Getting Back an Impounded Vehicle in Chicago

Getting Back an Impounded Vehicle in Chicago
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Last updated: October 2010

Why was my car impounded by the City of Chicago?

There are 4 main reasons why the City impounded your car:

  • “Use-related” impounds. The City can impound your car if the car was being used for certain illegal activities. These include driving while intoxicated,driving with a suspended or revoked license; driving with illegal drugs, firearms or fireworks; drag racing; fleeing from the police; soliciting prostitutes; or playing loud music.
  • "Status-related” impounds. The City can impound your car if you are using it as an illegal taxi or an illegal ambulance or if it has a fake city sticker or fake or altered temporary license plates.
  • "Police hold” impounds. Chicago Police can impound your car if they need it as evidence of a crime, or if the person driving the car is arrested.
  • Boot-related impound. Your car can be booted and impounded if you have three or more overdue parking tickets.

To find out why the City impounded your car, you should contact the City department that issued you a Notice of Violation.

Where can I find out where my car is?

You can find the location of your towed or impounded vehicle by calling 311 or by visiting the City of Chicago's website. Payment is not accepted at the impound lot.

How Do I Get My Car Out of the Impound Lot?

To get the car out of impound, you will need to pay a bond fee at the Department of Revenue counter at 400 W Superior St., Chicago, IL 60654. If you have any outstanding parking tickets, you also must pay those before the car will be released to you. The Department of Revenue accepts payment in cash or by credit or debit card. Checks and money orders are not accepted.

Paying the bond fee to get your car does not stop you from challenging the impoundment at a hearing. If you win your hearing, the bond fee will be given back to you.

What happens if I do not pay to get the car out of the impound Lot?

If you do not pay to get your car out of the impound lot, you will be charged storage fees every day that the car is impounded. The storage fees are large. Storage fees on a standard vehicle are $10/day for the first five days, then $35/day for each day after that. Large vehicles are charged even higher storage fees.

If you leave the car at the impound lot and challenge the ticket and you win your hearing, the car will be returned to you without any charges. However, if you lose, you may have to pay very high storage fees to get the car. By paying to get the car out early, you lower the amount of storage fees you may be charged.

If you lose your hearing and have not paid to get the car, the City will destroy or sell the car 10 days after you have tried all appeals. Because you have 35 days to appeal to the Circuit Court, your car will be destroyed or sold 45 days after you lose your case. Even after the City destroys or sells the car, the City will still try to collect the fines and fees that you owe for unpaid tickets and impound storage. The City can file the judgment of the administrative hearing officer at the Circuit Court and collect the fees in the same way that any judgment of court can be collected.

My car was impounded because it contained drugs. I tried to pay to get the car released, but the City of Chicago refuses to release the car. Why?

When a car is impounded because it contains drugs, the Chicago Police Department will decide if the car should be subject to state or federal forfeiture proceedings. If the police say the car should be forfeited, you cannot get it back. If the police do not say it should be forfeited, they will approve it to be released. It can take several days after the impoundment for the police to decide whether to release the car.

The City of Chicago has given me a hearing date that is weeks away. Can I have a hearing sooner?

If your car was impounded for a “use-related” violation, you can ask for a preliminary hearing. A preliminary hearing is a smaller hearing before the full hearing. You can ask for a preliminary hearing within 15 days of the car being impounded. At a preliminary hearing, the City must provide evidence for why they impounded the car. Normally, they will present a police report.

If the City has a police report, or other evidence of why the car was impounded, the hearing officer will ask you if you have any defenses. The only defense that hearing officers will listen to at a preliminary hearing is that the car was stolen, and you reported it stolen, or that you sold the car before the violation occurred. If you are use one of these defenses, you must bring proof with you to the hearing. If you lose your preliminary hearing, you can ask for a full hearing, where you can present additional defenses to the hearing officer.

What if I get a fine for a car that I do not own?

The City of Chicago sends fines to the person listed as the car’s registered owner with the Illinois Secretary of State. If you sold the car before it was impounded, bring proof of the sale to the hearing with you. You should also contact the Illinois Secretary of State and get an ownership record of the vehicle.

Someone else was driving my car when the violation occurred. Why is the City of Chicago asking me to pay?

Generally, the Chicago Municipal Code holds the person listed as the car’s registered owner with the Illinois Secretary of State responsible, not the driver. In most cases, owners can be fined even if they were not driving and did not know how the car was being used.

What if the violation occurred while my car was stolen?

You may have a defense. You will need to prove that:

  • The violation occurred while the car was stolen, and;
  • The car was reported stolen to the police within 24 hours of when the theft was discovered or should have been discovered.
I received a “Gone on Arrival” fine. What does that mean?

“Gone on arrival” fines are issued when a Chicago police officer, or other City agent, decides to impound a car, but someone moves the car before the tow truck arrives. If the City agent failed to place a notice of impoundment (normally an orange sticker) on the car, you can use that as a defense to the “gone on arrival” fine.

The fines are more than the value of the car. Can I just sign over the title of the car to the City of Chicago and have them drop the fines?

If you lose your hearing, the City is often willing to waive the impound storage fees in exchange for title to the car. However, the City commonly still requires you to pay the actual violation fine amount, the tow cost, and the first day of storage fee. It is up to the City to decide if you can sign over the title of the car in exchange for the impound storage fees. You can ask for more information at the Department of Streets & Sanitation counter at 400 W Superior, Chicago IL 60654.

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