Like ghost towns, abandoned vehicles hold a sort of mystery, making a passerby wonder why someone drove to that particular location, then got out and walked away. Of course, the cause isn't always as interesting as one might hope. It often involves something as mundane as a blown engine block or maybe a medical emergency.
But one thing's certain: anyone driving on North Carolina roads regularly sees an extraordinary number of abandoned cars and trucks by the roadside. In some cases, it may be possible to rescue one, but it is necessary to jump through many administrative hoops to obtain an abandoned vehicle title and be granted the right to sell the vehicle.
Abandoned Vehicles in North Carolina
There's been more than a few news articles written about the number of vehicles, abandoned, broken down, or both, standing beside the road in certain parts of North Carolina. If you are thinking rural, think again. Even bustling population centers like Charlotte are reporting this issue, and it's not just an eyesore, it's a traffic hazard.
To compound the problem, these rules are not strictly enforced, even though local laws and the North Carolina Highway Patrol set strict time limits on how long one can leave a vehicle beside the road before it is towed away. People report seeing the same pickup truck with four flat tires or the same car with a big ticket on it in the same location for weeks.
Laws About Abandoned Vehicles in NC
North Carolina statutes permit cities to enact ordinances that make it illegal to abandon motor vehicles on public streets or on public or private property within the city limits. There is no general rule and each city sets its own rules. Cities also have the right to enforce their ordinances by removing and disposing of abandoned or junked vehicles as time runs out.
What is the difference between abandoned and junked vehicles in North Carolina? A vehicle is considered abandoned when it is left on:
- A road where parking is prohibited.
- Property owned or operated by a city for longer than 24 hours.
- Private property without consent for more than two hours.
- A public street or highway for over seven days.
- Any public street or highway and it is a hazard to motorists.
When Is it a Junked Motor Vehicle?
Under North Carolina law, some abandoned motor vehicles are considered junked vehicles. That happens if the abandoned vehicle also:
- Is dismantled or wrecked.
- Can't move on its own or in the manner in which it was originally intended to move.
- Is older than five years and worth less than $100.
- Is older than five years and worth less than $500 if a municipal ordinance adopted under this section so provides.
- Does not have a current license plate.
Municipal Ordinances for Abandoned Vehicles
All municipalities in North Carolina have the authority to set rules and regulations for getting rid of abandoned cars. And many do. Each city sets a specific amount of time for an owner to move the vehicle before the car will be towed.
For example, in Charlotte, Code Number 10-273 is entitled “Abandoned Vehicles.” It states that is is illegal for a person to leave a vehicle on:
- Any public street or highway longer than seven days.
- Municipal property for longer than 24 hours.
- Someone else's private property without consent of the owner or occupant for more than two hours.
Towing of Vehicles by the Highway Patrol
The North Carolina Highway Patrol sets the timing for removing vehicles parked beside a major road or highway at two days or less. After that time, the vehicle can be towed and stored at the owner's expense. And the owner might not even have that much time if it's a safety hazard, like in a traffic lane or not completely off the shoulder.
Obviously, these towing deadlines aren't always enforced. Thousands of complaints are received every year, but news sources report that abandoned vehicles clog up the shoulder lane of every major highway in North Carolina.
Nuisance Vehicles on Public Property
If a vehicle has been abandoned in North Carolina, it is the responsibility of local law enforcement to tag the vehicle. This tagging is intended to give notice to the vehicle's owner, whoever is currently in possession of the vehicle, and/or lien holders that the car or truck is considered abandoned. If it is not moved, it will be forfeited to the state of North Carolina.
This tag is the only mandatory notice the state has to give to the owner. Five days after the vehicle is tagged, it can be towed to a place where it will be sold. At that point, the state must again write to the person listed on the title as the vehicle's owner and to all lien holders of record.
This notice must state that the vehicle is being held, the address where it is being held, and notice that they have 10 days to redeem it. All costs of towing and storage must be paid. If the car is not redeemed, it will be sold and all proceeds go into the state's highway fund.
When an Owner Cannot Be Identified
What if it isn't possible to determine the identity of the last registered owner of the vehicle? That depends on the value of the vehicle. If the value of the vehicle is less than $100, no additional notice is required.
If the vehicle is worth $100 or more, the state must publish notice in a newspaper of general circulation in the area where the vehicle was located. The notice can list more than one vehicle. Five days later, the vehicles can be sold.
Abandoned Vehicles on Private Property
What should a property owner do if they find that someone has parked a vehicle on their property and simply left it there. Obviously, if they know whose car it is or who parked it there, they can contact the person to find out the situation.
If the vehicle broke down close by and was abandoned while the people went to seek help, they will generally leave a note with a name and phone number. In this case as well, the property owner can contact them directly.
It is more problematic if a vehicle is abandoned on private property when the property owner was not there and has no information about whose vehicle it is or why it is there. This is more likely in rural areas where property owners may have larger tracts of land. In this case, the property owner has to follow state and local laws before they can get the car removed.
Illegally Parked Vehicles
Under North Carolina state law, a vehicle is considered illegally parked if it is left in a location for a period longer than it is permitted to be there. That time period for private property is regulated by local laws, but it is usually very short, a matter of hours.
Towing by Law Enforcement From Private Property
If the property owner wishes to get the vehicle off their property as quickly as possible, but doesn't want reimbursement for their trouble, the first step is to contact local law enforcement. The quicker they take this step, the quicker they can have the car towed.
The local police agency runs the license plates or the VIN number of the vehicle to determine if the it was reported as stolen. If the vehicle was stolen, it is generally removed quickly from the private property location and impounded.
If the vehicle was not reported as stolen, the police will place a warning sticker on the car or truck saying that it will be towed in seven days if it is not removed. After the week has passed, the owner can call a tow company to remove the vehicle.
Getting Title to an Abandoned Vehicle
A different process applies if the property owner wants to obtain title to the vehicle or to sell the vehicle for storage costs. A vehicle left on private property in North Carolina is considered abandoned after 30 days. At that point, the property owner can begin the process to attach a mechanic's lien to the vehicle which is necessary if they wish to sell it.
First they must fill in an unclaimed notice (LT-260 form), termed the Report of Unclaimed Motor Vehicles and file it with the state DMV. The next step is to wait until the unclaimed notice has been processed. Generally it is completed in a month. Once the form is processed, the person receives a Notification Letter (LT-160B form) or a confirmation email from the NCDMV.
At that point, they can move to the third step: completing the LT-262 form. This form is easy to fill out and submit online. It is a notice of intention to sell the vehicle to cover storage or a mechanic's lien. The car or truck's vehicle identification number must be included on the form if available; if it is not, the person filling in the form should write the term "missing."
Filing a Vehicle Title Online
The North Carolina DMV uses PayIt, an online service. Submit both the completed LT-262 form and the required payment through PayIt. Fees are $13 per vehicle, plus a $3 transaction fee for PayIt. These can be submitted electronically, but it is also possible to download the form and send it in by mail.
Importance of Title in North Carolina
Title to a vehicle in North Carolina, as in all states, signifies ownership. When someone sells a vehicle they own, they must sign the title over to the buyer before the buyer can register the vehicle. That is, the buyer is required to register the vehicle with the state's Division of Motor Vehicles in order to drive it legally in North Carolina.
Generally, registering a vehicle in North Carolina involves several steps. These include showing proof of a North Carolina driver's license, a temporary North Carolina Driving Certificate, or out-of-state driver license, proof of liability insurance, proof that the car has passed state inspection, and proof of ownership. Ownership is established by showing title.
What is the process for titling a vehicle in North Carolina? Generally, the requirements of forms and documentation and depend on the situation and circumstances. In the case of specialty vehicles, extra forms can be required. These include antique cars, replicas, mobile homes, mopeds, motorcycles and trailers. It also includes cases like abandoned vehicles where proof of ownership is not required.
- WCNC: Abandoned Cars: Why Are There So Many?
- ABC Eye Witness News: What's With Cars Left by the Side of the Road in North Carolina?
- North Carolina DOT: Salvaged & Abandoned Vehicles
- Justia: NC Gen Stat Section 160A-303 (2021)
- North Carolina DOT: Abandoned Vehicles & Mechanic's Lien
- North Carolina DOT: Report Unclaimed Motor Vehicles to NC DMV
- North Carolina DOT: LT-262 Notice of Intent to Sell a Vehicle to Satisfy Storage and/or Mechanic's Lien
- Connect: NCDMV LT-262 and PayIt Processing Instructions
- Whatauga Online: NCDMV Making It Easier to Process Liens, Abandoned Vehicles
- Oncle:North Carolina General Statutes Section 20-137.10 Abandoned and Derelict Vehicles to Be Tagged; Determination of Value
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.