This Is How You Can Get an Abandoned Car, and Not Spend a Night in Jail for Stealing It

If you're not up for a ride with the boys in blue, then don't just grab that Charger you found on your newly purchased property to turn it into a new restoration project. Read this first.
Tree growing through an engine bay 8 photos
Photo: Sheila Brown
Abandoned Ford MustangCars rotting in KansasImpala barn findChevrolet Camaro found in the woodsChevrolet Camaro found in the woodsTree growing out of an abandoned carTruck rotting in a forest
We all know that it is illegal to abandon a car on the side of the road or elsewhere. Yet, these things happen. The law regarding an abandoned vehicle differs from state to state so, before touching a car, learn what the local law has to say about it.

But first, let's see what makes an abandoned vehicle. Most states agree that abandoned is a vehicle (car, truck, trailer, RV, etc.) that sits on private or public property for a specific time, without the rightful owner reclaiming it. In some states, these vehicles can be removed only by law enforcement, while in others, a legit tow company can do it. So, please don't remove it unless you want to see the skies frorm between a few iron bars.

Maybe you wonder why you shouldn't touch or move the vehicle. It might be one that was involved in a crime, and could still have shreds of evidence. You don't want to open a trunk of an abandoned car and look at a skeleton tucked in there with a knife neatly placed between its ribs. Let other people do it, and save yourself from nightmares. Also, if you do move it, it is considered that you did that without the owner's consent.

As for how hard it is to get your hands on an abandoned car, that varies from state to state. If, for instance, you live in Alaska and you find a vehicle (or more) on your old or newly-purchased property, you're in luck! The law says you have to send a notice to the owner, which authorities can find via license plates or the VIN. Local authorities may transfer the vehicle to the property owner if the vehicle is not reclaimed within 30 days after the notice is given.

Abandoned Ford Mustang
Photo: Wikimedia
If you or law enforcement can't find an owner, you have to publish an announcement in a printed newspaper in the area where the vehicle was registered. Again, after 30 days from the time of publication, if nobody claims it, you can proceed to obtain a title on your name.

One of the best states to get an unclaimed vehicle from your property would be, by far, Arizona. Not only the the car will be well-preserved thanks to low moisture, but the laws are very gentle, and you can claim possession of the vehicle. You'll just have to pay a fee, fill a form (46-4402), and the rest of the hard job of finding the rightful owner will pass to the law enforcement. If nobody claims the vehicle, you'll receive an Authorization for Transfer of Ownership.

Considering all of the above, when you find a car on a field and talk to the owner of that property, you'd better make sure that the vehicle has a title. Some people are just mad enough to sell those wrecks only because they are on their property, and don't care about the paperwork, which, in some cases, might be a challenging situation.

Chevrolet Camaro found in the woods
Photo: coltdog556 via junkyardclassics/instagram
Depending on the state, the local government might want to set an auction for that vehicle, and you might end up staring at someone else who will grab it right in front of your eyes.

In the end, if you find an abandoned car on your property, and it is worth it, with a little bit of a struggle, you can get it into your possession. As for how you can get a title for an abandoned car, we will cover that soon, state by state.
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About the author: Tudor Serban
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Tudor started his automotive career in 1996, writing for a magazine while working on his journalism degree. From Pikes Peaks to the Moroccan desert to the Laguna Seca, he's seen and done it all.
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