Paying for your vehicle’s tags each year is an expense that is common for every vehicle owner. It comes around at the same time each year and you know that you have to pay for it.
But what if you forget, or don’t have the money to pay it at the time? Many car owners might wonder if the car they need to drive to work can be towed because they have not paid for their registration tags.
It is not uncommon to see a few cars on the road that have expired tags, so it could seem like the enforcement of paying for and driving without current tags isn’t well enforced. Well, although that might seem like the case, that is not entirely true.
So, can my car be towed for expired tags?
Technically, your car could be towed if your registration is six months or more past due. However, there are certain mitigating circumstances that would prevent this from happening, as well as officer discretion.
You should pay for your tags each year to avoid any issues, but if you don’t, you could end up with a fine or a towed car. However, the circumstances surrounding your specific case can vary because of a few different factors.
We will go over what will make each case different, and why some people are towed, and why some aren’t.
What Does The Law Say About Expired Tags?
Officially, state vehicle codes do say that your car can be towed away if the registration is over six months late.
This might seem vague, which can make it seem like your car can be towed away at any time from anywhere…
However, that is not completely correct.
This code specifies that your vehicle can be towed if it is found parked on the street or on public land and can be removed by a towing company initiated by a peace officer or city or state employee that enforces parking regulations.
Although this is already getting more specific, the code also states that if you are in the vehicle, then only a peace officer can have it towed.
This makes it difficult to know what can happen within a specific situation because different factors will affect what can transpire.
1. It Depends on the Situation
The reaction of the specific officer, and what the person says to them, could also affect what happens with the vehicle.
For example, someone might have paid for their tags, but haven’t received them yet.
If the driver has proof of purchase like a receipt or email of a transaction, then they will likely be let go with no citation or fine at all.
This is because the tags can sometimes take a while to get to a person once they pay, so the officer may let the person go without even a warning.
If the person was pulled over for another infraction, like speeding, then the expired tags will just be added to the ticket that is given.
2. What If You Aren’t Present?
The law also differs when you are in the vehicle at the time or not. The above scenario is something that could happen if you are found driving the vehicle, but what if you are not in the vehicle?
Well, if your car is found parked on public property with expired tags, then you could have your car towed by a peace officer or parking enforcement officer. This only happens when the tags are more than six months past due.
If your tags are newly expired, or less than six months late, then a citation may be written and left on the vehicle.
This is often done to ensure that the person remembers to pay it before the six-month mark when your vehicle could be towed.
3. What If Your Car Is Parked On Private Property?
The law specifies that the car must be on public land or on the street in order for it to get towed with tags that have been expired for over six months.
This differentiates the situation from when the vehicle is parked on private property.
So, if your car is parked on your driveway and not driven, what happens?
Well, because it is on private property, parking enforcement officers will have no authority. Anywhere that is outside their specific area of authority, like a certain car lot or parking structure, does not apply to them.
However, also because it is on private property, peace officers will not ticket you or tow your car. It is not illegal to have the car, only to drive it, so nothing will be done.
What About Officer Discretion
If you are pulled over by a peace officer, the uncontrolled factor of how the officer will react can make the scenario differ greatly.
Some officers will not ticket you, and will instead just give you a warning in the hopes that getting pulled over will push you to pay for your tags soon.
Other officers may not hesitate to write up a ticket or have your car towed if they see it parked. So, what makes peace officers react differently?
Law Enforcement Restrictions
Some law enforcement agencies will have restrictions of their own that affect when and where their officers can enforce these rules. Also, some will not ticket anyone that has not been late on their tags before.
These restrictions are imposed to ensure that people who are unable to pay the registration, and who still need their car, will not get put in a bad position that could make their situation worse.
Officers that see someone is stressed out over the payment may give the driver a warning to allow them to get to work.
Other times, officers might see that the person has paid, and let them off with a warning to pay for the tags sooner to allow them to get delivered by the time you need them.
First-time late payments are often treated less harshly because there is no pattern of delinquency.
But why are these restrictions in place?
Well, we discuss the two main reasons below.
Preventing Over-Active Enforcement
The law is stricter than the regulations that officers abide by to enforce it, and this might be confusing to some people because this seems counterintuitive. However, one of the reasons that this is done is because the agency wants to prevent over-active enforcement.
Because officers can ticket someone at their discretion, they can decide to who they want to give a warning. This allows them the freedom to see someone who needs a break and be able to give it to them.
This is beneficial for those who are under financial stress and could not afford to pay the registration but still need their vehicle.
An officer can see this and give them the warning to allow them a longer amount of time to pay for the tags before having to pay a ticket as well.
If this was not available for officers, they would have to ticket each person that they saw. This could put more stress on those who were already struggling, which is not the purpose of the law.
Officers may go around and ticket every expired tag they see, which would cause more issues than it might solve.
Officers are bound by the law too, and the way they conduct themselves on the job matters. The restrictions that are put in place are also meant to prevent lawsuits when officers make mistakes.
Overzealous officers who might be new on the job could make the mistake of ticketing someone who other officers wouldn’t have, or someone they shouldn’t have.
This could cause problems if that person decides to sue the agency.
When mistakes are made on the job, this opens the agency up to lawsuits from disgruntled citizens. However, if restrictions are in place that make it harder for a mistake to be made that would be large enough to sue over, then this lessens the chances significantly.
Other Reasons For Not Ticketing or Towing
If a peace officer decides not to ticket or tow someone’s vehicle, there could be a personal or professional reason why they made that decision with a certain situation.
However, sometimes, things are much simpler than that.
Like anyone else who has a scheduled shift, peace officers have an assigned time to be back at the station for the end of it. This means that they sometimes don’t have the time to write the ticket and be back in time to switch shifts with the next officer on duty.
Sometimes, officers may not write the ticket or have the vehicle towed because their shift is almost over, and doing so would cause them to go over their scheduled time.
As employees, they have to decide if they have the time to do the job.
And, if they don’t, then you might have just gotten lucky. However, you definitely shouldn’t count on this scenario being common.
Final thoughts on getting towed for expired tags
It is important to understand that not having the proper tags could result in you getting your car towed if it is passed six months late, however, with all the information we went over it is clear to see that this doesn’t mean you will get towed for sure.
There are many reasons why you could get a warning or citation instead.
But remember, if you don’t have current tags, you are still taking the risk of having to pay a ticket on top of the cost of the tags and getting your car towed if you drive your vehicle with expired tags.