How to retrieve your Vehicle from the Impound in Puerto Vallarta! (And My Story…)

April 12, 2024
Written by: Rachel Matthews

What should you do if your rental car (or personal vehicle) is impounded in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico? I mean, where do you even start??! You parked where everyone else was parked, and the next time you look, your vehicle is gone! Sound familiar??! Well, I know exactly how you feel. And, I know just what to do...after a whole day and a half of trial and error!!!

*Note: I don't know if these are the steps to retrieve your towed vehicle in all of Mexico, but this is the story of what I had to do while on vacation in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. If you're just looking for the steps, click here to jump down.

The Story of Finding my Impounded Rental Car in Puerto Vallarta

It started out as not the best day of our vacation. Hubby had been up puking in the toilet half the night (from what he thought was a bad burger), and I was stressed from telling 4 extremely energized kids in a small hotel suite to “settle down” and “not be so loud!”. After all, hubby was exhausted, and still had no desire to eat a thing. So that meant it was up to me to get everyone ready, fed, and occupied for who knows how long. I don’t even remember if we had to walk to a restaurant close by to eat or if we still had muffins and things in the fridge to tide us over till lunch. There were way too many more important happenings that day to remember those details. But then again, I think I ended up running to the store quick to buy fruit, yogurt, and bread to go with our jar of peanut butter.

Anyhow, the kids ate and got suited up to go to the rooftop pool to release some of the energy!

At the pool, I felt I was constantly asking the boys not to drown each other or splash too much water out. Luckily no one else was about so I didn’t have to remind a kid every 2 seconds to stay out of someone else’s space!

Where is the Van???!!

I remember whistles being blown and the usual hubbub of traffic down below that all seemed normal for Centro Vallarta (center of town)!

Before finding my rental car had been towed!

Eventually, someone started to complain that they were hungry. I asked the complainant to have some water hoping to stave off the hunger a little longer…at least so we could make it till noon! Finally, another whined of hunger pains. Ok, that was it. It was time to make a move and get those instant noodles on the go before everyone was famished and super grouchy. Any parent knows that fine line.

Off to the suite we went. Dad was still laying in bed when we got there. I tried turning on the gas stove but the lighter wouldn’t work. Ignoring the problem for a few minutes, I went to the balcony quick to hang up a few damp towels and glanced at the rather empty street below. Wait a minute! I thought. Where is the rental van??! I looked again where our van had been parked before, in clear sight of our balcony, and not a vehicle was there! There had been cars parked on both sides of the street when we arrived, the day before. I noticed a traffic enforcement agent across the street, taking pictures of license plates and scribbling out tickets. Stepping back inside, I yelled at hubs that our van was gone and that I had to go find out how to get our towed vehicle back!

The Beginning of a Long Day

Off I went, letting the kids and Kenneth fend for themselves. I now had much more important things to deal with… though I wish I didn’t. Dealing with the crazy kids didn’t seem so difficult now. I could’ve simply stayed at that pool all afternoon. Instead I now had a problem that I knew was probably going to take the day to resolve…but I hadn’t imagined two.

I approached the officer and let her know we had had our rental van parked on the street. She said she had blown her whistle and we never came out, so she had it towed! I asked her why? She stated we had parked on a yellow line. The curb was painted yellow…we hadn’t even noticed.  I told her we hadn’t known, that I had kids, my hubby was sick, and we had been in the pool to keep them busy and let dad sleep. Unfortunately, none of that mattered as the vehicle was already gone.

3 Whistle Chance

In Puerto Vallarta, if a traffic official blows on their whistle 3 times, that means they are trying to give someone a chance to come move their vehicle (and receive their ticket) before being towed.

If you hear 3 whistles and have a vehicle parked, take a quick look to see if you are the person being summoned!

What is the UMA and where is it?!

She told me I had to go to the UMA (I had no clue what or where this was) to pay the ticket, then get a paper to take to the impound, and pay them to get the van back.

I was confused since I didn’t know where the UMA was or the impound and really thought there could be a simpler solution. She asked me to dial the rental car agency- SIXT- so she could speak to them. I got them on the line and told them my situation. The SIXT rep said I just needed to go directly to the SIXT car rental agency office with the ticket.

Well, I should have just listened to the car rental rep. The traffic cop again told me I had to go pay the ticket etc. further confusing the situation and helping me forget the rental reps directions. I also started reasoning with myself that I had to get the van because I still had a bunch of our stuff (and tequila!) in it. So, I figured I better go pay the ticket and get the van out myself.

The traffic enforcer told me it wouldn’t take long. And, she would find me a cab to take me to the UMA and then the impound as well. Thinking she was such a great help, I quickly ran back up to my place to grab my wallet and all the paperwork pertaining to the rental van. I let poor, tired hubby know I had to go now to take care of it and would hopefully be back in a few hours. I couldn’t have been more wrong. But, they survived.

The UMA 

The cabbie was an awesome driver, he wound in and out of traffic quick and smooth and had me to the UMA in record time. He dropped me and told me he would park and wait.

I went up to the big building and asked the first clerk I saw where transit was to pay my traffic violation. Luckily I know Spanish, otherwise I don’t think this whole process would’ve gone this smooth. I was told to go to the 2nd floor to a small office. Once there, a lady simply stapled another small piece of paper to the back of my paper ticket. Then, she directed me to walk down the hall towards the middle of the building (still on 2nd floor) to pay the cashier (caja)…in pesos. She also told me I would then go to the 4th floor to get another piece of paper. I asked her if I really needed to go to floor 4 if I paid the ticket and she said well she wasn’t sure and maybe I should ask the cashier.

Well I forgot that part, since it seemed like floor 4 was a possibly unnecessary step. So I paid at the cashier, found my cabbie, and he called the impound to find out where they were located. We arrived about 10 minutes later. But, I find out that the receipt for my paid ticket wasn’t good enough. I needed an order (from floor 4 of course) saying they could release the car. Overwhelmed with frustration and anger over the ridiculousness of the process, I couldn’t hold back the tears. Unable to talk, I just let the man at the impound office tell the cabbie I had to go back to the UMA once again. They chatted between themselves how it was a problem that people weren’t being told exactly all the proper steps. Well, I pulled myself together and took a deep breath. It had only been a couple hours at this point and we could get back quickly. It was the last step almost…or so I thought.

Mexican Time

The office on floor 4 had a lineup. My awesome cabbie had parked his car and came in with me to make sure I got to the right office. I got in line, but he went to talk to the usher at the door to explain my situation. Amazingly, he got me in as an urgent case. However, I soon found out since I wasn’t the owner of the car, I still needed SIXT to come and get the vehicle out! Again, I spoke to Sixt and they said they would get the required paperwork and send someone over if I could wait for them. Now, thinking it over…I shouldn’t have waited. I should have gone home. It took them about half an hour for “Maria” from Sixt to show up. She was super pleasant and nice. Again, we were in line and the office was supposed to close at 4 pm. It was 3:40 or so.

We got in again and spoke to the same official. Maria explained she was just waiting for the bill of sale from her head office. But, no one there was answering their phone of course! They took lunch from 2-4 (how come we don’t get 2 hour lunchtimes??!). But by this time it was 4:30, already after closing time, and she still couldn’t reach anyone. The official wouldn’t give her the release order without the proper paperwork. So Maria would have to come back in the morning.

Maria was all smiles and asked if I could meet her there at 9 am. But, I had relaxed and was thinking a little smarter. Do you really need me??? I asked. They’re not giving me the vehicle so I my as well wait till you have it back at the rental agency and then I will come get my stuff.

Ah yes, she said. I should have the van in about an hour. Ok, I told her. Not believing her timeline in the slightest. I’ll call to see if you’re back around noon.

Finally the car is released!

Off I left in a taxi. The next day was much better. However, as suspected, Maria was not back until about 2 pm with the van! I had left in the afternoon to the airport to find our missing suitcase before walking over to Sixt Car Rentals next door.

Yes- Flair airlines had put 1 out of our 2 checked suitcases on a wrong flight. I had spent way too long leaving all our contact details with the flair rep in Puerto Vallarta. Two weeks went by and we still hadn’t heard from them. I had wrote an email- and thought I sent it but it didn’t show up in the send box so it mustn’t have gone out. Either way – they could have called or emailed. Instead I had to wait an hour and a half for someone to finally come get me after talking to about 3 different people. Then, I went through a side door (only for staff) directly to customs where the officer quickly found our large bright green suitcase with all the kids clothes. It was exhausting. All of it. But you can read all my thoughts on Flying with Flair here (coming soon).

The good part is- I left with the suitcase. Now the kids had clothes for our last 8 days of vacation. They had been surviving on swim suits and 2 outfits. I arrived at Sixt Rental Car, grabbed my belongings, and signed up the necessary paperwork. We had a day or two left on the rental, but we were done.

Ah. It was such a relief to have everything dealt with. And I was happy to not have to deal with a vehicle to park downtown Vallarta anymore!

Then, that night around 2 am, my daughter threw up all over the bed. After cleaning, I started feeling off. For the rest of the night, I couldn’t sleep and was constantly getting awoken by my little one or had to run to the toilet myself. She vomited about 15 times that night. Luckily, I was good by the 3rd time.

When it rains, it pours. On a positive note, I found out how to get back an impounded vehicle in Puerto Vallarta!

Steps to Retrieve your Impounded Rental Vehicle in Puerto Vallarta:

  1. Go to (or call) you Rental Car Agency. They will have the right paperwork ( bill of sale etc) and should have a plan of action that involves sending someone to the UMA to pay the fines and retrieve from the impound.
  2. If they suggest you go with them to the UMA, ask them to pay the fines on your behalf, get the car out of the impound and to call you once the vehicle is back at the rental car office so you can retrieve it. They should be able to add fines to your credit card or add on to your rental bill. If they really want you there to pay the ticket and impound fee, you may need to meet them at the UMA.

Steps to Retrieve your Personal Vehicle from the Impound in Puerto Vallarta:

  1. If there is a traffic cop close by, try to get a paper ticket for your vehicle (if you can manage to understand each other…otherwise try to find an interpreter). Otherwise, if there is no cop around, or you cannot understand each other due to a language barrier, proceed to the next step.
  2. Get any and all paperwork you have for your vehicle. Bill of Sale, insurance, registration, etc. You will need proof that you own the vehicle you are trying to find.
  3. Go to the UMA.
  4. Ask a officer where you need to go to pay transit tickets. For me, this was a small office on the 2nd Floor on the right end (if you are looking at the front) of the building. Now if you do not have a ticket to begin with, you may need to explain that your vehicle was towed and show proof in order to receive a ticket to pay. If you do not speak Spanish, I strongly encourage getting a translator for this whole process!
  5. Once you have a ticket with another little paper stapled on, you will be directed to go down the hall (still on the 2nd floor) to the middle area where the cashier (or “caja”) is located to actually pay the fine.
  6. Next, go to the 4th floor to get an order to have your vehicle released from the impound lot. You should also find out exactly where the impound is before leaving. The office on the 4th floor was also located at the far right end, past the elevators. When I was there, there were several chairs and a line-up waiting outside the door. You just need to get in line and will be helped when it is your turn.
  7. With the order to release your vehicle in hand, go to the impound office, show them the order, and your vehicle should be released to you.

Again, if you do not know Spanish, I would not recommend trying to do this on your own. I found it frustrating and am fairly fluent. The majority of the people I was dealing with did not know English (or very little).

Wrap Up

Although the process of finding where my vehicle was towed to, and how to get it back was frustrating, I learned from the experience. Hopefully, this post helps others who find themselves stuck in the same situation. And remember, if you are in this situation with a rental car, you are not the owner and therefore do not have the bill of sale to release it from the impound. Your best time-saver is knowing this info so you can convince your rental car agency to retrieve and let you know when it is back at their office! Because sometimes in Mexico, not everyone knows what’s going on and I don’t want you waiting in line for hours like I did!

If your personal car was impounded, find a translator (or an app on your phone), and follow the steps above.

Overall, it cost around $300-$350 Canadian dollars to pay the fine and impound fee.

Do you have a great story of your vehicle being towed in Puerto Vallarta?? Or was your process of getting it out of the impound different than mine? I would love to hear your stories and experiences! If you feel I missed anything or had a different experience than me, let me know in the comments below!

Please click and share!  Take care!  

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