In tough economic times, it helps to be able to stretch every dollar as far as it can go. Sometimes this means satisfying your needs and wants by taking what other people don't want. With a little time and energy, you may be able to refurbish an abandoned vehicle, even one that's taken a beating, for less money than it would cost to purchase a vehicle from a dealership. Individual states have well-defined legal procedures for obtaining the title to an abandoned vehicle which a prospective owner will need to follow exactly.
Record both the vehicle identification number (VIN) and license plate number. You can find the VIN on a windshield sticker on the bottom corner of the windshield on the driver's side; another VIN sticker is found on the door post when opening the driver's door.
Give the VIN and license plate number information to the local police. Law enforcement officials run a search on the car to see if it is stolen, has been involved in a crime or if there are any other legal claims on it. The police might be able to locate the current titleholder and give you some contact information if they don't need it for an investigation.
Present the VIN and license plate number of the abandoned vehicle to your local Department of Motor Vehicles or similar office. The DMV office is able to run a title check and find out exactly who has the legal right to the vehicle. Ask the DMV representative about any state laws pertaining to claiming an abandoned vehicle's title; the legal process of obtaining the title varies from state to state.
Contact the current titleholder as determined by the DMV. Ask the titleholder if he's willing to release the title on the vehicle to you. Regular sales taxes often apply for a sale, or if the titleholder is willing to transfer the title free of charge, he can file for a tax exemption on the no-cost transaction. Liens placed on the title by third parties for unpaid taxes or other debts must be cleared before the title can be transferred. If the previous titleholder has lost the car title, he can apply for a duplicate at his nearest DMV office.
Complete the necessary legal process in your state to claim the title on the abandoned car. In Idaho, unidentified cars are considered abandoned after 24 hours, while in New Jersey a car must be unclaimed for 20 days before filing for a standard auto title through that state's DMV. During this time, law enforcement might advertise the abandoned vehicle to find its legal owner, if none could be found through the DMV, and the car must pass a state inspection. Obtain the legal application for the title to an abandoned vehicle, available through your state's DMV offices, and file a completed copy with the agency.
- AutoCheck: How Can I Find the VIN?
- CarInsurance.com: What Do You Do About an Abandoned Car?
- DMV Answers: How Do I Claim Ownership of an Abandoned Vehicle?
- Idaho Transportation Department: Abandoned Vehicle Guide
- New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission: Public Agency's Guide to Abandoned & Unclaimed Vehicles
- Dealertrack. "Electronic Lean & Title." Accessed Sept. 8, 2020.
- Direct Auto Insurance. "Car Titles." Accessed Sept. 8, 2020.