Being pulled over and arrested for DUI is hard enough without worrying about losing your car. Unfortunately, that is a genuine possibility in a California DUI case. You can almost always get the car back, and in many cases, it is never taken away at all.
What to Do if Your Car Is Impounded in a California DUI Case
To get your car back, you will need the following things:
- Proof of registration (if you are the registered owner)
- Proof of insurance
- Your temporary driver’s license
- A way to pay all of the impound fees
The car will not be released to you if you do not pay the fees, and it will not be released to anyone but the registered owner.
What to Expect After a CA DUI Arrest
During a DUI arrest, the police will do one of two things with your car. They may allow another (sober) driver to take the vehicle from you and drive it home, or they may impound the car.
When a car is impounded, the government holds onto it for you. You can get it back, but you have to pay fees that can be very expensive. It is much better for you if it is never impounded at all.
In many DUI cases, you could lose ownership of your car, and it becomes government property. This is known as forfeiture. It is not common. For this reason, you must equip yourself with a powerful defense strategy.
When Is a Car Impounded in a Los Angeles DUI Case?
Whether a car is impounded depends mainly on two things:
- Your DUI record
- How friendly the officer is
Of these, the officer’s attitude is often the most significant factor.
Your DUI Record
Your DUI record is something the officer could look at when they arrest you. If you’ve had a prior DUI within the last ten years, they are supposed to impound your car.
But this rule is not always enforced. Police may not take the time to look at your criminal record during the arrest, they may forget about the rule, or they may simply be feeling generous.
The Officer’s Attitude
The officer’s attitude is even more significant if it is your first DUI. In this case, the law does not require them to impound your vehicle. But they have to do something with it, and confiscating it is an option they can choose.
Officially, officers should impound a vehicle if it is not parked safely and legally when they arrest you. Since many arrests involve pulling you over on a busy roadway, “safely” is at an officer’s discretion.
If the officer wants to be friendly, they might offer to drive the car a short distance and park it for you. This depends almost entirely on how respectful you have been. If you argue with the officer, they will probably be “unable” to spot any safe, legal parking place anywhere around.
Can Someone Else Drive the Car?
An officer may also allow another driver to take the car for you. This is only common in DUI checkpoints, however. In a routine roadside stop, the officer will not likely wait for a driver to get your car.
What Happens to Your Car at a DUI Checkpoint
DUI checkpoints can arrest dozens of allegedly drunk drivers in one night. It is hard for police to process all of their cars, and for a long time, the policy in California was to tow and impound every single one of them. That has changed.
Generally, if you are arrested at a DUI checkpoint, police will temporarily park your car nearby. Someone can come to pick it up, but only if they get there before the checkpoint ends, so if you were arrested at 1:00 a.m. and the checkpoint ends at 3:00, you have only two hours to get it picked up. After that, it will be impounded.
The person who picks up the car must be the vehicle’s registered owner. If you are the registered owner, police may allow you to designate someone who will get it. But since they have so many cars to deal with at a checkpoint, this is unlikely.
What if I Was Involved in an Accident?
If your DUI involves an accident, the rules change. It depends mainly on the condition of your vehicle and the severity of the accident.
If your vehicle can still be safely driven, and no one was seriously hurt, it depends on how nice the officer is and whether there is somewhere nearby to park it. But if the accident was severe, it may be considered a crime scene. Police will want the vehicle for evidence. It will almost certainly be towed and impounded.
If your vehicle is so severely damaged that it cannot be driven, the police officers’ highest priority is clearing the roadway. They will have your car towed and impounded.
Impounded as Evidence
Police can order any vehicle impounded if they need it for evidence or if they believe it contains evidence. This usually only happens when a DUI involves drugs or if someone is killed.
Impounded by the Court
Finally, the court can order that your car be impounded as part of a DUI sentence:
- For a first-time DUI, it may be impounded up to 30 days or not at all
- For a second DUI, it will be impounded up to 30 days
- In a third or subsequent DUI, it can be impounded for up to 90 days.
Can You Forfeit Your Car for a Los Angeles DUI Conviction?
In some cases, you could lose ownership of your car entirely. This is called asset forfeiture, and it is not common for DUI. It happens when the asset in question (your vehicle) was used to commit a crime. In DUI cases, it is mainly used if:
- Your DUI involves illegal drugs, particularly if the police found some of the drugs in the car when they searched it.
- Your car killed someone in an accident related to your DUI.
But your car can also be forfeited if you have too many prior DUIs. If you have three DUIs in seven years, the court can declare your vehicle a “nuisance” and take it.
Costs of a California DUI
If your car is impounded, you need to act fast. You will owe a fee for every day the vehicle is impounded on top of the general impound fee charged to every vehicle. The longer you wait to reclaim your car, the more it will cost.
The amount you can expect will vary based on where your vehicle was impounded. Some companies will charge significantly more than others. You cannot get your car released from the impound lot until you pay these fees; however, impound fees are not the only costs associated with a DUI in California.
As you work to clear your name of the charges against you, you will need to cover the cost of an attorney, pay court fees, be prepared to pay restitution to any alleged victims in your case, and potentially lose money by having to take time off of work to go to court. You can also expect to pay considerably more for your auto insurance coverage.
When you are found guilty of a DUI in California, you may be required to complete a form SR – 22 insurance document. When you submit this form with your insurance application, you can expect to pay additional auto insurance coverage costs, as insurers will consider you a risky driver. For this reason, protecting your reputation and securing an acquittal should be a top priority.
What if It Is Not My Car?
If the car you were driving was not yours, the registered owner has to get it. The good news is the registered owner can get their car right away—they don’t have to wait for a court-ordered impound period to pass. The bad news is they will still have to pay the impound fees.
Get Help from a Los Angeles DUI Attorney Today
Remember, once your car is towed, it can be impounded just for a day or two or for up to 30 days or even 90 days. To keep the impound period as short as possible, you should speak to a Los Angeles DUI attorney.
We can get you a free consultation from a top DUI attorney today. Please fill out our secure contact form or call our office and get your 100% free consultation now.