Can My Car Get Impounded for Not Having Insurance?

Tire boot on vehicle
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There are lots of good reasons to carry valid, up-to-date auto insurance. For example, if you get into an accident and you are at fault, insurance can help keep you from losing everything you’ve ever worked for. Seriously. Another very good reason is that (with the strange exception of New Hampshire) it’s illegal to operate a vehicle without it. There are several penalties that states employ to punish drivers without insurance. One of the most effective, and one that seems to be gaining in popularity, is impoundment. So, if you are wondering if your car can be impounded for not having insurance, the answer is: probably.

Your Results May Vary

The world of uninsured motorists is wide and complicated, and the laws concerning them vary significantly from state to state. It’s like snowflakes, really. No two states are alike. And, in fact, if you are stopped while driving without insurance, the question of whether or not your car will be impounded may very well depend on the immediate mood of the officer that pulled you over. So, if you plan to drive without valid insurance (something I strongly advise against), be sure that you have a good understanding of the applicable laws in your state, and if you are pulled over, it is to your distinct advantage to be as cooperative with the nice policeman as you possibly can.

There’s a variety of combinations of laws and circumstances under which your car may be impounded. Here are a few of the factors that you should be most aware of:

Operation or Non-Operation of Your Vehicle

In most cases, you probably won’t be confronted with the possibility of having your car towed and impounded until you are stopped for committing some other infringement, like speeding, failing to signal, driving with a broken taillight, that sort of thing. It is also possible that an officer may run your tag and pull you over strictly for not having insurance. Additionally, some jurisdictions today employ plate-reading devices that will notify an officer as he’s driving by of a non-insured vehicle, even when it is legally parked or otherwise not in operation.

It’s not really that important what method the police use to catch you driving without insurance, it’s what they can (or must) do once you’ve been caught. Currently, in most states, officers have some amount of leeway in deciding whether to impound your vehicle or simply let you off with a violation and a fine. For example, if you’ve been stopped strictly for no insurance, and you are, say, a couple of blocks from your house, you may be sent on your way with a ticket on your promise to go directly home. If you were pulled over for going fifty in a school zone, however, you may find yourself walking those last two blocks. And if you get tagged with a DUI, forget it. Your car is off to the impoundment yard.

Also, in some states like New York, the officer has no choice. If you are caught driving without insurance, your car will be towed and impounded. Period.

Proof of Insurance

Most states require that drivers carry proof of insurance (in the form of a card or certificate) with them whenever they operate a vehicle. Failure to present such proof when requested by an officer can, in some cases, result in your car’s impoundment even if you have valid insurance at the time. Fortunately, technology now allows an officer the ability to check your status at the time of the stop. If you have insurance but no proof with you, however, and a check by the officer comes back negative, your car may be towed. This is the time, by the way, when treating your officer civilly may come in handy.

What Happens Next

It may seem like the real trouble begins when your car is impounded, but that’s hardly the case. In addition to having to locate your car and pay a fee, you will very likely also need to come up with proof of insurance before you can have your vehicle back. Because many impoundments charge by the day, sometimes hundreds of dollars, these costs can add up quickly. But if you don’t have car insurance, not only do you have to worry about these costs, you also have to worry about the cost of obtaining car insurance from scratch. If you’ve been driving without car insurance it is very likely that insurers have classified you as a high-risk driver, meaning they will be able to charge you far more than may be fair based on the other components of your driving and personal history.

My concluding observation is this: avoid impoundment. As I mentioned earlier, state laws vary greatly. But once your car is impounded, you can be certain that it’s going to cost you a lot of money to get it back, no matter what jurisdiction you are in. So remember, never operate a vehicle without current valid insurance. And if you don’t have insurance, get your car off of the street and into a garage until you do.