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Impound report

There are several reasons why your vehicle could end up being seized by the police, whether that’s driving without tax or leaving it abandoned.

To retrieve an impounded car, you need to have it insured for at least 30 days. If you don’t have valid insurance, temporary car insurance offers you the short-term cover you need to get it back. But why are vehicles most likely to be impounded and which police forces seize the most?

Someone seizing a silver car

 

Why are vehicles seized?

Top 3 reasons why vehicles are seized

1. No insurance/driving licence - 72,325 vehicles

The most common reason people have their vehicles taken by the police is driving without insurance or a licence. In 2021, over 70,000 vehicles were seized for this reason.

Driving without insurance is illegal and even if the vehicle itself is insured by someone else, you must also be insured to drive it. You risk having the vehicle taken away, and you could also get a fixed penalty of £300 and 6 penalty points.

2. Road traffic collision - 55,599 vehicles

The second most common reason for vehicles being taken away is due to them being involved in a road traffic collision (RTC).

Over 55,000 vehicles were seized for this reason. The police may need the vehicle for evidence, or in some cases, they remove a vehicle when a recovery service isn’t able to.

3. Abandoned, broken down or causing an obstruction - 29,266 vehicles

The police can also move vehicles that they believe to have been abandoned or are causing an obstruction. There are several reasons that could be behind this, but they tend to fall under section 99 of the Road Traffic Act[1]. If your vehicle is causing an obstruction, officers should give you a reasonable chance to move it prior to them seizing it.

Rank Reason Number of vehicles
1
No insurance/driving licence
72,325
2
Road traffic collision
55,599
3
Abandoned broken down or obstructively parked
29,266
4
Stolen
22,078
5
Used in crime/traffic offence
16,907
6
Removed at owner's request following breakdown/RTC
9,280
7
No tax
7,474
8
Other/unknown
3,461
9
Removal of police vehicles from the road
2,185
10
Driving in an antisocial manner
1,727
11
Burnout
1,466
 

Most common impound areas

1. Northamptonshire - 927 per 100,000 people

When compared to the size of the population, Northamptonshire sees the most vehicle seizures.

There were a total of 7,021 vehicles seized by the local police in 2021, which equates to 927 per 100,000 people in the area. The most common reason for these seizures was that the vehicles had been involved in a road traffic collision.

The county was also among the areas where the fewest people actually got their vehicles back, at a recovery rate of 65.1%,

2. West Yorkshire - 857 per 100,000 people

One of the biggest police force areas, West Yorkshire, comes in second with 857 vehicles seized per 100,000 people.

Over 20,000 vehicles were impounded in the county in 2021. Here, the most common reason for vehicles being seized was driving without insurance, with just under 7,000 seizures.

Roughly two-thirds (66.39%) of vehicles that were impounded in 2021 were returned to their owners.

3. West Midlands - 831 per 100,000 people

The area covered by West Midlands Police, another of the country’s biggest, comes in third place, with 831 vehicles seized per 100,000 people.

Over 9,000 of these vehicle seizures were due to drivers not having the correct insurance or a valid driving licence.

West Midlands is also the area where the fewest vehicles were returned, with just 57.53% recovered.

Rank Police force area Population Total vehicles seized Vehicles seized per 100,000 people
1
Northamptonshire
757,200
7,021
927
2
West Yorkshire
2,345,200
20,107
857
3
West Midlands
2,939,900
24,420
831
4
Warwickshire
583,800
4,831
828
5
Cleveland
569,800
4,665
819
6
Gwent
598,200
4,684
783
7
South Yorkshire
1,415,100
10,908
771
8
Durham
640,600
4,284
669
9
Bedfordshire
682,300
4,534
665
10
Lancashire
1,515,500
9,908
654
11
Staffordshire
1,139,800
7,266
637
12
Hertfordshire
1,195,700
7,227
604
13
Gloucestershire
640,700
3,752
586
14
Cambridgeshire
859,800
4,805
559
15
Dyfed-Powys
522,700
2,887
552
16
Northumbria
1,470,400
7,958
541
17
Cumbria
499,800
2,696
539
18
Kent
1,868,200
9,748
522
19
Derbyshire
1,064,000
5,523
519
20
North Wales
703,400
3,611
513
21
North Yorkshire
831,600
4,256
512
22
West Mercia
1,298,400
6,621
510
23
Norfolk
914,000
4,533
496
24
Essex
1,856,100
9,184
495
25
Merseyside
1,434,300
6,337
442
26
Suffolk
761,200
3,288
432
27
Wiltshire
727,000
2,950
406
28
Devon and Cornwall
1,785,300
7,125
399
29
Northern Ireland
1,895,510
7,174
378
30
Hampshire
1,999,100
7,412
371
 

How many seized vehicles are returned?

Seized vehicles returned in percentages

If the police seize a vehicle, you can recover it in certain circumstances. Of the 44 police forces contacted, 21 provided both the number of seizures and the number of vehicles recovered by owners.

Among these 21 areas, 172,694 vehicles were seized, with 114,076 being returned to the registered keeper. That means that roughly a third of seized vehicles are returned to their owners.

The area with the highest recovery rate is North Wales, where 76.41% of seized vehicles were returned. That compares to just 57.53% in the West Midlands, which had the fewest vehicles returned.

Rank Police force area Vehicles seized Vehicles returned Vehicles returned (%)
1
North Wales
3,611
2,759
76.41%
2
Dorset
2,738
2,010
73.41%
3
Norfolk
4,533
3,284
72.45%
4
Hertfordshire
7,227
5,137
71.08%
5
Scotland
19,946
14,175
71.07%
6
North Yorkshire
4,256
3,023
71.03%
7
Warwickshire
4,831
3,375
69.86%
8
Suffolk
3,288
2,271
69.07%
9
Lancashire
9,908
6,843
69.07%
10
Derbyshire
5,523
3,766
68.19%
 

How to reclaim an impounded vehicle

If you have your vehicle impounded, it’s possible to reclaim it. But the process isn’t necessarily straightforward.

Assuming that the police are happy to release your vehicle, there are a few steps you have to follow.

First, you need to find out exactly where the car is being held. If this isn’t stated on the notice letter that you get from the police, you can call your local police station on 101 to find out.

Following this, there are various documents that you have to provide. These include:

  • The seizure notice
  • Proof of identity
  • Proof of ownership
  • Valid MOT
  • Insurance certificate

There’s usually a fee to pay to reclaim your vehicle, which depends on the size and weight of the vehicle.

While someone else can pick up your vehicle, they can only do so once the registered keeper has provided the correct documentation and paid any charges.

If your vehicle was impounded because you didn’t have insurance, then you may need to get impound insurance. This is a short-term policy that proves that you have at least 30 days of insurance for the vehicle (a legal requirement).

 

Louise Thomas, car insurance expert at Confused.com, comments:

“There are many reasons why the police might seize your car, and often these reasons can be avoided by staying on top of your admin and policies.

“We associate cars being impounded with dramatic incidents such as road traffic collisions, breakdowns and theft. While these are all valid reasons for a seizure, the most common offences in 2021 were driving with no insurance or driving licence. Retrieving an uninsured vehicle will be time-consuming and expensive and you need to get temporary car insurance for the journey home. Driving without a licence could also result in a fine of £1,000.

“The best way to ensure that you aren’t driving illegally is to check that your existing car insurance policy covers you. It’s always worth doing a quick licence check too to see if your driving licence needs renewing.”

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