What We Do with Abandoned Vehicles on BC Highways

road maintenance on BC Highway
An example of what are likely unsalvageable vehicles.

Parked along the highway, abandoned vehicles can be eerie, mysterious, even menacing….

You can’t help but wonder…what happened to the occupants? What is the story behind the vehicle left behind?

Whenever the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure employees or contractors spot (or hear of) an unoccupied vehicle roadside, our first thought is safety. If the abandoned vehicle is in any part of a lane, or in the way of snow removal equipment, it’s a danger to traffic and will be towed immediately. (This is in the B.C. Transportation Act). So if your vehicle has broken down while you’re on the road, move it to the shoulder if you can do so safely, or call a tow truck, if you’re able.

A Path to Keeping Highways Clear

To keep highways and road shoulders unobstructed for traffic, the ministry has a procedure to deal with abandoned vehicles. The road surface, plus ditches and rights of way beyond the road surface, must all be kept clear, so our maintenance contractors can do tasks like brushing, spring cleaning and winter plowing. Here’s what happens…

If the unoccupied vehicle is not blocking traffic, police will post a notice on it, using (removable) spray paint, to advise that the vehicle will be towed within 72 hours (three days) if not removed. This lets everyone passing by, know that the situation is being handled – so there’s no need for concerned motorists to stop (and disrupt traffic).

Nobody likes abandoned vehicles, including self-help author Peter McWilliams, who said, “The road to positivity is strewn with the abandoned vehicles of the faint-hearted.”

For all abandoned vehicles, the RCMP obtain the vehicle identification number to find out who the last registered owner is, and if the vehicle was stolen or involved in a crime. If the vehicle was linked to a crime, the police handle everything from there.

Owner is Known

It the vehicle is not implicated in a crime, a double-registered letter is sent to the owner, by either the RCMP or the ministry. Owners are told that they must claim their vehicle within 14 days and pay for the towing and storage charges. If this is not done within the two-week time frame, the ministry will dispose of the vehicle.

Junkers Go to Salvage

If the vehicle is burned out, severely damaged or otherwise unsalvageable, it is towed directly from the road to a scrapyard, and the owners are advised that they are responsible for towing and disposal costs.

If the owner doesn’t claim their vehicle, or says they do not want the vehicle, the vehicle is off to the parts yard or wreckers. The ministry pays for the costs of towing, storage and disposal of the vehicle up to the 14-day limit, and receives the proceeds (if any) for the sale of the vehicle. If there is a balance of more than $10 from the transactions, then the owner is advised by letter. The letter states the amount of the balance that will be paid to the owner, within 14 days, if no information about liens (debts) against the vehicle are received by the ministry.

When Owner is Unknown

When the owner of an abandoned vehicle is unknown, the vehicle is held for up to 14 days. If no further information is received about the vehicle, it is legally transferred to a scrapyard to cover the costs of towing, storage and disposal. Should there be a balance of more than $10 after the transaction, the funds go into the provincial government’s general revenue account, as outlined in the Unclaimed Property Act.

Our process for keeping provincial routes clear of abandoned vehicles is geared to safety, and ensuring the costs of managing these vehicles is covered as fairly as possible. We solve the mystery of where (most of) the abandoned vehicles come from, and determine where they’ll go next, to free up our highways and keep you moving safely and untroubled.

Road SafetyWhat steps would you take, if your car broke down on a provincial route?

Page 1 of 58 comments on “What We Do with Abandoned Vehicles on BC Highways”

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  1. What is the rule about people parking their vehicles on the road allowance on the side of residential roads, in town? There has been a pick up truck parked across the road from my home for over four years now. It belongs to the neighbour on the other side of the hedge. He says this road allowance is his property, and he can leave it there as long as he wants. He has put it there to store it, as it is out of his sight, out of his mind. It is an eyesore and is parked facing the wrong direction.

    • Hi Mandy,

      This sounds like a question for your municipality. If you connect with them, they should be able to determine what can be done. Hope that this helps!

  2. I would like to know the same thing there are some vehicles that were left behind by people working on a project and have been left there for over a year now.

    • Hi Elliott,

      Are they on a provincial highway? If they are you can contact your local district office for more information. If they are not, you might start by contacting the local municipality to get more information on the project company etc. Hope that this helps.

  3. To whom it may concern;
    One week ago while hiking in the bush I came across a vehicle in the bush. I notified the RCMP of this vehicle. Today while hiking, I noticed the vehicle was still there. When is a vehicle considered abandoned? Complicating things is the fact the vehicle had Alberta plates. I know how to recover the vehicle with minimal or no damage. I would like to either notify the owner or the Alberta insurer of this fact. If they are not interested what steps do I need to take to recover this vehicle as salvage?
    Thank you.
    Feel free to contact me at;
    email: gvezina@shaw.ca

    • Hi Glenn
      Thanks for the comment. It would help us to know where the vehicle is so we can follow up appropriately. We’ll connect with you through your email.