Call Today! Free Immediate Response 877-781-1570


Vehicle Code 22651 VC - Towing and Impound Laws

Posted by Dmitry Gorin | May 25, 2024

California Vehicle Code 22651 VC is the law authorizing motor vehicles to be towed and impounded if the driver is arrested for driving under the influence (DUI), parks illegally, or has at least five unpaid parking tickets. The "illegal parking" includes private property, a handicapped space, a bus zone, or any location that impedes traffic.

Private property owners can legally call a tow truck operator to have a vehicle on their property hauled away without first telling the vehicle owner or local police department.

California Vehicle Code 22651 VC - Towing and Impound Laws
VC 22651 allows law enforcement to tow and impound a vehicle for many reasons.

The State of California has specific rules concerning when and where local law enforcement can legally tow and impound your vehicle per VC 22651.

Suppose your vehicle or situation meets the legal criteria. In that case, police can legally tow your car away without prior warning and store it in an impound lot. Worse, you will be responsible for paying the costs related to the towing and storing of your car before the vehicle is released back to you.

VC 22651 says that a peace officer or salaried employee who is engaged in directing traffic or enforcing parking laws and regulations of a city, county, or jurisdiction of a state agency in which a vehicle is located can remove it within the territorial limits in which they act under certain circumstances.

The statute provides a comprehensive list of circumstances under which a vehicle can be towed, including obstruction of traffic, parking in a manner that creates a hazard, reported as stolen, blocking the entrance to a driveway, and preventing access to firefighting equipment. It's crucial to have a clear understanding of these rules. Let's take a closer look at the details below.

When Can My Vehicle Be Towed and Impounded?

VC 22651 includes a long list of situations where police can legally tow and impound your vehicle, including the following:

  • Unattended. If your vehicle is left unattended on a bridge, causeway, or in a tunnel where the car obstructs traffic, it can be towed.
  • Arrested. If you're pulled over by police and arrested, such as for suspicion of DUI, police will tow and impound your vehicle.
  • Five or more parking tickets. If you have five or more unpaid parking violations, police can legally tow and impound your vehicle as payment of the debt.
  • No registration or expired registration. If your vehicle registration has expired more than six months, if your car's license plates are missing, or if your license or registration is nonexistent or fake, your car can be impounded.
  • Unlicensed or suspended license drivers. If police catch you driving without a valid license or a license that has been suspended or revoked, they can tow and impound your car.
  • Obstructing traffic. If you park or abandon your vehicle in a location that directly obstructs the normal flow of traffic or creates a safety hazard. 
  • Blocking a driveway. If you park in a manner that blocks a private driveway.
  • Blocking a fire hydrant. Parking is generally not allowed in front of fire hydrants so that firefighters can access them.
  • Illegal parking in handicapped spots. If you park in a parking spot reserved for handicapped drivers (blue wheelchair icon) and don't have proper tags authorizing you to park there, the police may tow your vehicle.
  • Violating a 72-hour ordinance. Some cities have rules forbidding parking in the same place for more than 72 hours. If you leave your car parked in one of these places for more than three days, it can be towed away.
  • Scene of an accident. If your car is involved in a traffic crash and you are too injured or incapacitated to drive, police may remove your vehicle from the scene.
  • Unlicensed car dealer. Any vehicle offered for sale by an unlicensed dealer could get towed away.
  • Car accident. If the driver is hospitalized or seriously injured, they cannot drive their vehicle, which police can tow.

Can My Vehicle Be Towed Over a Parking Violation?

The simple answer is no, in most cases. If you're illegally parked, police will typically leave a citation on your vehicle, but the exceptions include the following:

  • A visible warning sign was posted that parking violators will be towed.
  • Vehicles obstruct traffic or cause safety issues.
  • Vehicles were left there for more than 72 hours in zones where this rule applies.
  • If police discover you have five or more previous unpaid parking tickets.

What If My Vehicle Is Towed by Police?

If the police decide to tow your vehicle, it will be taken to a local police or sheriff's department impound lot. Call your local police station to find out where the impound lot is located. When you arrive at the impound lot to pick up your vehicle, you'll need to bring the following with you:

  • Your driver's license.
  • Proof of registration.
  • Proof of car insurance; and
  • Towing and impound fees you need to pay.

How Much Time Do I Have to Reclaim My Vehicle?

Sometimes, parking spaces have posted signs warning about towing. A parking ticket will include a notice saying police can call a tow company on repeat offenders.

However, police will not try to notify drivers before getting a towing company to impound their vehicle. As noted above, private property owners can have vehicles towed from their property without notice.

Under California law, the car impound lot will only hold your vehicle for a maximum of 30 calendar days. Suppose you fail to claim your vehicle by then. In that case, the police will sell it at an auction. Simply put, most vehicle impound lots will sell unclaimed cars at an auction.

Also, some lots charge fees by the day, meaning the longer you wait to collect your car, the higher your costs. Thus, it would be best to try to reclaim your vehicle from the impound lot as soon as possible. Towing charges will typically depend on the impound location. Some standard fees include the towing, daily storage, administrative, and transfer charges.

What Does the Law Say?

The text of California Vehicle Code 22651 VC is as follows below.

"A peace officer, as defined in Chapter 4.5 (commencing with Section 830) of Title 3 of Part 2 of the Penal Code, or a regularly employed and salaried employee who is engaged in directing traffic or enforcing parking laws and regulations of a city, county, or jurisdiction of a state agency in which a vehicle is located, may remove a vehicle located within the territorial limits in which the officer or employee may act, under the following circumstances:

(a) If a vehicle is left unattended upon a bridge, viaduct, or causeway or in a tube or tunnel where the vehicle constitutes an obstruction to traffic.

(b) If a vehicle is parked or left standing on a highway in a position to obstruct the normal movement of traffic or in a condition to create a hazard to other traffic on the highway.

California Vehicle Towing and Impound Law

(c) If a vehicle is found upon a highway or public land and a report has previously been made that the car is stolen or a complaint has been filed and a warrant is issued charging that the vehicle was embezzled.

(d) If a vehicle is illegally parked to block the entrance to a private driveway, moving the vehicle from the front of the driveway to another point on the highway is impractical.

(e) If a vehicle is illegally parked to prevent access by firefighting equipment to a fire hydrant, moving the car from the front of the fire hydrant to another point on the highway is impracticable.

(f) If a vehicle, except highway maintenance or construction equipment, is stopped, parked, or left standing for more than four hours upon the right-of-way of a freeway that has complete control of access and no crossings at grade and the driver, if present, cannot move the vehicle under its power.

(g) If the person in charge of a vehicle upon a highway or public land is incapacitated to an extent to be unable to provide for its custody or removal because of physical injuries or illness.

(h)(1) If an officer arrests a person driving or in control of a vehicle for an alleged offense and the officer is, by this code or other law, required or permitted to take, and does take, the person into custody.

(2) If an officer serves a notice of an order of suspension or revocation pursuant to Section 13388 or 13389.

(i)(1) If a vehicle, other than a rented vehicle, is found upon a highway or public land, or is removed pursuant to this code, and it is known that the vehicle has been issued five or more notices of parking violations to which the owner or person in control of the vehicle has not responded within 21 calendar days of notice of citation issuance or citation issuance or 14 calendar days of the mailing of a notice of delinquent parking violation to the agency responsible for processing notices of parking violations, or the registered owner of the vehicle is known to have been issued five or more notices for failure to pay or failure to appear in court for traffic violations for which a certificate has not been issued by the magistrate or clerk of the court hearing the case showing that the case has been adjudicated or concerning which the registered owner's record has not been cleared pursuant to Chapter 6 (commencing with Section 41500) of Division 17, the vehicle may be impounded until that person furnishes to the impounding law enforcement agency all of the following:

(A) Evidence of his or her identity.

(B) An address within this state where he or she can be located.

(C) Satisfactory evidence that all parking penalties due for the vehicle and all other vehicles registered to the registered owner of the impounded vehicle and all traffic violations of the registered owner have been cleared."

If you need more information about the vehicle towing laws, contact us to review the case details and legal options. The California criminal defense lawyers at Eisner Gorin LLP are in Los Angeles.

Related Content:

About the Author

Dmitry Gorin

Dmitry Gorin is a licensed attorney, who has been involved in criminal trial work and pretrial litigation since 1994. Before becoming partner in Eisner Gorin LLP, Mr. Gorin was a Senior Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles Courts for more than ten years. As a criminal tri...

We speak English, Russian, Armenian, and Spanish.

If you have one phone call from jail, call us! If you are facing criminal charges, DON'T talk to the police first. TALK TO US!

Anytime 24/7