Oregon's abandoned vehicle laws are many, but they are not complex. State laws cover the process of what is done with an abandoned motor vehicle, from sending notice of its pending custody to what governing authority will collect the vehicle, and ownership rights.
Abandoned vehicles are removed from public property, but also may be removed from private property if the person on the property has lawful possession and requests removal.
Abandoned Vehicles in Oregon
Oregon law states that an abandoned vehicle is one that is left on a highway or on any public property. The registered owner of the vehicle, as shown by Department of Transportation records, is responsible for the vehicle’s abandonment and subject to the cost of its towing and disposal. What constitutes an abandoned vehicle is further defined by municipalities.
For example, Portland defines an abandoned vehicle as one that is in violation of the law for more than 24 hours and at least one of these conditions exist:
- There is no affixed, unexpired registration plate on the vehicle, or it does not display registration that is current.
- It is disabled or inoperable.
- It is junked, partially dismantled or wrecked.
Criteria for Abandoned Vehicles
An abandoned or junked vehicle in Portland should meet one or more of these criteria:
- Severely fire damaged and inoperable.
- Severely damaged in a crash and inoperable.
- Has no engine.
- Windshield is shattered or missing.
- Missing or damaged parts that make it inoperable.
- Has at least one flat tire.
- Is on jacks or blocks.
- Does not have a license plate or trip permit, or they are expired.
Notice of Custody of an Abandoned Vehicle
When an authority prepares to take custody of an abandoned vehicle, it provides written notice to the owner and affixes the notice to the vehicle at least 24 hours before removal. The notice will state that:
- An appropriate authority will take the vehicle into custody if it is not removed by a set time.
- A law was violated (reason for the tow).
- Information regarding where it will be towed or the name and address of the authority towing it.
- Owner is subject to charges for towing and storage of the vehicle, and the authority will attach a lien to the vehicle and contents,
- Authority will sell the vehicle to satisfy towing and storage costs if the owner doesn’t pay them.
- Owner or person with an interest in the vehicle has the right to a hearing before it is impounded to contest custody or challenge towing and storage charges.
Taking the Vehicle Into Custody
After providing notice, the authority can then take the vehicle into custody if it believes the vehicle is abandoned or disabled, and the vehicle is parked or otherwise left on a public roadway for more than 24 hours without authorization by ordinance or statute. The authority can also take vehicles into custody if they cause an obstruction or hazard.
Since the vehicle and its contents are subject to a lien, the authority towing it will have it appraised within a reasonable time by a person who has authorization to perform appraisals, such as having a vehicle appraisal certificate.
What Authority Will Tow the Vehicle?
The identity of the authority taking a vehicle into custody depends on the circumstances and location of its abandonment. For example, if it is on a highway under the National Interstate System, the Oregon Department of State Police or state Department of Transportation will be the authority.
If it is on a road within a county’s boundaries, a county sheriff or agency with appropriate authority will tow the vehicle. If it is within a city’s boundaries, local law enforcement or a municipal agency with authority will take it into custody.
The authority may use its own equipment, facilities or personnel when towing an abandoned vehicle. It may also use hired equipment, facilities or personnel for this purpose.
Hazard or Obstruction Caused by Abandoned Vehicle
The authority may immediately take an abandoned, unattended, disabled or parked vehicle into custody if it is on a highway or road where it is a hazard or obstruction to other traffic. A vehicle or part of it cannot be in certain areas, such as:
- Paved portion of a road or highway travel lane.
- Highway shoulder.
- Bicycle lane.
- Freeway within city limits if the vehicle weighs 26,000 pounds or less.
- Freeway within city limits from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. if the vehicle weighs more than 26,000 pounds.
- Within a thousand feet of a freeway entrance or exit ramp.
- Highway between sunset and sunrise if the abandoned vehicle presents danger.
A vehicle in a designated parking area along a highway is not a hazard or obstruction. Vehicles temporarily on a highway shoulder for a short time with hazard lights on, a raised hood, emergency flares or signs are also exempt. The Oregon Transportation Commission will establish other criteria to determine immediate custody.
Owner Rights for an Abandoned Auto
The owner of an abandoned vehicle or an interested individual must pay for all the costs and expenses of custody, towing and storage. However, they are not liable to pay more than 20 days' storage of a towed vehicle, unless they have received a written notice regarding the lien for towing.
No one will have to pay for storage for more than 60 days. Security interest holders are exempt from liability, unless they reclaim the vehicle.
Claiming a Vehicle
The owner or interested individual may claim the vehicle through a hearing in the time after being taken into custody and before it is sold or disposed of by showing proof of ownership or right to possession of the vehicle to the authority and paying the costs and expenses for the vehicle.
A vehicle that is part of a criminal investigation is not subject to notice or hearing requirements unless the investigation relates to the vehicle’s theft.
Requesting Hearing for an Abandoned Vehicle
The owner or interested individual can request a hearing with the authority by submitting a request within five days of the custody notice mailing date. If the interested party requests a hearing, the vehicle cannot be towed unless it constitutes a hazard. The hearing request must be in writing and state why the interested party believes custody is not necessary.
After receiving the request, the authority will set a hearing time within 72 hours of receipt and will send a notice of the hearing to the interested party, the vehicle owner (if they are not the same), lien holders, lessors, or security interest holders.
If the individual does not show up at the hearing, they are not entitled to another one unless they provide a satisfactory reason for not appearing. The hearing may be used to determine whether the vehicle’s towing and storage charges are reasonable.
Abandoned Vehicle Hearing Findings
The authority will provide its findings from the hearing in writing to the person who requested it. If it finds the custody and towing of the vehicle was invalid, it will order the vehicle to immediately be released to the interested party, who will not be liable for towing or storage charges.
If they have already paid those charges, the authority will reimburse them. New storage costs will not begin accruing until 24 hours after the time of release to the interested party.
If the authority's findings are valid, it will hold the vehicle in custody until the interested party pays for towing and storage charges in full. If the authority has not yet towed the vehicle, it will do so at this point.
Selling or Disposing of Abandoned Cars
If a vehicle is taken into custody because it is abandoned or it is a hazard or obstruction and no one reclaims it within 30 days after an authority takes it into custody, the authority can sell the vehicle and its contents in a public auction foreclosure sale or dispose of it according to local ordinance.
The vehicle’s contents are subject to the same sale conditions as the vehicle. If the vehicle is sold or disposed of because it has not been reclaimed, the interested party has a right to claim the proceeds from the sale or disposal.
Disposal of Vehicle Worth $500 or Less
If an abandoned vehicle is valued at $500 or less by a vehicle appraiser, the authority will:
- Send notice to the registered owner or security interest holders.
- Take photos of the vehicle.
- Inform the Department of Transportation that the vehicle will be disposed of unless an interested party claims it with 15 days of notice date.
- Provide a written statement to the person towing the vehicle that contains name and address of the vehicle’s registered owner or any persons claiming interests in it.
Within 48 hours after giving notice to the person towing the vehicle, that person must give notice to the individuals named on the statement saying that they are entitled to possess the vehicle 15 days from the notice mailing date.
If the vehicle is unclaimed after that time, it will be disposed of. If the authority does not provide the written statement within 48 hours, the person towing the vehicle may dispose of it.
Disposing of a Vehicle on Private Property
An individual may ask an authority to remove a vehicle on private property that has a value of $500 or less (as determined by vehicle appraiser certificate) if they are in lawful possession of it. In this instance, they do not need a certificate of title. When the authority takes custody of an abandoned vehicle on private property, it will:
- Take photos of it.
- Verify the individual lawfully possesses it.
- Provide the Department of Transportation and the requesting individual, the name and address of that requesting individual, the vehicle identification number, the vehicle’s appraised value, the vehicle appraiser’s certificate information and signature, and the authority’s name and address.
- Dispose of the vehicle and contents to a person with a dismantler certificate.
- Possibly charge the requesting individual a fee for disposal.
The vehicle’s disposal to a dismantler ends all prior vehicle ownership and possession rights. After sending the notification and any additional information to the Department of Transportation, the authority may submit a copy of the notification to the dismantler.
- Oregon Revised Statutes: Abandoning a Vehicle
- Portland.gov: Report an Abandoned Vehicle
- Oregon Revised Statutes:ORS 819.170 Notice Prior to Taking Vehicle Into Custody and Towing
- Oregon Revised Statutes: ORS 819.110 Custody, Towing and Sale or Disposal of Abandoned Vehicle
- Oregon Revised Statutes: ORS 819.140 Agencies Having Authority to Take Vehicle Into Custody
- Oregon Revised Statutes: ORS 819.120 Immediate Custody and Towing of Vehicle Constituting Hazard or Obstruction
- Oregon Revised Statutes: ORS 819.150 Rights and Liabilities of Owner
- Oregon Revised Statutes: ORS 819.200 Exemption From Notice and Hearing Requirements for Vehicle Held in Criminal investigation
- Oregon Revised Statutes: ORS 819.190 Hearing to contest validity of custody and towing
- Oregon Revised Statutes: ORS 819.210 Sale or disposal of vehicle not reclaimed
- Oregon Revised Statutes: ORS 819.215 Disposal of vehicle appraised at $500 or less
- Oregon Revised Statutes: ORS 819.280 Disposal of vehicle at request of person in lawful possession
Michelle Nati is an associate editor and writer who has reported on legal, criminal and government news for PasadenaNow.com and Complex Media. She holds a B.A. in Communications and English from Niagara University.