Can You Tow An Unregistered Car In California?

Driving an unregistered vehicle on public roads in California can result in fines, penalties, and even towing of the vehicle. However, what are the rules around towing an unregistered car in California? Can it be legally towed from private property? This article will provide a comprehensive overview of the laws and regulations regarding towing unregistered vehicles in the state of California.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Yes, an unregistered vehicle can be towed in California, even from private property in some cases.

Registration Requirements for Vehicles in California

When it comes to owning and operating a vehicle in California, there are certain registration requirements that every vehicle owner must adhere to. These requirements are put in place to ensure that all vehicles on the road are properly documented and meet the necessary safety and emissions standards.

All vehicles must be registered

In California, all vehicles, including cars, trucks, motorcycles, and trailers, must be registered with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). This registration process involves providing the necessary documentation, such as proof of ownership, proof of insurance, and payment of registration fees.

Once the registration is complete, the vehicle owner will receive a license plate and registration sticker to display on the vehicle.

It’s important to note that the registration process must be completed within a certain timeframe after purchasing a vehicle or moving to California. Failure to register a vehicle within the required timeframe can result in penalties and fines.

Penalties for lack of registration

If a vehicle is found to be unregistered in California, there can be serious consequences. The penalties for lack of registration can include fines, impoundment of the vehicle, and even potential legal repercussions.

Additionally, driving an unregistered vehicle may also result in the driver’s license being suspended.

To avoid these penalties, it’s crucial for vehicle owners to ensure that their vehicles are properly registered and that the registration is kept up to date. This includes renewing the registration on time and displaying the current registration sticker on the vehicle’s license plate.

Exceptions for non-operation

While all vehicles in California are required to be registered, there are certain exceptions for non-operation. If a vehicle is not being driven on public roads and is stored or parked on private property, it may qualify for a non-operational status.

This means that the vehicle is not required to have current registration or insurance as long as it remains non-operational.

However, it’s important to note that if the non-operational vehicle is later driven on public roads, it must be registered and brought up to date with all necessary documentation and fees.

For more detailed information on vehicle registration requirements in California, you can visit the official website of the California DMV at

Rules for Towing Unregistered Vehicles in California

When it comes to towing unregistered vehicles in California, there are specific rules and regulations that need to be followed. These rules ensure the safety of both the towing company and the general public.

Let’s take a closer look at the guidelines for towing unregistered vehicles in the Golden State.

Towing from public roads

Towing an unregistered vehicle from a public road in California is generally not allowed. The California Vehicle Code states that vehicles must be registered and have valid license plates in order to be driven on public roads. However, there are certain exceptions to this rule.

For example, if the vehicle is being towed to a location where it can be registered or to a repair shop, it may be allowed. It’s important to note that these exceptions vary depending on the circumstances, so it’s always best to consult with local authorities or a towing company for guidance.

Towing from private property

When it comes to towing unregistered vehicles from private property, the rules are slightly different. Private property owners have the right to have unauthorized vehicles towed from their premises. However, they must follow specific procedures outlined in the California Vehicle Code.

This includes providing notice to the vehicle owner and obtaining authorization from local law enforcement before towing the vehicle. Towing companies must also comply with these procedures to avoid any legal issues.

Liability concerns for tow truck companies

When it comes to towing unregistered vehicles, tow truck companies need to be cautious about potential liability concerns. If a towing company tows an unregistered vehicle without proper authorization or fails to follow the proper procedures, they could face legal consequences.

It’s essential for tow truck companies to have the necessary permits and licenses, as well as insurance coverage, to protect themselves and their clients. By following the rules and regulations set forth by the California Vehicle Code, tow truck companies can ensure they are operating within the law and providing a valuable service to the community.

Registering a Vehicle Already Towed in California

If you need to tow an unregistered car in California, it’s important to understand the steps involved in registering the vehicle once it has been towed. Registering a towed vehicle is necessary to ensure that it complies with the state’s laws and regulations.

Here’s what you need to know about registering a vehicle that has been towed in California.

Fees and fines for registration

When you tow an unregistered vehicle in California, you will be subject to fees and fines for registration. These fees may vary depending on the specific circumstances of the tow, such as the reason for the tow and the length of time the vehicle has been impounded.

It’s important to note that these fees can add up quickly, so it’s essential to be prepared for the financial responsibility. If you’re unsure about the specific fees and fines for registering a towed vehicle in California, it’s recommended to consult the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) website for the most accurate and up-to-date information.

Retrieving the vehicle from impound

Before you can register a towed vehicle in California, you will need to retrieve it from the impound lot. This process typically involves providing proof of ownership, such as the vehicle’s title or registration documents, along with valid identification and payment for any outstanding fees or fines.

Once you have successfully retrieved the vehicle from the impound lot, you can proceed with the registration process. This typically involves completing the necessary paperwork, paying registration fees, and obtaining the appropriate license plates and registration stickers.

It’s important to note that the specific requirements for registering a towed vehicle may vary depending on the circumstances of the tow and the specific county or city in California. It’s recommended to check with the local DMV office or consult the California DMV website for detailed instructions and requirements specific to your situation.

Registering a towed vehicle in California may seem like a daunting process, but with the right information and preparation, it can be a straightforward and manageable task. By understanding the fees and fines involved and following the necessary steps for retrieving the vehicle from impound and completing the registration process, you can ensure that your towed vehicle is properly registered and compliant with California’s laws and regulations.

Avoiding Towing and Tickets

When it comes to towing unregistered vehicles in California, it’s important to know the rules and regulations to avoid any unnecessary fees or penalties. Here are some tips to help you avoid towing and tickets:

Keep registration up to date

One of the simplest ways to avoid towing an unregistered car is to make sure your vehicle’s registration is up to date. In California, it is a requirement to renew your vehicle’s registration every year.

If you fail to do so, you run the risk of having your car towed if it is found to be unregistered during routine traffic stops or parking enforcement checks. Keeping your registration current not only helps you avoid towing but also ensures that you are in compliance with state laws.

Notify DMV if not operating vehicle

If you have an unregistered vehicle that is not currently being operated, it is a good idea to notify the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). By informing the DMV that your vehicle is not in use, you can potentially avoid the hassle of having your car towed.

The DMV may provide you with a non-operational status for your vehicle, which exempts it from certain registration requirements. However, it’s important to note that this status does not grant you permission to drive the vehicle on public roads. It is only meant for vehicles that are not being used.

Store unregistered vehicles on private property

If you have an unregistered car that you do not plan to operate anytime soon, it is best to store it on private property. This could be your own driveway, garage, or any other private location where the vehicle is not visible from the street.

Storing unregistered vehicles on private property reduces the chances of them being spotted and reported by law enforcement or parking enforcement officers. However, it’s important to check with local zoning regulations and homeowner’s association rules to ensure that you are in compliance with any restrictions on storing unregistered vehicles.

Remember, it’s always best to comply with the registration requirements set by the state of California to avoid the inconvenience and expense of towing and tickets. Stay informed, keep your registration up to date, and take appropriate measures if you have an unregistered vehicle that is not in use.

The Bottom Line

Towing an unregistered car in California is not only illegal but also comes with potential consequences. It’s important to understand the regulations and take appropriate actions to avoid any complications. Here are the key takeaways:

Key takeaways

  • Driving an unregistered vehicle in California can result in fines, penalties, and even impoundment of the vehicle.
  • Unregistered vehicles are not covered by insurance, which can leave you personally liable for any accidents or damages.
  • If you need to transport an unregistered vehicle, it’s best to hire a professional towing service that complies with all legal requirements.
  • Before towing, make sure the vehicle is securely attached to the towing vehicle and follow all safety guidelines.

What to do if your unregistered vehicle gets towed

If your unregistered vehicle gets towed in California, here’s what you should do:

  1. Contact the local authorities: Find out which agency or towing company has impounded your vehicle and get the necessary information to retrieve it.
  2. Gather the required documentation: Prepare all the necessary documents, such as proof of ownership, valid identification, and proof of insurance, if applicable.
  3. Pay the fines and fees: Be prepared to pay the required fines and fees to release your vehicle. These may include towing and storage fees, as well as any outstanding citations.
  4. Retrieve your vehicle: Once you have fulfilled all the necessary requirements, you can arrange for the release of your vehicle. Make sure to follow the instructions provided by the impounding agency or towing company.
  5. Register your vehicle: After retrieving your vehicle, it’s crucial to register it as soon as possible to avoid any future issues. Visit the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) website for information on how to register your vehicle.

Remember, it’s always better to comply with the law and register your vehicle to avoid any unnecessary complications. For more information on vehicle registration and towing regulations in California, you can visit the official California DMV website at


In summary, vehicles that are unregistered can be towed in California, even if parked on private property in many cases. To avoid fines, impound fees, and towing charges, it is important to keep registrations current or file for planned non-operation. Understanding the state’s registration and towing laws can help vehicle owners stay compliant and avoid the hassle and expenses of a towed vehicle.

This article has provided a thorough overview of the regulations around towing unregistered vehicles in California. While some exceptions exist, keeping registration current or planning for non-operation is the best way to avoid issues. Being informed on the laws and proactively maintaining compliance is key to protecting your vehicle investment in California.

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