Aaron Widmar
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What to Do If You Need to Abandon Your Vehicle Temporarily

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Take these precautions before leaving your car on the side of the road

Abandoned your vehicle car sign return safely vacate leave
Photo: The News Wheel

In most cases, cars are abandoned in parking lots and along highways because they’ve been stolen or the owner doesn’t care if the vehicle is repossessed. But, sometimes you have to temporarily abandon a vehicle in an emergency with the intent to retrieve it later. If your car is acting up and you don’t have roadside assistance to fill it with gas or have it towed immediately, you may need to abandon your vehicle for a short time. Here’s advice on how to do that without it leading to more problems for you.


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Don’t leave it there for too long

Depending on your state’s highway laws or the property where you’ve parked your car, abandoned cars can be towed a day or so after they’re initially deserted (like the Virginia DMV’s laws state). After that, the municipality or towing company can actually claim possession of your vehicle if you don’t retrieve it, which could lead to your car being auctioned or retitled. So, it’s always a good idea to retrieve your vehicle as quickly as possible.

If you’re on private property, ask for permission

If you think you’re allowed to leave your car in a parking lot for as long as you want because it’s in a “public place,” think again. You’re still on the business’ property, and the staff can still call for a tow truck to remove it from the premises. So, if you plan on leaving the car past business hours, it’s better to talk to a manager and ask for their consent.

abandoned car on highway breakdown tow hood
How to safely abandon your car so you can return to it later
Photo: Teresa Alexander-Arab via CC 2.0

Leave contact information on the vehicle

Take measures to make it clear to others that your vehicle is only temporarily vacated and not derelict. Leave a visible note on the dashboard explaining the situation and what your plan and timeline are. You may even want to leave your cell phone number for the authorities to contact you if the car gets reported.


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Hide all items from sight, and take valuables with you

There’s a good chance that your car will get broken into while it’s parked, especially if it’s somewhere remote and easily accessible. Take anything valuable with you when you vacate the vehicle. Anything that might seem worth stealing, like intriguing boxes or accessories, stash in the trunk or secluded compartment so they’re not visible.

Call the police to report your situation

Some municipalities will allow vehicles to be temporarily stored in public places depending on the situation and as long as they aren’t deemed hazardous. So, it’s actually in your interest to proactively report the situation to the authorities and request their consent. It could reduce the likelihood of being towed and give you extra time to resolve your situation.

Return to the car even if you can’t move it yet

According to Arizona State University, “Most jurisdictions require that stickers or some other warning be applied to cars or sent to registered owners before they can move a vehicle. If the owner does not respond within a specified time frame, the vehicle can be towed.” After inspecting the vehicle, the patrol will put a warning label on the vehicle and follow up later to have it towed if action isn’t taken by the owner. Thus, it’s in your best interest to check on your vehicle for notifications even if you can’t transport it yet.

It’s never ideal to abandon your vehicle your somewhere for an extended period of time, especially somewhere dangerous. But if it’s an emergency scenario, hopefully these tips will help keep the situation from getting even worse.