Is that wrecked car too close to home? Smashed-up bodywork and scattered glass, perhaps? A deep groove in the public verge and a fire risk? Here's what you do
Generally, your local council is responsible for dealing with abandoned cars. Sometimes they outsource this responsibility to a commercial partner. But many councils have their own in-house team still.
Most UK councils have a section of their website where you can report an abandoned car. You can find your local council using GOV.UK's tool. Or you can report it directly online, if you prefer.
Other websites like FixMyStreet also support our public environment on issues like abandoned vehicles. You can see other reported environmental complaints made by your neighbours too.
A quick glance at an unsightly vehicle won’t tell you if it’s genuinely abandoned. UK removal rules are also fairly tight.
So how to get the ball rolling? And how quickly do the authorities have to act?
First, we need to find out if the vehicle’s been ditched for good.
How do I know if a car is abandoned?
You might not know initially. If it’s genuinely causing an obstruction or looks potentially dangerous, call the police.
On the other hand, when you contact your council to complain, make sure you’ve got the right info to hand:
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?
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 unwanted vehicles turn up in our eyeline for loads of different reasons.
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. 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 much notice does an owner get?
Before your local council removes a vehicle they have to track down the owner and give them a week to retrieve it. This is done in writing with help from the DVLA database.
If the owner organises and pays for its removal the owner has every right to retain it.
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.
How do I report an abandoned car?
You can report an abandoned car online but bear in mind the car might not be legally ‘abandoned’.
But you can find out information about a vehicle if it’s got a readable registration plate.
The DVLA lets everyone find out tax and MOT details on UK-registered vehicles online, though there’s limits to this info.
For example, this database won’t supply the owner’s name or address, or when the car was last serviced and where.
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 the reporting.
What happens after I make the report?
Once reported, a council starts their follow-up process, again, with the help of the DVLA. A notice is placed on the vehicle’s windscreen to advise it will be removed.
There’s usually a seven-day warning.
Attempts are made to contact the owner so they’ve a chance to explain the situation.
If no contact’s received, the vehicle should be removed – though different councils might offer different removal timeframes. So, check what your council agrees to.
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.
If there are problems with anti-social behaviour near where you live, including abandoned vehicles, why not join a local Safer Neighbourhoods group?
It could make reporting incidents faster and easier.
What about abandoned cars that are on private land?
As mentioned, 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.
Can I report an untaxed car or one with no MOT?
Yes you can, easily. Any car used or kept on a public road must be taxed and have an MOT.
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 the 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.
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What's the best legal way to scrap my car?
You’ve got a few options. 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.
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.