So you’ve been cited for a DUI or DWI. Now you’re released and you need to get your car back. Here’s the no-nonsense guide on what to do:

If you got a DUI citation, the police almost certainly took you into the station. They booked you. Maybe they took a blood sample to verify your blood alcohol content. And then several hours or a day later (hopefully you weren’t arrested on a Friday night!) you were released.

So how can you get your car back?

Check your license.

First, make sure you’re legal to drive. Depending on the jurisdiction, you may be looking at a temporary license suspension, pending your hearing. In some states, the police will confiscate your license at the time of citation, and then issue you a new license, good for 30 days, in case you want to appeal or contest your arrest, which may allow you to get your permanent license back.

In either case, before you go pick up your car yourself, you should be sure you have a valid license, whether temporary or permanent. If you’re caught driving on a suspended license after being cited for a DUI, you will make your legal problems much, much worse.

What do cops do with cars in a DUI?

Generally, police officers on the scene of a DUI arrest will go with one of these options:

1.) Contact a friend or family member to come get your car, or allow you to contact them. (This is most likely to happen for people who are courteous and respectful to police officers. Hint: Don’t act like a jerk. Getting this little break from police officers on the scene can safe hundreds and sometimes over a thousand in towing and impound fees!)

2.) Leave the car in place. This may be ok if you’re released fairly quickly and if the car is in a low-crime area. Once you’re released, you can just go and pick the car up. Or, if your license is suspended, you can go with a friend.

3.) Tow the car to the official impound lot. This is the worst of the three, from your perspective. Towing fees are expensive. And impound lot fees are even more expensive. On top of that, in our experience, the twits who run the impound lots are even meaner than the junkyard dogs they have guarding them. They’re seriously nasty people. Then again, in that business, you probably have to be nasty.

Cops will tow cars for many reasons:

  • Safety and security. (This is the best reason).
  • They don’t want the hassle of contacting a friend or family member.
  • Impounding may give them the right to search the car. They may do this if you’re suspected of other crimes. Or if they just don’t like you.
  • To make your life more difficult. Again, because they just don’t like you.
  • “Sorry. It’s procedure.”

If the police do tow your car, the arresting agency should be able to tell you what they did with your car, and if it was towed, where they towed it. Check your arrest documents and citation, or ask the desk personnel what tow yard they use.

Alternatively, your police or sheriff department normally maintains a “tow log.” You can find out where your car is by calling the arresting agency’s admin number on the phone  and asking to have someone check the tow log for your vehicle. NOTE: Do NOT use the 911 number for this. Instead, always use the non-emergency line.

Also, many agencies and impound lots report to  So if your car was towed in any of these locations,  check that site, and do a search for your vehicle by tag number. VIN, or towing info. 


Note: The Washington State Supreme Court recently struck down as unconstitutional a state law that made towing and impounding mandatory in cases related to suspicion of DUI without a warrant.



What Documents Do I Need to Pick Up My Car in a Tow Yard


At a minimum, you need to show a valid driver’s license, current registration, proof of insurance, proof of ownership,  and usually a law enforcement or DMV release authorization to pick up your car. If your tags are expired, you’ll have to go to your DMV and pay the registration fees. You might have to pay off any pre-existing citations and tolls at that time, too, or pay them online.

If the individual picking up the car is not the owner, that person will probably need a NOTARIZED power of attorney document from the owner authorizing the person to do business on the owner’s behalf.

SR22 Requirements and Insurance

The ‘proof of insurance’ part can be tricky, because about two-thirds of states will suspend a license upon citation of a DUI – not even a conviction. And they will require your insurance company to file a form called an SR22 with the DMV. (In Florida and Virginia, it’s an FR44, which requires you to carry more liability insurance to get your license reinstated). In either case, the insurance company filing that form verifies to the DMV that you have insurance in force, and confirms that they will inform the DMV if your insurance lapses for any reason.

If your license has been suspended pending an SR22, or you believe such a suspension is imminent, call us immediately at (855) 438-7353, so we can help you get SR 22 insurance in place and get your license back as soon as possible so you can drive again. specializes in providing affordable car insurance and special solutions to people with a DUI arrest, conviction, or other negative marks on their record.

Unlike most insurance agents that don’t specialize in this market, our agents understand the system, and are specially trained in SR22 and license reinstatement procedures in states all across the country. We have also invested the technology to file SR22 documents, waiver packets, and release forms electronically. Which can save days of administrative processing time at the DMV.


Before You Go to the Lot

If your license is suspended, the impound lot may require another licensed driver show up with you.

Before you go out there, call the impound lot operators, and have them:

A.) verify that your car is there.

B.) tell you exactly what documents you need to have with you to pick up your car.

C.) tell you exactly what fees and charges you have to pay to pick your car up today.

D.) tell you exactly where you need to go to show the paperwork. Sometimes the office (or trailer) is in a different location than the lot your car is on.

E.) Tell you what forms of payment they take. Sometimes they take credit or debt cards. Sometimes you’ll have to bring a money order. So you might have to visit Walmart, the Post Office, or a grocery store or check cashing store to pick one up on the way to the lot. Sometimes they have an ATM machine on site. Which may or may not be stocked with cash. And might not give change.

Then be sure to follow their instructions to the letter. Get the information in writing, from their own website, if you can. Remember: They get paid by the day. Any obstacles they can throw your way to delay the process, and force you to come back tomorrow means they get paid another day’s worth of impound fees. It’s their business model. And they’re good at it.

And bring your keys.

It’s amazing how many people get flustered or forget them, or assume they are with the car. (Normally the police will inventory your keys along with other items at the time of your arrest, and return them to you on release. So just be sure once your car is released to you, you can start it up and drive away.

Picking Up Your Car

Bring a camera or cell phone with you. Always do a thorough walk around when picking up your car. Check for damage, and for missing items. Tow lots occasionally damage cars. And in some few cases, they sell parts. Or other people in the yard for whatever reason occasional steal hubcaps, rims, and other accessories. Especially if there is an active aftermarket for these parts.

If you don’t identify issues now, it’s much more difficult to bring a claim later.

Other tips:

1. Be friendly and cooperative with impound lot staff. They’re usually jerks, so it’ll be the last thing they expect. It’ll keep them off balance. Besides. They’re human, too. Most of them, anyway.

2. Don’t lose your temper. You’re probably the eighth person since lunch to do it. Rather than deal with you, they’re likely to just close their window in your face, call the police, and have you trespassed off the property.

Now you have another layer of problems getting your car back.

Questions? Issues? Need SR22 car insurance? Need ANY kind of car insurance?

Give me, Mr. Insurance, a call today! I or one of my capable DUI insurance specialist minions will be happy to talk through your situation, evaluate your options, and make sure you have the best insurance protection available at the most economical price.

See you on the road!

Steve “Mr. Insurance” Ludwig
CEO, Select Insurance Group