Wisconsin and Wyoming Landowners May Keep Abandoned Cars With Help From the Law

While it looks pretty profitable to own a towing company, including because you can claim ownership of many abandoned cars, the truth is that most of those relics are just junk worth less than the value of their topped-up tanks.
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Photo: 920auto/Bring-a-Trailer
1980-ford-f-250-barn 2-WI1980-ford-f-250-barn 2-WIAbandoned car Bosler WYone-owner-1966-chevrolet-impala-WIOshkosh Airshow 20211967-dodge-barn find WY
Towing companies are asked to remove vehicles left unattended on the side of the road. Usually, these relics are not road-worthy anymore. Their owners know that the towing and storage fees are higher than the value of the vehicle, and that's why they never claim them back, or even answer notifications received from authorities. That's why a few towing associations pressured local governments to allow landowners to claim possession and title vehicles found on their properties; such is the case with Wisconsin and Wyoming.

In the HD Country

And I am not talking about High-Definition. In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, William Harley and the Davidson brothers (Walter and Arthur) built their first motorcycle. That brand still exists today and is called Harley-Davidson. Thus, the motoring culture in this state is sky-high, and so is the love for aviation. In Oshkosh, there is a yearly airshow event where thousands of aircraft from around the world take part. But while everything is clear in the sky, on the land things are slightly different.

In Wisconsin, a vehicle is considered abandoned if left unattended for more than 48 hours on public or private property in plain sight. After that time, a police officer will place a bright orange tag on the relic, informing that it will be towed away. Cars that are still roadworthy may be sold or donated to nonprofit organizations, depending on the county.

First, of course, law enforcement will try contacting the owner/lienholder of that vehicle with first-class mail and a return receipt request. Then, they will put the impounded vehicle in storage for ten days, waiting for an answer. Also, police will publish an announcement in the local newspaper where they found the car. If the last known titleholder doesn't claim the vehicle, it will be a sign that they lost any interest in it, and thus it will be automatically entered into police property.

Oshkosh Airshow 2021
Photo: U.S. Air Force by Cristopher Boltz
If it's on private land, out of sight, then police can't do anything until they've been notified by the landowner. After that, they can remove or leave it there, if the owner requests that. But sometimes, the relic in the barn is worth more than a brand new vehicle - such was the case with this Ford F-250 that the former owner sold for almost $100k in February 2021. Of course, that would have been a dream for any towing service, but the owner chose to sell it. According to Wisconsin law, if all the requests to contact the last titleholder are met, and there's still no answer, then the landowner may claim the vehicle, sell it or use it for themselves.

Equality state

Wyoming's nickname is Equality State for its historical role in equal voting for women and men. Here, in 1925, Nellie Ross became the first female governor in Wyoming history. She didn't rule too long, just two years, or too many people. Even nowadays, this state has a population smaller than Denver, Colorado. And there's no wonder since almost half of its land (49 percent) is owned by the U.S. Government. Also, there's no surprise that there are more chances to find an abandoned vehicle in public rather than on private property.

Here, like in Wisconsin, cars found dead on the road are impounded by the police. They can remove or have them removed from the streets with help from a towing company. These companies got together and asked the local government to extend the storage up to six months. A vehicle found dead on public property is considered abandoned if it's left unattended for at least 48 hours.

1967\-dodge\-barn find WY
Photo: Craigslist
When found on private property, the law considers a vehicle abandoned if it is left unattended for at least 30 days. After that, with help from law enforcement, the landowner may contact the last known titleholder. They must send them a first-class mail notification with a return receipt request and tell them they will sell the vehicle. That notification must be sent at least ten days before the sale. If they don't get any answer, they must publish an announcement in the local newspaper where the vehicle was found once a week, for two consecutive weeks.

If there's still no answer, the landowner may sell, discard, or donate the vehicle. If they choose to keep that vehicle, all they'll have to pay are the taxes to the local government.
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Editor's note: The information in this article is not legal advice; for any info regarding abandoned vehicles rules, refer to local law enforcement agencies.

About the author: Tudor Serban
Tudor Serban profile photo

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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