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

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

Automotive mysteries

There’s a lot of things you have to figure out when you purchase your first car and join the driving world: how to check your tire pressure and fill them with air, which side your gas cap is actually on, when to use your hazard lights, and exactly how close to the intersection you need to be before you can safely drive through a yellow light. But there are some things that remain mysteries forever. Who invented cruise control? What do those dots on your window mean? And 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 just a few days after being marked with the orange tag. Impounded cars that are never claimed may even be sold at auction. Do you know what happens to all of the cars that never get sold?

How long can a car be left before it’s considered “abandoned”?

The laws for how long a car can be left on a street or highway before it is considered abandoned and tagged are different from state to state, but it may be as little as 72 hours. You can check for this kind of information on your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles website. Sometimes, in bad-luck scenarios (like when someone’s car breaks down and they are forced to leave it), it may be gone when they return to retrieve it. If this happens to you, your best bet for finding your car is to call the nearest police department. They will be able to tell you where your car was towed. You will probably have to pay some fees 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 is then given ten days to move the vehicle. That might mean hiring a tow truck or making other arrangements, but that grace period means you have a little bit of time to figure out what to do. If your car’s a bit of a lemon, it might be worth spending some of that time researching reliable car brands for any future auto purchases.

Chloë Nannestad
Chloë Nannestad is a lifestyle writer covering crafts, holidays, beauty and amazing products for RD.com. When she's not scouring the internet or reading product reviews, she's planning her next backpacking trip and thinking about getting a dog.