It can be shocking and stressful to find your vehicle is gone. At first, you may think you parked somewhere else, but then you might realize that your car got towed.

Here's what to do.

1. Check for tow zones and signs

Look for restricted parking signs, tow zones and other signs in the area where you parked. Take pictures of the signs, especially if you believe that you were towed without a valid reason.

If you see "No Parking" signs and there's a number listed, call it for the location of your towed car. If not, call the local police department. If your car has been towed they will give you information on the vehicle's location, such as the impound lot address.

Reasons a car might be towed

2. Find out what documents you need

City websites often have towing and impound information. Check what you'll need to bring before you go.

To get the car back you generally need to be the registered owner and show a valid driver's license, insurance and registration.

Also check on who can legally get the car. For example, in New York City you need to be the registered owner, the owner's spouse or an "authorized representative." Becoming an authorized representative will likely require some extra documents, such as a notarized statement from the car owner.

3. Get the right payment

To get your car back from an impound lot you'll usually need cash, a cashier's check or a credit card. Personal checks probably won't be taken.

Fees to get a car back vary by city and can include:

  • Towing charge.
  • Flatbed fee (for disabled vehicles).
  • Boot-removal fee (if the vehicle was immobilized before being towed).
  • Charge per mile towed.
  • Vehicle-release fee.
  • Storage charge.

You might have to pay other things you owe, too. For example, in New York City the car won't be released until you've paid past parking tickets.

Why would a car be towed?

Reasons for towing cars vary by city. Here are some common causes:

  • Blocking a fire hydrant.
  • Obstructing traffic.
  • Parking in a marked "tow zone."
  • Blocking access to a handicap ramp or sidewalk.
  • Having a suspended license or being an unlicensed driver.
  • Expired registration.
  • Unpaid parking tickets.
  • "Abandoned" vehicle.

Towing and car insurance

Parking tickets won't affect your car insurance rates. Tickets that affect premiums are moving violations such as speeding, running a red light, reckless driving and others.

And an auto insurance policy will not pay for towing and impound fees.

Find towing and impound information for large cities