Abandoned vehicles: local authority responsibilities

How councils and national parks authorities should deal with abandoned vehicles, find owners, give penalties and dispose of vehicles.

Councils and national park authorities are both known as ‘local authorities’.

Duty to remove abandoned vehicles

Local councils and national parks authorities, known as ‘local authorities’, must remove abandoned vehicles from both:

  • land in the open air
  • roads (including private roads)

When removing vehicles from occupied land, local authorities can’t charge occupiers.

Local authorities must give landowners or occupiers 15 days’ notice that they propose to remove the vehicle. They can’t remove the vehicle if the landowners or occupiers object during the notice period.

Local councils don’t have to remove abandoned vehicles if the cost of moving them to the nearest highway is unreasonably high (for example, if special machinery is needed), unless the vehicle is on a carriageway.

Local authorities can’t be held liable for damage resulting from abandoned cars.

Read guidance for taking legal action against nuisance vehicles.

Penalties you can give

To penalise people who abandon vehicles or parts of vehicles on roads or land open to the air, you can do one of the following:

  • issue a fixed penalty notice (if the offence is relatively minor)
  • prosecute them

Work out if a vehicle is abandoned

Local authorities must work out if vehicles are abandoned. This is likely if at least one of the following applies:

  • they have no keeper on the DVLA’s database and are untaxed - check vehicle tax online
  • they’re stationary for a significant amount of time
  • they’re significantly damaged, run down or unroadworthy - with flat tyres, wheels removed or broken windows
  • they’re burned out
  • they have number plates missing

Local authorities can legally enter land (at a reasonable time) to investigate and remove abandoned vehicles.

Finding vehicle owners

Use the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency’s (DVLAs) database to find vehicle owners.

Selling or destroying abandoned vehicles

You can dispose of abandoned vehicles if any of the following apply:

  • the vehicle is only fit to be destroyed
  • the vehicle has no number plates or tax disc (even an expired one) and is not taxed
  • you can’t find the owner or the owner fails to comply with a notice to collect the vehicle

If you find the owner you must give them 7 days’ written notice and the chance to collect the vehicle before you can dispose of it. You must return a vehicle to its owner if they claim it and pay the costs of removal and storage.

You can dispose of abandoned vehicles as you see fit, including by:

  • selling them at an auction
  • destroying them at authorised treatment facilities

If you sell a vehicle, owners can claim the money raised up to a year afterwards (minus your removal, storage and disposal costs).

If you send a vehicle to be destroyed, you have the same free take-back entitlement as a private individual. Autogreen and CarTakeBack manage vehicle disposal activities for the vehicle manufacturers.

Claiming costs

You can claim prescribed amounts for the removal, storage and disposal of abandoned vehicles.

Published 26 March 2015
Last updated 13 March 2018 + show all updates
  1. Added a link to the online vehicle tax checking tool.
  2. added "one" to "This is likely if at least one of the following applies" under the section "Work out if a vehicle is abandoned"
  3. Clarified 15 days' notice period rule with "They can't remove the vehicle if the landowners or occupiers object during the notice period."
  4. The guide was addressing 2 users, local councils and national park authorities, with some confusion over which rules were specific to each user. We are now clear that the user is 'local authorities' who include both local councils and national park authorities, and what rules those authorities' share.
  5. First published.