Consumer Title Resource | Since 2009!

DON’T File For An Abandoned Vehicle Title

So you have a vehicle that you’ve purchased or maybe was given to you and somehow you have a title problem. You can’t get a title, so how do you solve that problem? Well, many times the person will just think, I’ll just file for an abandoned vehicle, thinking that an abandoned vehicle is Finders Keepers—you get to have a title. It’s not how it works. We’re going to take a look at abandoned vehicles, discarded vehicles, what the law says, what you can do and what you can’t do, and possibly what are solutions for you to get a title when you have a vehicle that doesn’t have the right paperwork.

Misconceptions about Abandoned Vehicles
First of all, let’s clear up a common misconception: an abandoned vehicle is not something that anybody can just claim. If you see a car and you want to claim it, you can’t just say, well, it’s abandoned, I get to keep it. Like I said, Finders Keepers does not apply to abandoned vehicles. The laws in every state have very specific chapters and statutes for what they call discarded vehicles, what you can do, and what you can’t do.

Definition of Abandoned Vehicle
First of all, let’s take a look at what they say is an abandoned vehicle. This is the definition. Now, this is from the state of Oregon, but many states have the same rules because it comes from federal statutes. Abandoned vehicle definition means any vehicle that has been deserted or relinquished without a claim of ownership. Without a claim of ownership—that’s important because if you want to become the owner, you have to have a claim of ownership. If you claim ownership, now it’s not abandoned. If you say that it’s abandoned, you’re also saying you don’t have a claim of ownership. So it’s like a catch-22, right? So whatever you do, don’t file or define something as abandoned if you don’t want to have a claim of ownership because you’re going to waive your rights.

Additional Conditions for Abandoned Vehicles
In addition to that, it has one or more of the following conditions: has expired registration, appears to be inoperative or disabled, and appears to be wrecked, dismantled, or junked. So abandoned doesn’t just mean that no one’s claiming ownership; it has to be in a physical condition that’s also low.

Investigation Process for Abandoned Vehicles
So what happens if somebody says something is abandoned? Well, they have to do an investigation. The duty of the police department whenever a vehicle is considered abandoned is to make an investigation to discover the owner of the vehicle and contact that person. Written notice or certified mail—the police do this, not you. If the owner of the vehicle is not found, place a notice on the vehicle where it can be easily seen. The notice says it’s in violation of this chapter and within 5 days it must be removed. If it’s not, then what happens? Then it gets towed. It gets towed by a licensed towing company designated by the police department. It has to be a licensed official towing company. They just can’t go roving around and say, hey, I want to tow that vehicle. It has to be tasked and it has to be dispatched by the police department, can be towed upon the order of a city officer or employee, taken to a storage area designated by the city. That doesn’t mean your backyard; it has to be designated by the city.

Disposition of the Vehicle
Then what they can do, after they rack up storage fees and send out notices, is they can auction the car off. Disposition of the vehicle: the towing company can sell or dispose of the vehicle. The towing company can send written notice. So a lot of people think, well, I’ll just do that. I’ll send out a certified letter, if I don’t hear back, I get to keep the car. It’s not how it works. Abandoned vehicles are not Finders Keepers. Remember that.

Common Queries about Abandoned Vehicles
Now, there may be a few jurisdictions, some cities and counties, that have other ways of doing this, but even if they do, it’s not the best way to go. More than likely, the first question we ask when somebody calls up and says, hey, I have an abandoned vehicle, is our sales staff will ask, what did it just show up on your lot and somebody just brought it there? You don’t know where it came from? No, I bought it on eBay—that’s not abandoned. Oh, no, some guy gave it to me in exchange for, you know, cleaning out his gutters—that’s not abandoned. It was given to you, and that’s a good thing. If it was abandoned, remember what abandon means.

Clarification on Ownership
First section: definition of abandon means abandoned vehicle means any vehicle relinquished claim of ownership. You don’t want to relinquish claim of ownership if you want a title. So if somebody gave it to you, they sold it to you, you bought it off Craigslist, you bought it from a barn—it’s not abandoned. You own it. You just have to get a title, right? You have to get one of these, a document. The way to do it is not through the abandoned process.

Bonded Title Solution
So that’s the bad news. How do you do it? Well, if you’re in a bonded title state, get a surety bond, attach it to an application, file it with the state, get a bonded title. Easy to do. Most surety bonds are going to cost you $100. Don’t get rattled by reading something where you have to pay two times the value of the vehicle—that’s just what the bond value is set at, but the bond itself will cost you $100. Check it out at, Put in the value of the vehicle, hit enter, it’ll tell you the price—it’ll probably be 100 bucks for most vehicles if it’s worth 10,000 or less.

Court Order Title Solution
What else can you do? You can also do a court order title. You file a petition in the county court where you live. The judge will check out the vehicle, make sure it’s not stolen, make sure there’s no liens on it, they’ll give you a judgment of ownership. You bring that to the DMV, slap it on the counter, and they give you a title. It’s not like a big Law and Order Jack McCoy court case. It’s an administrative proceeding; it’s easier than dealing with the DMV, in fact.

Warning Against Other Methods
So forget about abandoned, forget about filing a lien against a vehicle, because unless you have a signed authorization to do work on a vehicle and you have a licensed repair shop, you can’t file a lien. And even if you do have a licensed repair shop, they know that mechanic’s liens are scams. Most people that file mechanic’s liens are not really a repair shop that had authorization from the owner, so they’re going to audit it, and if they find anything wrong, they’ll kick that out.

So abandoned vehicles—don’t go there. It’s not going to work out for you. It’s the worst way to get a title. Even if you do have some narrow loophole in your county or your city, it’s the worst way to get a title. It’s going to take the longest; it has the most opportunity for the government to come snatch that car away from you because you have to say there’s no claim on it. And if that person has back taxes, now the city will claim it. If they didn’t pay their registration, the city will claim it. You don’t want to do abandoned vehicle, believe me. You want to look at one of the other bonded title or court order title methods. It’ll work out way better for you.

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