Why Would the Police Impound a Vehicle?
In Arizona, the police will usually impound the vehicle if a driver is cited for certain criminal traffic violations. If the driver is charged with driving on a revoked license, driving on a suspended license, Extreme DUI or Aggravated DUI, among others, the vehicle that was being driven will almost certainly be impounded. The scenario usually goes like this: the police officer initiates the traffic stop. Once the officer has determined that the driver is driving on a suspended license, or intoxicated, or has done something else to merit a vehicle impound, the officer will immediately impound the vehicle. The officer will call a tow truck to come and take the vehicle. Even if the driver is not arrested and booked but instead cited and released, the vehicle will still be impounded and the hapless driver will need to find a ride home.
How Long Will the Vehicle Be Impounded?
A vehicle will be impounded for 30 days, but sometimes a driver can get the vehicle released early. For example, if a vehicle is impounded due to a driving on a suspended license charge, the driver can get the vehicle released sooner than 30 days if the driver provides proof that his or her driving privileges have been reinstated. If the impounded vehicle did not belong to the driver who was issued the citation, the actual owner can often retrieve the vehicle from impound almost any time as long as the owner has a valid license and insurance.
How Does the Owner Get the Vehicle Back?
This will vary depending on which law enforcement agency impounded the vehicle. It is always a good idea to contact the law enforcement agency that impounded the vehicle for specific instructions before attempting to retrieve the vehicle. The owner will need to provide proof of a valid driver’s license, current registration, and current insurance before the vehicle is released. The owner will also have to pay an administrative fee to the law enforcement agency, as well as storage fees to the towing company storing the vehicle. If the owner fails to retrieve their vehicle after 30 days, the towing company can apply to take title of the vehicle and sell it. If the owner cannot afford the fees to get the vehicle released, or cannot otherwise meet the requirements for the release of the vehicle, they should contact the towing company to make arrangements and try to assure the vehicle is not sold.
What If the Charges Are Dismissed?
Tough luck. The state wants its money, and the owner still owes the impound fees. Neither the courts, nor the police, nor the private company holding the vehicle cares about treating the owner fairly, as long as they are making some money in the process.
What If the Owner is Innocent?
In some rare cases, like if the vehicle was stolen, then the fees may be reduced — but usually the towing company and the law enforcement agency will expect the owner’s insurance to cover the fees, since that should be part of the owner’s coverage for stolen vehicles. Also, see above answer to “what if the charges are dismissed.”