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What happens to your vehicle after a DUI arrest?

On Behalf of | Aug 25, 2023 | DWI Defense |

Driving while intoxicated (DWI) charges can lead to punishments on conviction. But make no mistake: You start facing penalties when an officer arrests you for drunk driving and takes you back to the police station for testing. If your blood alcohol content (BAC) level hits .08%, the officer can charge you with DWI. At this point, the office can also suspend your license and impound your car.

You’ll have to attend a court hearing over your DWI, but what happens to your automobile while your case heads to court?

Vehicle impoundment

Per state law, the law enforcement agency responsible for your DWI arrest will impound your vehicle. If you don’t actually own the impounded automobile because it belongs to a family or friend, or if you were just renting it, the car will be released 12 hours after your arrest. The original owner will have to present a valid driver’s license, proof of ownership and proof of valid auto insurance before they can reclaim the vehicle.

However, if the vehicle is registered under your name, your vehicle will remain impounded. To reclaim it, you’ll need to present the exact requirements listed above. The problem is that officials could suspend or revoke your license if a DWI charge leads to a conviction. You can’t claim your vehicle immediately if you lose your driving privileges.

Impoundment isn’t free

Once you manage to restore your driving privileges – which usually involves agreeing to have an ignition interlock device installed in your car – you can try once more to claim your vehicle from police impoundment. However, the agency can charge you a fee for storing your automobile and any towing costs that might apply. If you’re unable to pay these fees, the agency can retain custody of your car until you can pay.

Note that New Jersey police can only hold a vehicle in impoundment for up to 90 days from the day it was taken. After 90 days, the agency can sell the vehicle at auction.

The long and short of it is that your vehicle stays in police impoundment throughout the DWI process. If you regain driving privileges after the court hearing, you can get it back. But if officials revoke or suspend your license for over 90 days, you risk losing your vehicle. If you don’t want to lose your car, you might want to consider your legal options.