also be one of the easiest ways to acquire the car’s title. When the car is sold, the car’s title will be transferred to the new owner.

Part 5 of 5: Potential obstacles

If the car’s owner is located, you may run into some issues based on his or her willingness to sell the car.

Obstacle 1: A lost title. Occasionally, the owner of the car may have lost the title to the abandoned car.

In this case, work with the owner on acquiring a duplicate title.

You may even be able to have the owner sign a power of attorney form allowing you to sign the title over to yourself.

  • Tip: In California, the power of attorney paperwork is available online.

Obstacle 2: Going to court. If the car you are looking to get was abandoned on your property, you may be able to take the current owner to small-claims court.

Because you have technically stored the car for a period of time, you may be able to put a lien on the title. You should contact a lawyer to see if this method is available to you.

law document "quiet title"

Obstacle 3: A quiet title lawsuit. If the original owner of the car cannot be located and the car is not sold at auction, you may try to get what is called a “quiet title.”

A quiet title is, in essence, a lawsuit in which ownership of certain property is in question. In the case of an abandoned vehicle, while you may not have the title, you may have been “storing” the vehicle which allows you to lay some claim to its ownership.

It is recommended that you hire an attorney if you plan on acquiring a quiet title for a vehicle as it can be a complicated process. If you win the lawsuit and are deemed to be the owner of the vehicle, you should then be able to acquire a title for the vehicle.

The process for acquiring a title for an abandoned car will be different in every state. You should always contact your DMV for further guidance on how you might be able to have the title transferred to you.

Also, be sure to examine the car before you decide you want it. A car with serious mechanical faults may be more trouble than it’s worth. If you decide that you don’t want an abandoned car, but it is causing a disturbance by either being on your property or near where you live, contact local authorities so that the car can be removed.

The statements expressed above are only for informational purposes and should be independently verified. Please see our terms of service for more details

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