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Can You Get Your Stuff Out of an Impounded Car?

As an insurance adjuster, I had enumerable conversations with car owners who were headed down to a tow yard to retrieve their items. Not all tow companies have the same policy, but there are laws that protect individuals. Often it matters why the car was impounded.

Unless the vehicle has been locked down due to an ongoing police investigation, you can almost always get your items out of an impounded car by calling the tow company. Recoverable items include purses, wallets, and medicine. Any item professionally installed in the car, like stereo equipment, cannot usually be taken.

The rest of this article will discuss how you can go about getting your things out of an impounded car and what the law supports as recoverable items.

Montage of a car being towed and a man getting stuff out of his car

What Steps You Need To Take To Recover Your Items

You’ll first want to contact the tow company and find out where your car has been impounded. You shouldn’t have any issues with them telling you where the vehicle has been taken. 

Once you know where the car has been impounded, it’s time to call the impound company to see if they’re willing to work with you to get your things back.

Don’t Forget Your ID

In some cases, the impound company may allow you to simply come by and pick up the items. In this case, you should expect to need to have current and valid identification on hand. The impound company may permit you to take only certain items out of your vehicle.

Ask About Payment Ahead of Time

One of the most common arguments I hear happening inside the lobby of tow companies is about payment. Often, the tow company will require a partial or even full before they will release any items from the vehicle. Make sure you ask about payment ahead before going out to the tow yard.

These items are deemed recoverable items and include mostly personal belongings such as wallets, purses, clothing, perishable items such as groceries, and medication. Typically, these items don’t add or take away any value of the vehicle, so most of the time, it’s not an issue to get them released to you. 

Can I Get My Things Back if I Had a DUI?

Yes, you can still recover your items if your car was impounded for drinking under the influence. The difference in this situation is that you’ll usually have to wait a specified amount of time before you are allowed to retrieve your items or get the entire vehicle back.

Man holding a bottle of beer behind the wheel of a car

Law enforcement typically will make you wait up to twelve hours for a first-time offense, twenty-four hours for a second-time offense, and upwards of forty-eight hours or more for a third offense. 

Looking at this, though, it’s really not that long in any case!

What To Do if the Impound Company Refuses To Release Your Items

If the impound company refuses to release your items, then it might be time to seek professional help. You can contact local lawyers and law enforcement offices in your area to see the official process if the impound company refuses to release your things to you. 

If you’ve only tried calling the company at this point, you may have better luck going down and speaking to them. Keep in mind that the company may charge a fee for you to remove your belongings. Some impound companies charge upwards of $200 for you to remove your items. 

Is It Illegal for the Impound Company To Charge Me To Get My Things?

No, it’s not illegal. The company operates on private property, and most law enforcement will not have an issue with the impound company requiring you to pay to retrieve your items. 

This is an unfortunate part of having a car impounded, and it’s always best to remove your items before the car gets impounded, if possible.

The fees that the company can charge vary from state to state, but ultimately it’s up to the impound company. 

There has been some debate that the impound company must release recoverable items to you without a fee, but in my experience, that isn’t necessarily true. It really is a case-by-case basis when it comes to getting your items back. 

You may encounter a company that’s more than willing just to hand over your items, or you may have to fight tooth and nail to recover them. 

Recoverable Versus Nonrecoverable Items

I already briefly talked about recoverable items. As a reminder, these include items that can be classified under personal belongings – purses, wallets, medication, and so on. 

In general, impound companies are required to release recoverable items to you, even if they require a fee in order for you to get them back. 

Nonrecoverable items are parts of the vehicle and usually add to the vehicle’s value. These items aren’t considered necessities to live, and the impound company does not have to release them to you. Many times, even if you offer to pay a fee for these items, they won’t be released to you. 

Nonrecoverable items include additions you’ve made to the vehicle, such as adding in a nicer stereo, a Global Positioning System (GPS), or changing out the speakers in your vehicle. All of these items add to the value of the vehicle, so the impound company isn’t keen on just returning them to you. 

If you do not get your car out of the impound facility, it is typically sold at an auction, especially if the vehicle isn’t run down. The nonrecoverable items allow your vehicle to sell for significantly more.

Nonrecoverable items also act as a type of insurance for the impound company. Usually, these items are fairly expensive, and they know that you’re more likely to come and pick up your car if you want them back. Keep in mind that the impound company makes money from people who get their cars impounded but also pick them back up. 

Is There Any Way To Get Your Stuff After the Car Leaves Impound?

The answer to this question is almost always a resounding no. Once the car has been auctioned off, all items are removed, and the car is no longer in your possession. Any nonrecoverable items that you had will be sent with the vehicle. 

You can, however, lay a claim for funds to replace your belongings. Whether or not you’ll win this case depends on several factors. In some cases, the person has been rewarded funds, but more often than not, you end up losing out in this situation. 


Most of the time, you can get your things back if your car has been impounded. Sometimes the process is more simple than other times, depending on who you are dealing with.

You should expect to be able to get your items deemed recoverable back without an issue, but anticipate some problems if you’re expecting to get no recoverable items back immediately.

For more, check out How Much Do Tow Companies Charge for Storage?