Getting Back an Impounded Vehicle in Chicago

Getting Back an Impounded Vehicle in Chicago
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Last updated: July 2015

Why was my car impounded by the City of Chicago?

There are 4 main reasons why the City impounds cars:

  • “Use-related” impounds. The City can impound a car if it 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 a car if it is being used 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 a car if they need it as evidence of a crime, or if the person driving the car is arrested.
  • Boot-related impound. Cars can be booted and impounded for having three or more overdue parking tickets.

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

Where can I find out where my car is?

Find the location of towed or impounded vehicles 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 a car out of impound, a bond fee needs to be paid at the Department of Revenue counter at 400 W Superior St., Chicago, IL 60654. Any outstanding parking tickets, must also be paid before the car will be released. 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 the car does not prevent you from challenging the impoundment at a hearing. If the hearing is won, the bond fee will be returned.

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

Failure to pay to get a car out of the impound lot means incurring storage fees for every day that the car is impounded. The storage fees are large. Storage fees on a standard vehicle are $20/day for the first five days, then $35/day for each day after that. Large vehicles are charged even higher storage fees.

If the car is left at the impound lot and the ticket challenge at the hearing is won, the car will be returned to you without any charges. However, if the hearing is lost, high storage fees may be charged to get the car back. Paying to get the car out early lowers the amount of storage fees charged.

If the hearing is lost and the fees have not been paid to get the car back, the City will destroy or sell the car 15 days after all appeals attempts. The Circuit Court gives 35 days to appeal, so cars are destroyed or sold 50 days after the case is lost. 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 decides if the car should be subject to state or federal forfeiture proceedings. If the police decide the car should be forfeited, it cannot be reclaimed. If the police do not say it should be forfeited, it will be approved for release. 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 the car was impounded for a “use-related” violation, a preliminary hearing may be granted. A preliminary hearing is a smaller hearing before the full hearing. 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 for any defenses. The only defense that hearing officers will listen to at a preliminary hearing is that the car was stolen, and it was reported stolen, or that the car was sold before the violation occurred. If one of these defenses is asserted, there must be proof brought to the hearing. If the preliminary hearing is lost, a full hearing may be requested where additional defenses can be presented 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 the car was sold before it was impounded, bring proof of the sale to the hearing. 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, that may be used 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 the hearing is lost, the City is often willing to waive the impound storage fees in exchange for title to the car. However, the City commonly still requires payment of the actual violation fine amount, the tow cost, and the first day of storage fee. It is up to the City to decide if the title of the car can be signed over in exchange for the impound storage fees. Ask for more information at the Department of Streets & Sanitation counter at 400 W Superior, Chicago IL 60654.

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