Vehicle Abandonment Traps

A vehicle abandonment trap is a technique used by local government agencies to convince a lienholder/lessor to give up its rights to a vehicle. 

The most common trap occurs when the government agency sends a letter which states that, unless the vehicle is claimed within a certain number of days (ten days is typical), the vehicle will be deemed abandoned and transferred to the government agency. Usually, these letters are sent by regular mail. Due to delays in processing, the time to claim the vehicle may expire before the lienholder/lessor can act resulting in loss of the vehicle. 

This trap is not legal. Lienholders/lessors cannot lose their rights by not responding to a letter. Cases hold that an agency that wishes to declare a vehicle abandoned must obtain a court order to change rights to a vehicle. In the recent case of VW Credit v Port Authority of NY and NJ (EDNY, 2022) the court held that the Port’s “current policy of towing and impounding vehicles it deems abandoned, denying the release of the vehicles, until the owner pays towing and storage fees, and acquiring the vehicle, if the owner does not claim it in 10 days-without a hearing – is unconstitutional.” 

In truth, the abandonment trap is really an abandonment trick. It only works if lienholder/lessors fall for it. The abandonment trap/trick is being used all over the country.  Lienholder/lessors who experience the abandonment trap/trick should push back to recover their vehicles.  

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