What is an Abandoned Car?

This guide explains what an abandoned car is, all the synonyms of an abandoned car, and takes an in-depth look at what is an abandoned car, its prices, removal, buyers, laws, and more.

What is an Abandoned Car?
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    What is The Definition of an Abandoned Car?

    An abandoned car is a vehicle that has been deserted for a specified period of time. Cars discarded on highways or roads where they broke down are a common type of abandoned cars. Cars that have been stolen then dumped are also abandoned cars. Discarded vehicles are found in fields and barns by pickers quite frequently and are also counted among abandoned cars.

    The exact definition of an abandoned car varies from state to state. Some counties or cities may also have definitions for abandoned cars. It is important to make sure you are going by the most restrictive definitions and laws applicable to your location. In every state an abandoned vehicle is one that has been left behind or dumped by its driver. All states distinguish between the driver and owner of abandoned vehicles because they are not always the same.

    Abandoned vehicles can be of any year, make, model, or condition depending on the circumstances revolving their abandonment. Most vehicles are left behind because they break down, and in these cases it is likely that the abandoned car is not in running condition.

    Synonyms of Abandoned Cars

    Abandoned cars are commonly called old cars, unwanted cars, cast-offs, deserted cars, junked cars, discarded cars, or cars that have been written off by their owner. Depending on their condition abandoned cars can also be scrap cars, damaged cars, clunkers, beater cars, rusted cars, derelict cars, decrepit cars, inoperable cars, incomplete cars, wrecked cars, totaled cars, or lemon cars. Law enforcement also refers to abandoned cars as end-of-life vehicles or unregistered cars.

    An In-Depth Look at Abandoned Cars

    An abandoned car is a vehicle that has been left behind by its driver. The driver of an abandoned car is not always its owner. An abandoned car has been left to stand for a specified period of time and is therefore considered to be abandoned according to law. Each state, county, or city may set their own laws about when a car is an abandoned car and what may be done with abandoned cars by various entities. Abandoned cars can be found on the side of the highway, in public streets, on public property, and on private property, both commercial and residential.

    The definition of an abandoned car varies depending on who you ask. Each jurisdiction sets their own laws and definitions for abandoned vehicles. In general, an abandoned car is one that has been deserted by its driver. Most states require a vehicle to remain ignored and unmoved for at least 72 hours before it is considered an abandoned car, except in particular circumstances or locations. Abandoned cars are also called derelict cars or unwanted cars.

    Abandoned cars can be in any condition, but most are not running or are unsafe to drive. Typically cars are ditched when they are no longer of use and the owner or driver doesn’t want the hassle of disposing of the vehicle. However, most jurisdictions make abandoning cars on public or private property a criminal misdemeanor. Abandoned cars can be any year, make, or model, but older cars are more likely to be abandoned due to mechanical failure.

    Abandoned cars are usually towed by the city and recycled after following state or federal notification procedures, given the owner a chance to claim the vehicle. These notification systems are rarely successful, and some states allow abandoned cars that only have scrap value to be recycled immediately without notification to the owner. For these reasons, abandoned cars make up a large portion of the junk car industry, which is currently worth $67 billion according to market research firm imarc.


    How does a car become an Abandoned Car?

    There are 5 main reasons cars are abandoned. Keep in mind that some of these ways a car becomes an abandoned car may not apply depending on state.

    1. Single-car accidents: According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there are about 10 million unreported car accidents per year, and about 55% of car accidents are single-car accidents. Many single-car crashes involve property damage and driver wrongdoing, leading to them being unreported. Rather than face arrest drivers abandon the car, especially when they cannot be tied to it through registered ownership.
    2. Uninsured car accidents: Of the 10 million unreported crashes per year, a large number involve at least one uninsured driver. About 12.6% of drivers are lacking mandatory car insurance coverage, and less than 75% of drivers have collision coverage that repairs damage to their own vehicle in an at-fault accident. In either of these cases the vehicle is likely to be left on the side of the road because the vehicle owner cannot afford to have it towed away, and such tow isn’t covered by insurance.
    3. Stolen cars: There were about 932,329 cars reported stolen to law enforcement across the nation in 2021 according to reporting from the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB). Furthermore, Car Fax reports that only about 20% of stolen vehicles are recovered, with the vast majority of stolen vehicles in the United States later processed as abandoned cars. The notification that must be sent to vehicle owners before abandoned cars can be processed are largely ineffective and lead to many stolen cars being recycled as abandoned vehicles each year.
    4. Mechanical failure: Mechanical failure is a common reason for abandoned cars. One AAA study found that at least a third of Americans cannot afford regular maintenance or emergency repairs of as little as $600 or less. These same drivers cannot afford towing or repairs when their vehicle breaks down unexpectedly. This leads to many abandoned cars because municipalities often tow vehicles left behind due to the lapse of time even when the owner had every intention of coming back for the abandoned car when they had the funds to do so.
    5. Forgotten to time and neglect: Many people find abandoned cars in old buildings, garages, and fields every year. These abandoned cars were likely never intended to be deserted, but were lost to time due to some unfortunate event. These abandoned cars are the easiest for residents to get rid of because most cities allow private property owners to dispose of abandoned cars in this situation.

    It is important to remember that for a car to be an abandoned car it must be left behind for a set amount of time, and this varies from state to state. Vehicles in any of these scenarios that are claimed before they are tagged by local law enforcement are not yet considered abandoned cars.

    When is a car an abandoned car?

    A car is an abandoned car when it has been left parked illegally for more than a specific amount of time as set forth by that state’s laws. As a general rule abandoned cars are vehicles in which the driver has walked away for at least 72 hours. However, some jurisdictions label cars cast aside on highways and public property as illegal abandoned cars as soon as 48 hours after they are first noticed by law enforcement. To know whether or not a car is an abandoned car in this manner it is best to contact your local neighborhood code enforcement.

    What are some common characteristics of Abandoned Cars?

    Abandoned cars can be in any year, make, model, or condition.

    1. Abandoned cars are often unregistered cars. Many abandoned cars are unregistered, have expired license plates, or are missing license plates entirely. Abandoned cars can also have the wrong plates attached, as is often the case with stolen cars ditched on public or private property.
    2. Abandoned cars have visible damage. When drivers walk away from cars that have broken down on the road they probably have tight budgets that don’t allow for autobody repair. Stolen cars are often banged up from single-car collisions with poles and the like, while vehicles abandoned after an accident may have significant body damage.
    3. Abandoned cars are unsafe to drive. It is rare that a car is cast aside to the fates when it is in decent running condition, unless there was no intent to abandon the vehicle. For this reason even cars that are not abandoned due to mechanical failure often have at least several minor mechanical issues.
    4. Abandoned cars are illegal. It is illegal to abandon a vehicle in any state. All abandoned cars are illegal. However, a vehicle owner can get out of criminal charges for vehicle abandonment if they can prove that they were not the ones to abandon the vehicle, such as when a car has been stolen.

    Abandoned cars are also often dirty cars that are filled with trash and debris. When vehicles have been deserted for a longer period of time they may also have flat or missing tires, broken windows, or broken headlights and taillights. Cars that have been abandoned to fields and the elements may also have significant rust or be sitting in overgrown vegetation.

    Is an abandoned car a junk car?

    Yes, an abandoned car is a junk car in many cases, but not all. A junk car is one that should be salvaged for its reusable parts, recycled, and disposed of appropriately. Abandoned vehicles that have been left to their fate after being stolen or experiencing mechanical failure are almost always junk cars. However, some abandoned cars are not junk vehicles but have been left behind for another reason.

    What is an Abandoned Car worth?

    An abandoned car is not worth anything to the person that finds it in most cases. This is because you must be the owner of a vehicle in order to sell it. However, there are some exceptions depending on the state. Most states allow private owners of commercial property to have abandoned cars towed as long as they post appropriate signage warning patrons of the practice and associated fees.

    Some states also allow owners of agriculturally zoned private land to sell abandoned cars found in fields and barns without ownership by gaining a certificate of authority from law enforcement or code enforcement officials. These laws are written to ensure that the stolen cars abandoned in fields and rural private roadways can easily be removed and disposed of.


    In these cases, the abandoned car is only worth its value as scrap metal, which is usually at least enough to cover the towing so that it doesn’t cost the property owner any cash out of pocket to have the abandoned car removed.

    What are the price ranges of abandoned cars?

    The price ranges of abandoned cars depends on the year, make, model, condition, location, and the complex factors that affect scrap metal prices. States typically require that the abandoned car have no value other than as scrap recycling. The type of vehicle that has been abandoned plays a large role in price ranges of abandoned cars because each vehicle is made up of different amounts of various metals. Incomplete cars that are abandoned in barns, fields, or old garages bring less than average.

    What are the most valuable car parts in abandoned cars?

    Because abandoned cars are only worth their value in scrap metal it is important that they have all of their most valuable parts. These include the frame, drive train, engine, transmission casing, and catalytic converter. About 65% of a vehicle is made of steel and other iron alloys that are in high demand and bring a fair price.

    What are the most valuable metals in abandoned cars?

    Scrap metal prices are important for calculating the value of abandoned cars because they are only given value as scrap metal recycling. Scrap metal prices can vary based on many political and economic factors on every scale from the state to global levels. There is more steel in a vehicle than any other type of metal, but it is not the most highly valued metal found in abandoned cars. Abandoned cars with all of their parts also contain amounts of valuable metals like aluminum, platinum, palladium, rhodium, and magnesium.

    How much is an abandoned car hulk worth?

    When abandoned cars are little more than a scrap car shell they are going to be sold for their scrap metal the same as any other abandoned vehicle. However, in this case the vehicle will bring less money because it is missing some of its valuable parts. The average scrap car shell found as abandoned cars in fields and barns is less, unless the vehicle is in high demand with car restoration shops and hobbyists.

    What to do with an Abandoned Car?

    What you can do with an abandoned car depends on your state. One must have the authority to get rid of an abandoned car not titled in their name. Due to federal rights, vehicles are private property that cannot be moved without due cause or due process unless the vehicle owner has authorized such.

    To discover what to do with an abandoned car one should contact their local neighborhood code enforcement for instructions. There are 4 main ways to get rid of an abandoned car depending on the laws for abandoned cars in your state.

    1. Contact the owner of the abandoned car. If you know who owns the abandoned car you can contact them to request that they either remove the vehicle or transfer ownership to you for the purpose of disposal. Your local code enforcement officer can explain what to do if you don’t know who owns the vehicle or cannot get ahold of them to transfer ownership.
    2. Request that code enforcement remove the vehicle. If your state does not allow private property owners to sell off cars abandoned on their property, it becomes necessary to allow the city to remove the vehicle. The requirements for notifying the vehicle owner and disposing of the vehicle are taken on by the city, and the private property owner has no obligations to the vehicle owner.
    3. Request a certificate of authority to sell the abandoned junk car. Some states allow private property owners to apply for a certificate of authority that allows them to sell cars abandoned on their property for their value as scrap. This allows the property owners to have the abandoned car removed without cost to them. However, this is not allowed by all states or in all situations.
    4. Request a court hearing. You may need to contact an attorney or request a court hearing to gain authority to sell the abandoned car. This is an option when you live in a state that refuses to tow away vehicles without owner authorization except when that vehicle poses a danger of some kind. In some states this is the only way to get rid of an abandoned car legally without the vehicle owner.

    It is important to note that abandoned cars cannot be donated to a charity as other types of junk cars. It is also impossible to sell an abandoned car with no title because vehicles can only be sold when the owner provides appropriate ownership documents. Abandoned cars are soften unregistered and registration is not required when selling abandoned cars. When one is given the authority to remove abandoned cars from their property, the owner must sell the vehicle to a junk car buyer or vehicle recycling facility that will process the vehicle as scrap.

    Who buys abandoned cars?

    There are not many places who buy abandoned cars because they must be recycled immediately, and they have no value other than as scrap. For this reason junk car buyers are the most likely to buy abandoned cars from private property owners. However, you may be able to find scrap yards or vehicle recyclers in your area that buy abandoned cars from private property owners as well as auctions.

    How to choose an abandoned car removal service?

    Junk car buyers are also abandoned car removal services. Through effective and fast junk car removal, abandoned car removal services will tow away vehicles that have been dumped on your property and recycle them appropriately.

    It is important that you use a junk car removal service that follows the laws in your state. Do not trust a junk car buyer that is willing to purchase abandoned cars without proof of authorization or ownership. These are illegal sales of abandoned vehicles and are punishable by criminal law.

    Some states require that abandoned vehicles be towed by particular towing partners. When you are able to choose your own junk car buyer to remove the abandoned car from your property, choosing the right buyer is an important decision. Here are a few things to look for:

    • Junk car buyers with experience buying abandoned cars in your state
    • Licensed junk car buyers able to legally purchase abandoned cars
    • Free, fast, and guaranteed abandoned car removal quotes online or by phone
    • Assistance with paperwork to sell abandoned cars in your state
    • Free abandoned car removal included in the junk car quote
    • Fair prices for abandoned cars based on local scrap metal prices and demand

    You can determine if junk car buyers meet these points by looking at reviews and comparing prices online. Junk Car Medics meets all of these points and more with our quick, easy, painless, and rewarding process for ridding yourself of abandoned cars in any state.

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