Nobody wants a dumped car on their doorstep, whether it’s a smashed up wreck or not. Find out how to report an abandoned car and get it towed away.
Who is responsible for removing abandoned cars?
Your local council should be responsible for dealing with abandoned cars and getting them removed. Although some councils will outsource the job to a commercial partner, many still have in-house teams dedicated to the job.
How to report an abandoned car
Most UK councils have a section of their website for reporting abandoned cars. You can find your local council using GOV.UK's tool. Or you can report it directly online, if you prefer.
Some councils may ask you to create a personal account if you live in their borough. Other councils are more relaxed about this and just let you get on with reporting the abandoned vehicle.
When you contact your council to complain, make sure you’ve got the right info to hand. The details you may need to report an abandoned car are:
- Can you give the vehicle’s precise location?
- Is there a visible registration number?
- Can you tell the make, model and colour of the car?
- Are there any visible safety concerns – glass or petrol cans close, for example?
You don’t need to report an abandoned car to the police unless it poses a danger, for example if it’s leaking petrol.
Whatever you do, don’t take the matter into your own hands - towing it away yourself or arranging somebody else to remove it could potentially be a criminal offence.
What happens after I report an abandoned car?
Once reported, the council will work with DVLA, to establish who owns the car.
A notice is placed on the vehicle’s windscreen to advise it will be removed.
There’s usually a seven-day warning.
The council will also try to contact the owner in writing so they’ve a chance to explain the situation.
If no contact’s received, the abandoned vehicle should be removed – though different councils might offer different removal timeframes. Check the terms with your council.
There can be a further delay if the vehicle’s blocked in or it needs rubbish emptying from it.
Sometimes a council enforcement team might need some police back-up if there’s a location issue, or even tricky public safety circumstances.
How much notice does an owner get?
When a car’s left on private land then the authorities must give the landowner 15 days’ notice of their intention to remove it.
But this 15-day period doesn’t apply on the public road, ever.
If the owner organises and pays for its removal the owner has every right to retain it.
How do I know if a car is abandoned?
It may only become apparent that a car has been abandoned after a period of time. However, if it’s genuinely causing an obstruction or looks potentially dangerous, call the police.
Abandoning a car is a criminal offence and owners could be forced to pay the removal costs or face a fine. Even, perhaps, face a court hearing.
Unfortunately, there’s no proper definition of what ‘abandoned’ means in UK law. That’s because there’s numerous reasons why vehicles are left stranded. Some cars simply reach the end of their working life. In December 2020 there were 192,000 fewer cars licensed to be on the road according to the Department for Transport.
During the Covid lockdowns many car owners declared their vehicles as off the road – or SORN – in an attempt to cut motoring bills, such as car insurance. Some others might have simply left them on the street.
If there’s a local vehicle near you that’s burnt out, don’t touch it. Burnt-out vehicles can release tiny quantities of hydrofluoric acid, which is corrosive.
If you’ve touched it, wash your skin under cold water for at least 15 minutes and get medical advice if it feels uncomfortable.
What’s classed as an abandoned car?
If it’s seriously damaged with no registered keeper information, chances are it’s abandoned.
If the car’s been vandalised, not roadworthy or there’s essential missing parts then it might also be considered abandoned.
When your council assess any abandoned vehicle, they’ve several criteria to tick off. Typically, this includes:
- Is there a current registered keeper?
- Are there any signs of it not being used for long periods?
- Does it have mould or flat tyres anywhere?
- Does it look significantly damaged, rundown or unroadworthy?
- Is it burnt out?
- Are there one or more of its number plates missing?
- Are the wheels removed are any broken windows?
- Does it contain any waste material?
Under the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005, UK councils can issue fixed £200 penalty notices to the last registered owner of any vehicle they suspect is abandoned.
If this goes unpaid the council could prosecute the former owner too.
How do I report an untaxed vehicle?
Reporting an untaxed vehicle is straightforward and you can do it through GOV.UK. However you will first have to establish that it is untaxed. This can be done using the government’s free vehicle tax checker - all you need is the vehicle’s registration number.
How do I report a vehicle with no MOT?
The government also has a free MOT checker that lets you see the MOT status of a vehicle.
You can then report a vehicle with no MOT to the police. Make sure you have details of its registration plate, as well as its make and model and colour. You should also have a precise location for the vehicle.
How do I report an uninsured car?
To report a car or driver as uninsured you need to contact the police.
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Reporting an abandoned car FAQs
What about reporting abandoned cars that are on private land?
A council enforcement team can’t remove vehicles from private land without the landowner’s consent.
This land may be publicly accessible also – perhaps on council housing.
But you could ask DVLA for information about a vehicle’s registered keeper if the DVLA thinks you’ve got ‘reasonable cause’. This ‘reasonable cause’ might include:
- Any giving out of parking tickets
- Giving out trespass charge notices
- Tracing people responsible for driving off without paying for goods and services
- Tracing people suspected of insurance fraud.
The DVLA advises calling the police on 101 to see if they're at all interested in the vehicle also. If it’s stolen, then the police need to know.
How long can a car sit on the street without moving?
If a car’s taxed, MOT’d and breaking no parking rules it can sit in a public street indefinitely. If there’s a well-founded suspicion that it’s abandoned then the police and council might take action.
Frustrating though it might be, check if there’s any existing parking restrictions. If the car’s blocking or part-blocking access to your driveway then the council might be able to move it.
It might be worth checking with your neighbours first – just in case! A blocked driveway happens from time to time and is covered under UK Civil Parking Enforcement (CPE) rules.
Most vehicles blocking a dropped kerb can be removed by the local council. A few councils might not operate CPE parking enforcement rules. If that’s the case, contact the police.
How long does a car have to sit before it’s considered abandoned in the UK?
There’s no straight answer here. When parking space is limited a strange car taking up space on your street, for example, could be annoying.
However if a car has valid tax and MOT it has every right to be parked on the public highway.
Don’t forget, you can always check the MOT, tax and insurance status of any UK registered car online.
However, data protection rules won’t let you find out if a particular finance company, for example, owns it.
Is it a criminal offence to abandon your vehicle?
Any car owner can be prosecuted by a local authority for abandoning their vehicle under Section Two of the Refuse Disposal (Amenity) Act 1978.
If convicted, you could get a fine of up to £2,500. There’s even the possibility of a three-month prison sentence.
Depending on the circumstances there might also be a fixed penalty notice of £200 from the local authority.
If they’ve had to remove or store a vehicle then the owner could be liable for these costs too.
There’s another classification to be aware of. Older cars could potentially be classed as ‘hazardous waste’. This is an offence under Section 33 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990.
The courts also have one lasting punishment for anyone abandoning a vehicle. Depending on the circumstances, your driving licence could be withdrawn.
And having convictions against you could result in your car insurance costs rising when you come to renew.
What's the best legal way to scrap my car?
For most of us scrapping our old car is the most sensible move.
You can find an authorised treatment facility (ATF) online and check how much scrap value your car is worth.
Don’t forget to shop around! The scrap value of your car is normally measured by weight. So, a large SUV might be more valuable than a small hatchback.
For this ATF process you’ll need some photo ID, proof of your address and your V5 logbook.
You’ll need to give the V5 to the ATF but hang onto the “Sell Transfer” yellow section. You need to send this to the DVLA.
If you don’t let the DVLA know you’ve scrapped your car you could be fined £1,000. Once you’ve done this the DVLA should refund you what full months’ tax are left on your car.
If you’ve got a personalised number plate you might need to apply to keep it before scrapping your car. There’s usually an £80 charge to do this.
Once your car has been scrapped you should be sent the official Certificate of Destruction (COD) notice.
If you aren’t bothered about getting any money for your old banger you could consider donating it to a good cause. The fire services are often in need of old cars for firefighter training- contact your local fire station for more information.
How do I claim an abandoned car?
If you’re claiming an abandoned car it’s most likely your local council will want proof you’re the legal, registered keeper and that your vehicle isn’t abandoned.
If the authorities have your car in storage, you’ll likely be asked to pay for the storage and recovery costs.
If you live in London and you think your car may have been towed away or classed as abandoned by a local council, contact TRACE London.
It’s available 24 hours a day every day of the year. You can also call TRACE on 0300 077 0100.