It’s not always a new or used car that you want to own. Sometimes you want rights to a vehicle you find abandoned. In Colorado, there are specific steps that must be taken when a vehicle is abandoned. Once those steps are completed, the vehicle can be sold and a new car title registered.
Defining an Abandoned Vehicle in Colorado
Not just any vehicle is considered abandoned. In the state of Colorado, the Department of Revenue defines an abandoned vehicle as:
- An automobile left on private property unauthorized for a period of at least 24 hours.
- A vehicle left on public property unauthorized for a period of at least 48 hours.
- A vehicle left at a retail automobile repair shop without retrieval by the owner.
A car that is stored at an impound lot and not removed is also considered abandoned, as is a vehicle fitted with an immobilization device that is not on private property.
Read More: How to Report an Abandoned Vehicle
What Happens to an Abandoned Vehicle?
Before you can claim title to an abandoned car in Colorado, the car must be towed by a registered company, and the proper notice must be given to the vehicle’s owner.
Once the tow operator picks up the abandoned vehicle, it must report the vehicle to the appropriate local Colorado law enforcement agency, such as the city police department or the county sheriff's department. The tow operator must then submit a record search request to the Colorado Department of Revenue to determine who owns the car.
Notify the Vehicle Owner
If an owner or lienholder is found during a record search, that person must be notified that their car was towed and where it is being stored. The owner has 30 days to retrieve the car before it can be sold or disposed of. If no owner or lienholder is found during a record search, a national title search must be performed that determines if the car is registered out of state. If no owner or lienholder is found after that search, the vehicle can be sold or disposed of within 60 days of the search.
After the designated time period, the car can be sold to a licensed car dealer, wholesaler or auction dealer. It can also be sold to the general public through a classified ad published in a Colorado newspaper. The notice publication must state the make, model, color, approximate year and vehicle identification number.
An abandoned car cannot be sold if its appraised value is $350 or less. In that case, it can only be sold as parts or junk, and no title can be issued.
Obtaining Title for an Abandoned Vehicle
If you opt to purchase a vehicle that was abandoned, you must get title for that car once you make the purchase. Download and complete the Colorado Department of Revenue's Application for Title and/or Registration from the Colorado.gov website. Mail the form to the nearest Colorado Department of Revenue's branch office along with the required registration fee. Once it is approved, you will receive a new title and registration through the mail from the Colorado Department of Revenue.
Once you have the new title, take it to the Colorado law enforcement agency that is storing the car in its impound yard. Provide the agency with a copy of the new title and registration. If everything has been correctly processed, you can then pay the storage/impound fee and take possession of the abandoned vehicle. The car is now legally yours, even if someone tries to later make a claim to it.
Leslie Bloom earned a J.D. from U.C. Davis’ King Hall, with a focus on public interest law. She is a licensed attorney who has done advocacy work for children and women. She holds a B.S. in print journalism, and has more than 20 years of experience writing for a variety of print and online publications, including the Journal of Juvenile Law and Policy.