AA Legal Documents
Law guide

Abandoned vehicles

Contents

Abandoned vehicles in England & Wales

Abandoned vehicles and their effect

Abandoned vehicles have a negative effect on the quality of the local environment as they:

  • Attract vandalism and rubbish
  • Can be the result of crime
  • Can be the means to commit a crime
  • Can produce a risk of explosion and injury
There are a number of common causes as to why people abandon vehicles, such as the following:

  • Vehicles no longer have the same scrap value as in the past, so owners must pay to have them taken away and scrapped
  • The fine for unlicensed and untaxed vehicles is often greater than their value, and so drivers simply abandon them
  • Vehicles used for crime are often abandoned once the crime has been committed
How to distinguish an abandoned vehicle

A vehicle is only abandoned when the authorised local authority officer decides that it has been left without lawful authority, and is, in their opinion, in such a condition that it should be destroyed. The following questions may help inform a decision of abandonment:

  • Does the vehicle have a number plate?
  • Is the vehicle untaxed?
  • Is there a record of the current vehicle keeper on the DVLA record?
  • Are the tyres flat?
  • Is there litter piling up or weeds growing around the car, indicating that it has not been moved for some time?
  • Is there waste in the car e.g. tyres?
  • Are the brake discs rusty?
  • Is the windscreen or are any windows broken?
  • Is there mould inside or on the outside of the vehicle?
  • Do local residents, businesses etc. know how long the vehicle has been there?
Nuisance vehicles, e.g. those that are poorly parked, broken down or causing an obstruction, are not necessarily abandoned; however, significant steps can be taken to address this situation. Over 90% of nuisance vehicles in London are being removed as part of the Home Office funded Scrap-It Programme, managed by the Association of London Government.

Responsibility for the removal of cars

It is the responsibility of the relevant waste collection authority, usually the local authority, to remove abandoned and nuisance vehicles on public land.

This is done in conjunction with the police and the Driver Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA).

Community Support Officers also have the power to require the removal of abandoned vehicles.

Removal

A vehicle which is deemed to be abandoned, and which is on land that is occupied, can be removed by the local authority, provided they give the occupier 15 days' notice that they propose to remove the vehicle. The local authority is not entitled to remove the vehicle if the occupier objects to the proposal within the 15 days. However, if the occupier gives the local authority permission to remove the vehicle (e.g. if the vehicle was abandoned without their consent), the 15-day notice automatically lapses and the vehicle can be removed immediately.

Notice is not required where a vehicle is abandoned on a road; road in this case meaning 'any length of highway or of any other road to which the public has access, and includes bridges over which a road passes.'

Storage and tracing the owner

If the vehicle is not to be destroyed, it can be put in storage to prevent it being vandalised, while efforts are made to trace the owner.

An owner, who can be traced, is liable for removal and disposal costs.

Disposal

If the vehicle is considered to be of some value, the local authority must give the owner seven days' notice of their intention to dispose of the vehicle.

If, however, the vehicle is not considered to be of any value, and they feel it is only fit for destruction, they do not have to give notice to the owner before disposing of the vehicle.

A vehicle can be destroyed immediately, where a vehicle has neither of:

  • a registration plate; or
  • any licence (i.e. tax disc), whether current or expired.
The vehicle can only be destroyed immediately, if both conditions are present.

Action taken for an abandoned car

Abandoning a vehicle on any land in the open air, or any other land forming part of a highway, is a criminal offence under Section 2 of the Refuse Disposal (Amenity) Act 1978. It is punishable by a maximum fine of £2,500 and/or three months in prison. The owner of an abandoned vehicle that is removed, stored and or destroyed by the local authority, is liable for the storage or disposal costs.

The courts also have the power to disqualify a defendant from holding a driving licence where he or she has committed a relevant offence, in this case, abandoning their vehicle. Disqualification can be instead of, or as well as, dealing with the defendant in another way.

Lastly, an abandoned vehicle, once it has reached the end of its useful life, can also be classified as 'hazardous waste', thus also making the action of abandoning such a vehicle an offence under Section 33 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990.

For more information on vehicular offences and measures, see our 'Vehicle related nuisance' section.

Abandoned vehicles in Scotland

In Scotland, any vehicles that are clearly abandoned become the responsibility of the local authority in which the vehicles are located. The law governing the removal of vehicles is contained in the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, the Refuse Disposal (Amenity) Act 1978 and the Removal and Disposal of Vehicle Regulations 1986. Under the 1986 regulations, the police have the power to remove immediately any vehicle which is left in breach of local traffic regulation orders, or is causing an obstruction, or is likely to cause a danger.

The recently introduced Removal and Disposal of Vehicles Amendment (Scotland) Regulations 2002 have reduced the period of notice prescribed by the 1986 regulations to 24 hours where a vehicle is in such a condition it ought to be destroyed, and reduced the period of vehicle custody by local authorities to seven days.

As in England, it is also a criminal offence under the Refuse Disposal Amenity Act 1978 to abandon a vehicle in Scotland.

Abandoned vehicles in Northern Ireland

District councils are responsible for investigating complaints concerning abandoned vehicles, and these are dealt with by their Environmental Health Departments under the Pollution Control and Local Government (Northern Ireland) Order 1978, which stipulates provisions for the removal and proper disposal of abandoned vehicles. The council has the power to prosecute persons who abandon vehicles.

Since April 2005, the collection and disposal of such vehicles has been carried out on a regional basis, with councils continuing to be responsible for investigations and notifications.

Where abandoned motor vehicles have been identified, they are removed for disposal under a seven-day notice procedure.

In the event that an owner is subsequently identified, they are held responsible for all costs associated with the removal of the vehicle.