Abandoned vehicles: local authority responsibilities

How councils and national park authorities should deal with the removal of abandoned vehicles from land in the open air and roads.

This guidance is for local authorities. If you have found an abandoned vehicle, you can report it to your local council.

Duty to remove abandoned vehicles

Councils and national park authorities (authorities) must remove abandoned vehicles from:

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

When removing a vehicle from land in the open air, authorities:

  • cannot charge the landowner occupier
  • must give the landowner or occupier 15 days’ notice that they propose to remove the vehicle
  • cannot remove the vehicle if the landowner or occupier objects during the notice period

The 15 day notice period does not apply if the vehicle is abandoned on a road or highway.

Authorities do not have to remove an abandoned vehicle from land in the open air if the cost of moving it to the nearest highway is high (for example, special machinery is needed).

Authorities cannot be held liable for damage resulting from abandoned vehicles.

Read the guidance on how authorities can take legal action against businesses for nuisance parking.

Find vehicle owners

Authorities can get information about a vehicle’s registered keeper from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA).

Decide if a vehicle is abandoned

Authorities must decide if a vehicle is abandoned. This is likely if at least one of the following applies:

  • it has no keeper on DVLA’s database and is untaxed - check vehicle tax online
  • it’s stationary for a significant amount of time
  • it’s significantly damaged, run down or unroadworthy, for example has flat tyres, missing wheels or broken windows
  • it’s burned out
  • a number plate is missing

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

Apply a penalty

Authorities can penalise people who abandon vehicles or parts of vehicles on roads or land in the open air by either:

  • issuing a fixed penalty notice (if the offence is relatively minor)
  • prosecuting them

Dispose of an abandoned vehicle

Authorities can dispose of an abandoned vehicle immediately if either of the following applies:

  • it’s only fit to be destroyed
  • it has no number plates or tax disc (even an expired one)

In all other cases, they must try to find the owner.

If they find the owner, authorities must give the owner 7 days’ written notice to collect the vehicle before disposing of it. They must return a vehicle to its owner if the owner claims it and pays the authorities’ costs of removal and storage.

If the owner cannot be found, or fails to comply with a notice to collect the vehicle, authorities may dispose of the vehicle.

Authorities can dispose of an abandoned vehicle as they see fit. For example, they can sell it at auction or have it destroyed at an authorised treatment facility.

If it is sold, the owner can claim the money raised up to a year later (minus the authorities’ removal, storage and disposal costs).

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

Claim cost of removal, storage or disposal

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

Published 26 March 2015
Last updated 5 September 2022 + show all updates
  1. Added a link for individuals to report an abandoned vehicle to their local council.

  2. Amendment to clarify that local authorities do not have to give 15 days' notice of removal if the vehicle's on a road or highway.

  3. Added a link to the online vehicle tax checking tool.

  4. added "one" to "This is likely if at least one of the following applies" under the section "Work out if a vehicle is abandoned"

  5. Clarified 15 days' notice period rule with "They can't remove the vehicle if the landowners or occupiers object during the notice period."

  6. 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.

  7. First published.