What You Should Know about Loaning Your Car to Others

Q.:  Can I lose my car if someone borrows it and violates the traffic laws?

A.: It's true that you can lose your motor vehicle if you loan it to someone who commits certain serious traffic offenses.  But the law offers some protections, as long as you are careful about lending your vehicle.

Q.:  What are these “serious” traffic offenses that might cause me to lose my car?

A.: The law allows the state to immobilize and take ownership of vehicles driven by certain persons found guilty of driving while intoxicated, without insurance, without a driver’s license, or under a license suspension.  Until 2004, these penalties applied whether or not the driver owned the vehicle.

Q.:  You mean the state could just take my car just because the guy I loaned it to committed one of these crimes?

A.: Under the old law, many vehicles were seized in those situations.  You could recover the car only if you showed the court that you were an “innocent owner.”  While this defense often was successful, it took time and was costly.  Even if you recovered your vehicle, you still had to pay any towing and storage costs incurred.

Q.:  So how did the law change?

A.: The law now authorizes vehicle forfeiture only when it is owned by the offender.  In fact, the law now requires the government to pay the costs of removal and storage if the seizure was not appropriate.

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Does this mean I can't get into trouble if someone else breaks the law while driving my car?

A.: No.  You still must be careful, because the law doesn’t protect you anytime you loan your car to someone.  If you knew (or reasonably should have known) that the person was intoxicated, didn’t have insurance, or had a suspended license or no license at all when he or she borrowed your vehicle, then you could be found guilty of wrongfully entrusting your vehicle to someone who shouldn’t have been driving. A wrongful entrustment conviction can lead to having the vehicle seized, and, if you’re convicted a second time, you could lose ownership of the car.

The information contained herein is general and should not be applied to specific legal problems without first consulting with one of our attorneys.


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