DETROIT – You see them frequently, tacked onto the rear windows of lone vehicles parked on the sides of roads and highways. But what exactly do those bright orange stickers mean?
Their purpose is likely exactly what you think: The bright orange stickers mean that a vehicle or vehicle has been, or will soon be, considered abandoned. The stickers are placed by local law enforcement and mean that the owner has a certain amount of time to retrieve or remove the vehicle from where it was abandoned.
There are a number of factors that determine when a vehicle is considered abandoned -- factors that may vary by state, and even by community.
When a vehicle is deemed ‘abandoned’
According to Michigan law, a vehicle is considered abandoned when it meets one or more of the following criteria (as written by the state):
- A vehicle or vehicle on private property without the consent of the owner;
- A vehicle or vehicle that has remained on public property for not less than 48 hours;
- A vehicle that has remained on a state trunk line for not less than 18 hours if a valid registration plate is affixed to the vehicle;
- A vehicle that has remained on a state trunk line if a valid registration plate is not affixed to the vehicle;
- A vehicle that has remained on a state trunk line and is not on a motor vehicle or trailer and is not under the immediate custody of the owner; and/or
- A vehicle on a motor vehicle or trailer if the motor vehicle or trailer displays a valid registration plate and has been on a state trunk line for no less than 18 hours and is not under the immediate custody of the owner.
There are other, more specific scenarios that are outlined in Michigan’s vehicle code -- read that in full online right here.
Notice placed on vehicle
When a vehicle meets the criteria for an abandoned vehicle per Michigan law, the situation can then be addressed by the law enforcement agency that oversees the area in which the vehicle was left.
Sometimes, law enforcement will address vehicles left on the sides of roads and highways, which are deemed hazardous to the community. Other times, law enforcement are called to address abandoned vehicles left on or near private property without the permission of the property owner.
In most scenarios, law enforcement are responsible for facilitating action once a vehicle has been considered abandoned in Michigan. Police are responsible for determining if the abandoned vehicle was stolen or not.
Private property owners can request a local towing agency to remove a vehicle on their property, but the towing agency is required to notify police of the request.
When a vehicle qualifies as abandoned, local law enforcement will attach a notice -- which is often orange -- to the vehicle to notify its owner that the vehicle may be taken into custody and “stored at the owner’s expense or scrapped if the vehicle is not removed,” according to Michigan law. In Detroit, for example, that orange notice means the owner has 48 hours to retrieve or remove the vehicle before it is officially declared abandoned.
⚠️HEADS-UP⚠️: As an extension of our traffic enforcement blitz, we're also cleaning up abandoned vehicles from our streets.— Detroit Police News (@detroitpolice) November 5, 2021
If you see this orange notice on your vehicle, you've been given 48 hours to remove it from the area or it will be declared abandoned. pic.twitter.com/zIw4WZyeOD
What happens next
If the abandoned vehicle is not moved or retrieved in the allotted time, law enforcement or a towing agency may move and take custody of the vehicle. In accordance with Michigan law, the owner of the vehicle (and any secured parties, most often lending institutions) will be notified by mail that the vehicle has been deemed abandoned and where it is being held. This notice is typically sent by the state within a week of a police agency taking custody of the vehicle.
The owner and/or secured party then must either retrieve the vehicle or request a hearing within 20 days of the date of that mailed notice.
If the owner does not take appropriate steps to retrieve the abandoned vehicle in time, they may forfeit the vehicle to a secured party. If the owner and secured party fail to retrieve the vehicle, all rights to the vehicle will be lost and the vehicle could be sold at a public auction.
If the vehicle’s owner can’t be determined, police can sell the vehicle at a public auction after a number of days.
If the owner does wish retrieve the vehicle within the 20-day period, the vehicle will be released to them once they pay a fee of $40, in addition to paying the “accrued towing and storage fees to the custodian of the vehicle,” the law states. Michigan identifies a “custodian” as the “person or business or legal entity responsible for the storage of an abandoned vehicle or vessel,” which is usually the towing agency.
Penalties for abandoning vehicles in Michigan
The owners of abandoned vehicles can face legal penalties in addition to storage fees. Authorities deem the last titled owner of the vehicle responsible for said vehicle, so they would be considered responsible for abandoning the vehicle regardless of who actually abandoned it.
The state of Michigan’s website says people responsible for abandoning vehicles may face civil infractions and monetary penalties that could cost thousands.
“A violation for abandoning a vehicle and not redeeming it before disposition is determined under MCL 257.252g or Section 81151(3) or Section 82161(3) 2014 PA 549, or for abandoning a vessel and not redeeming it before disposition is determined under Section 80130k, will result in a civil infraction and subject the owner to a civil fine of $50 plus costs, state assessments, and other statutory penalties.
“A person who abandons a motor vehicle or vessel may also be found responsible for littering under the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act [MCL 324.8905a(4)]. This is a state civil infraction subject to a civil fine from $500 to $2,500 plus costs, state assessments, and other statutory penalties. The penalty for abandoning a second vehicle or vessel is a civil fine from $1,000 to $5,000 plus costs, state assessments, and other statutory penalties.”Michigan Secretary of State website