Abandoned cars: what can you do?

Carlton Boyce / 13 July 2016 ( 04 February 2020 )

Dumped vehicles are an eyesore and can be an environmental hazard. What can you do if you suspect a car or motorbike has been abandoned near you?

Even though the price of scrap metal is reasonably high at the moment, some car and motorbike owners would rather dump their vehicles at the side of the road instead of scrapping them properly.

This isn’t just an eyesore; it can be an environmental hazard too. Leaking oil can pollute the water table and drainage system, while antifreeze is sweet to the taste but highly toxic, a potentially lethal combination.

So what can you do if you suspect a car or motorbike has been abandoned near you?

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What counts as an ‘abandoned vehicle’

There is no legal definition of what constitutes an abandoned car, but your local council and police force will take the following points into account:

• Is it taxed? You can check whether it is taxed here.

• Is it MOT’d? You can check whether it is MOT’d here.

• Is it insured?

• Has it remained stationary for a significant length of time?

• Is it burned out or otherwise damaged and/or vandalised?

• Is it obviously unroadworthy?

• Have the number plates been removed from it?

If it meets one or more of the above points they will be able to undertake an assessment as to whether they consider that it has been abandoned.  

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Reporting an abandoned vehicle in a public place

If you suspect that a car or motorcycle has been abandoned in a public place or road, the local council has an obligation to remove it free-of-charge.

The easiest way to report an abandoned vehicle is to report it via the Gov.uk website by clicking this link.

If you enter the postcode of the area where the car has been abandoned (the Royal Mail’s Find-A-Postcode website lets you find out what the postcode is if you don’t know it) you will be directed to the appropriate council’s website.

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Reporting an abandoned vehicle in a private place

If a vehicle has been abandoned on private land the council may still help you, although it is under no obligation to do so. If they do agree to take it away for you without charge, you will probably have to agree to take full responsibility for it if the owner comes looking for it later. 

If the council is likely to incur significant expenses by doing so because the car is in an inaccessible place, they will probably refuse to do anything unless it is blocking a road or carriageway.

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Prosecuting the owners

You can, in theory, prosecute the owner of an abandoned vehicle for any damage caused and/or the costs of removing and disposing of it. You can also levy a fixed penalty charge if the problem is minor. 

In practice, this is rarely going to be worthwhile as I suspect that the cost of entering into proceedings would outweigh the costs recovered.

You can, however, remove and dispose of an abandoned car, which includes selling it. The owner then has a year to claim back any money raised, minus any costs incurred by having to remove, store, and dispose of it.

The full advice is given here, but it might be prudent to seek professional legal advice too.

Reporting an untaxed vehicle

If you’ve done an online check and can see that a vehicle is untaxed you can report it to the DVLA, which might be a good option if the car isn’t necessarily abandoned but it is parked on a public road.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.