Impounding and confiscation of vehicles

The police and the court have power to impound vehicles if you commit certain types of traffic offences. The court can also confiscate your car after you are convicted. Having your car impounded or confiscated can be very expensive and inconvenient for you. How long your car will be impounded will depend on the type of offence and whether you have similar offences on your record. 

Quick Answers Video: Impounding and Confiscation
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The following information will help you understand:

  • What impounding and confiscation means
  • What offences might result in your car being impounded or confiscated
  • How long your vehicle can be impounded 
  • Whether you can get your impounded car back early 
  • When your vehicle can be confiscated

What does impounding mean?

Impounding is when a vehicle is taken away for a certain amount of time. Your keys to the vehicle are seized and the vehicle is taken to the place where it is to be stored. This may be done by the police or by a person contracted to assist the police.

Impounding may be carried out by the police if they suspect you have committed an offence, or ordered by a court when you are convicted.

If you are convicted of the offence that resulted in the impounding, you have to pay all the impounding costs. This includes towage and storage costs.  Usually, the police will not give your car back unless you pay these costs.

What does confiscating mean?

Confiscating a vehicle is when it is permanently taken away from you. Confiscation is mostly ordered by a court. In some circumstances a court may choose to impound rather than confiscate your vehicle. Whether your vehicle has already been impounded by police for the offence has no effect on the court's decision whether to confiscate your vehicle.

In very limited circumstances police may confiscate an unlicensed motorcycle that is used on a road.

What offences might result in my car being impounded or confiscated?

There are three different groups of impounding and confiscation offences:

  1. Those relating to your driver’s licence:
    • Serious offences of driving without a valid licence, usually because your licence has been disqualified, cancelled or suspended (other than driving under a License Suspension Order imposed for failing to pay a fine or infringement), 
    • Driving contrary to certain important conditions on an Extraordinary Driver's Licence.

  2. Those relating to the way you drive:
    • Reckless driving
    • Driving at or over 155 km/h
    • Driving at 45 km/h or more over the speed limit
    • Causing excessive noise or smoke.
  3. Road rage offences:
    • Reckless driving or driving at reckless speed, in a way that is dangerous to a particular victim, or
    • Offences involving an assault or property damage, triggered by something that happened when you and the victim were out on the road.

How long can my vehicle be impounded for?

It depends on the type of offence.

  • For offences relating to your driver’s licence the police must impound the vehicle for 28 days.
  • For offences relating to the way you drive the police must impound the vehicle for 28 days for a first offence, and for 3 months for any following offence. 
  • For road rage offences the court may order that the vehicle be impounded for a maximum of 6 months.

Can I get my impounded vehicle back early?

Yes, in certain circumstances it is possible to get an impounded vehicle back before the impounding period has ended. Some examples are where:

  • your vehicle was stolen
  • a senior police officer is not satisfied there were reasonable grounds for impounding your vehicle
  • a senior police officer is satisfied you will suffer exceptional hardship if the vehicle is not released, or
  • the charge that gave rise to the impounding is dismissed.

When can my vehicle be confiscated by the court?

It depends on the type of offence.

For offences relating to your driver’s licence, the court can confiscate your vehicle if you have been convicted of two offences in the 5 years before the date of your current offence. The court may choose to impound your vehicle for a maximum of six months instead.

For offences relating to the way you drive, the court can confiscate your vehicle for a first offence in certain circumstances. Further, the court can confiscate your vehicle if you have been convicted of two offences in the 5 years before the date of your current offence. The court cannot confiscate your vehicle if it was stolen, lent or hired. If your vehicle was lent the court may impound your vehicle for a maximum of six months instead.

For road rage offences, the court can confiscate your vehicle for a first offence.  

What happens if I'm not charged or convicted after my car is impounded by police?

If police impound your car but:

  • do not charge you with an impounding offence within the next 12 months
  • you are found not guilty of the impounding offence, or
  • the impounding offence is withdrawn or dismissed,

    the vehicle must be returned to you.

If the impound fees have already been paid to release the vehicle, the person who paid the towing and storage costs can get a full refund. The refund form and instructions on what information you need to provide is available from the WA Police Vehicle Impound website.

 

More information

 

Reviewed: 28 May 2019

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Disclaimer

The information displayed on this page is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. If you have a legal problem, you should see a lawyer. Legal Aid Western Australia aims to provide information that is accurate, however does not accept responsibility for any errors or omissions in the information provided on this page or incorporated into it by reference.