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Towed Cars


People have many questions when they come outside and find their car is missing. This article will answer some questions people usually have when their car has been towed.

How do I find out where my car was towed?

  • Call the local police department,
    • The police department can tell you where your vehicle is and what steps you must take to get it back.
  • Know your vehicle's
    • Make,
    • Model,
    • License plate number.

Why was my car towed?

  • Every community has different laws governing when a car can be towed by local law enforcement officers. Some of the more common situations include:
    • Unpaid parking fines,
    • Failure to provide proof of insurance,
    • Possible connection with criminal activity,
    • Unauthorized parking on private property, for example parking in another tenant's spot in an apartment complex,
    • The vehicle being viewed as abandoned on public property, including roadways,
    • Law enforcement deeming the vehicle a traffic hazard,
    • Violation of city/county parking ordinances, including snow ordinances and specified parking hours.

What notice am I entitled to after my vehicle is towed?

  • Notice must be provided once a vehicle is towed. The last known owner must be provided notice within 20 days after the vehicle is towed.
    • Notice should be provided by certified mail to the last known address of the registered owner.
    • If the last owner cannot be determined, notice is given by publishing one time in a local newspaper for the area where the car was found.
  • This notice must include the following:
    • Make, model, year and vehicle identification number (VIN) ,
    • Description of any personal property found in the vehicle,
    • Information on the owner's right to reclaim the vehicle and personal property in the vehicle.
  • Owners have 10 days from the date the certified letter is mailed to reclaim their vehicle and/or personal property that was in the vehicle.
  • The minimum days to reclaim under the law is 10. Some cities or counties may give an owner more than 10 days to reclaim.
  • Read any notices you receive carefully to determine how much time you have.

Can I challenge the towing and impoundment of my vehicle?

  • Yes, you may file a challenge within the time set out in your notice.
  • The challenge must be in writing and state why you believe the impoundment and/or towing was against the law.
  • Hearing will be held by the law enforcement agency that impounded your vehicle and one of the following decisions will be issued:
    • A decision that the process was done according to law, explaining the reasons for this decision and starting the period for claiming the vehicle and property, or
    • A decision that the process was not done according to law and the vehicle will be released with proof of ownership and no fees.

My car is in an impound lot. Can I get my stuff from it? (Like medicine, children's clothing, work tools, school books)

  • A person will likely not be able to get things from a towed vehicle until the fees are paid. This will depend on the policy of the towing company.

What fees will I have to pay to get my vehicle out of impound?

  • Any fines related to the vehicle, for example parking tickets,
    • You may be required to bring exact cash to pay these fines.
  • Administrative fees assessed by police department,
  • Towing fee (will vary based on towing company),
  • Storage fees related to the impound (will vary by city),
  • Civil fines are assessed by some cities/counties when towing is related to criminal activity.

What happens to my car if I do not reclaim it?

  • Law enforcement will determine whether the car is suitable for highway use.
    • If the answer is yes, the car will be sold at auction for private use.
    • If the answer is no, then the car will be sold as junk.
  • Money from the sale is first used by law enforcement to cover their expenses, including towing, storage, auction, etc.
  • After law enforcement has been paid back, remaining money is held for 90 days for the owner. If the owner does not claim these proceeds in 90 days they are transferred to the Road Use Tax Fund.
  • If the sale cost is not enough to pay back law enforcement, the Road Use Tax Fund will pay it and recover the amount from the last known owner.

Procedures and regulations related to towing and impounding of vehicles vary by city/county throughout the State of Iowa. If your vehicle is towed and you need additional information on this subject, please contact your local police department and/or Iowa Legal Aid for information specific to your area.


Iowa Legal Aid provides help to low-income Iowans. 

To apply for help from Iowa Legal Aid:

  • Call 800-532-1275.
  • Iowans age 60 and over, call 800-992-8161.
  • Apply online at
If Iowa Legal Aid cannot help, look for an attorney on “Find A Lawyer” on the Iowa State Bar Association website   A private attorney there can talk with you for a fee of $25 for 30 minutes of legal advice.
As you read this information, remember this article is not a substitute for legal advice.
Last Review and Update: Apr 09, 2020
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