If You See an Orange Tag on a Car, This Is What It Means

Hint: That orange tag was put there by local law enforcement.

A police notice on an abandoned vehicle at Miami BeachJeff Greenberg/Getty Images

Automotive Mysteries

Once you purchase your first car and settle into the driving world, you have to figure out a lot of things. How to check your tire pressure. Which side your gas cap is on so you pull up to the pump correctly. When to put on your hazard lights. And how close to an intersection you need to be before you can safely drive through a yellow light.

But some things remain mysteries forever. Like, what on earth does an orange tag on a car mean?

It’s a Sign From Local Law Enforcement

You’ve probably seen or driven past a car with an orange tag on it at least once. Oftentimes, these cars are on the side of the road, or maybe even in someone’s yard. The orange tag may be on the windshield or rear window.

It’s been put there by local law enforcement to mark a car that’s considered abandoned, inoperable or hazardous, and is due to be impounded. The laws for handling abandoned cars vary state by state, but an abandoned car might be impounded within a few days after being marked with the orange tag. Unclaimed impounded cars may even be sold at auction.

How Long Can a Car be Left Before it’s Considered “Abandoned”?

State laws differ, but it may be as little as 72 hours. Check your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles website. Sometimes, in bad luck scenarios — like when someone’s car breaks down and they’re forced to leave it — it may be gone when they return to retrieve it.

If this happens to you, call the nearest police department. They’ll tell you where your car was towed. You’ll probably need to pay a fee to get it towed back to your home, or to a mechanic.

What to do if There’s an Orange Tag on Your Windshield

If your car has an orange tag on it, don’t panic. By law, there is a ten-day notification period, where the owner is sent a letter regarding the situation. The owner then has ten days to move the vehicle. That might mean hiring a tow truck or making other arrangements, but at least you have time to figure out what to do.

If your car’s a lemon, it might be worth spending some of that time researching reliable car brands for a future auto purchase.

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Originally Published on Reader's Digest