Can Police Legally Tow My Vehicle?

Posted on: 22 July 2015


There are many misconceptions on when police can tow or impound your vehicle, with some scenarios seeming more obvious than others. Police can tow your vehicle if it's been used to commit a crime or if it contains evidence supporting that fact. What you may not know is that police might be able to seize your car if it poses a threat to public safety. It can be expensive to recover your car from a police impound lot, but you can rid yourself of some frustration by learning when police can legally tow your vehicle.

If Your Car Contains/Is Criminal Evidence

If you're arrested on suspicion of criminal activity, police can search you as long as it's likely that they'll recover evidence of a crime during the search. In some cases, officers may suspect that your vehicle contains evidence, especially if you've been driving it recently. In California for example, arresting officers can have your car towed or impounded to find evidence that can't be obtained at the scene. In other cases, your vehicle itself may be evidence of acts such as vehicular manslaughter or careless driving; here, the police would be allowed to tow your car to preserve the evidence. No matter the circumstances, police need probable cause to tow your vehicle.

Your Car is a Public Safety Risk

Outside of a criminal investigative role, police are the caretakers of the community. Police can legally tow your car if it poses a threat to public safety, and courts uphold towing and impounds when:

  • A vehicle is impeding traffic and the driver is unavailable
  • Towing will prevent theft or vandalism

Police Must Follow the Rules

To be considered legitimate, towing and impounding must be done within normal police procedure. As of now, courts have not allowed cars to be impounded solely so they can be searched. For instance, if you're arrested for DUI while on a public road, the police can tow your car under public safety rules if there's no one else there to drive it away. Once your car reaches the tow lot, police are legally allowed to search it for inventory purposes.

By learning when the authorities can (and can't) tow your car, and by ensuring that you know local laws, you can protect your rights while maintaining possession of your vehicle. If your vehicle has been towed by the police, talk with a place like Arctic Thunder Towing & Recovery on how to proceed and to see if the police were right to do so.