What happens when you don't pay your ticket

Your life gets ruined

In Los Angeles, driving is a necessity. The average person has to drive at least 30 minutes to any destination. The 405 freeway is known throughout the entire country. No matter how many lanes they add, traffic catches up and jams the roads. With so many cars around, parking becomes a nightmare. And when parking is a nightmare, everyone snatches the first parking spot they see. The problem is it's not always obvious if you are allowed to park in a spot. Park in the wrong spot and it will set you back $68 to $163.

According to a study by the Federal Reserve board, 40% of Americans cannot come up with $400 in case of an emergency. So a ticket becomes a major expense for the average household. But what happens when you can't pay that ticket?

The simple answer is you'll have to pay much more than the original bill.

Unpaid ticket

You have exactly 21 days to pay your fine or it will automatically double. A $68 ticket jumps to $136. This often happens accidentally when for some reason people don't see the ticket. Let's say it gets blown away by the wind, or the car is registered to an address different then the current address.

When you fail to pay your ticket after 82 days, there is an additional fee of $27 which bumps it to $163. Unless this ticket is paid, the car registration cannot be renewed.

When the car registration is not renewed for at least 31 days, you accrue other fees.

  • 20% of the vehicle license fee due for that year
  • $30 Registration late fee
  • $30 CHP late fee

And these fees keep growing the longer you wait.

Unpaid tickets

If you have at least 5 unpaid tickets, things get worse. Your car gets impounded. You can only get it back after you pay for all your tickets. The problem is that you also have to pay the impound for the time your car spent in their lot.

The first time your car is impounded, it will cost you $128 to get it out. If the car is not claimed on the first day, a daily charge of $40 incurs. That's $40 every single day your car stays in custody. Oh and there is 10% city parking tax on top of it.

If for some obvious reasons you cannot pay to get your car back, your car ends up in the auction lot for the highest bidder. The good news is, once your car is sold, you don't owe these exorbitant impound fees anymore. The bad news is that #1 you don't have a car anymore, #2 you still have to pay your infraction tickets that are now sent to collection. You'll be paying for tickets on a car you don't even own anymore.

Not having a car in Los Angeles restrict your options. You can only get jobs in a short miles radius. Having debts lowers your credit score and decreases your purchasing power. A chunk of your check goes to paying unnecessary debts.

A single ticket can ruin the life of 40% of Americans, who cannot come up with $400 in case of emergency.

Disputing a ticket.

If a few tickets can dramatically impoverish your life, disputing them becomes a necessity. But the city will make it as hard as it can to stop you.

Paying for your ticket is easy. You go online and pay for it; with an additional processing fee. But disputing is not as easy. First of all, you have to make an Administrative Review Request within the first 21 days. If for some reason you realize that you have a ticket too late, you lose this opportunity.

You'll have to provide proof that:

  • the violation did not occur
  • your are not responsible for the violation
  • that there were extenuating circumstances.

If they disapprove, you first have to:

By state law, you must pay all fines owned on the ticket before you request a hearing.

To go to court, there is another $25 filing fee which will only be refunded if the judge rules in your favor.

All for a good cause

According to the Los Angeles department of transportation, your ticket fee pays for some important services. Here is how they break it down:

The average ticket is $68. Some ($17.50 for meter violations, and $12.50 for other violations) goes to state and county fees and the remainder ($45.50) goes to the city's general fund to pay for essential municipal services, including police and fire. There are additional distributions for fix-it citations and disabled parking violations.

What this means is that the city is expecting people to get tickets. The more tickets they get, the better. Your misery is their revenue model.


Driving in Los Angeles, it is unavoidable to see billboards plastered with traffic lawyer advertisements. It's difficult to contest a ticket, and it is difficult to actually pay for them on time. People end up calling lawyers (who also charge a fee), to dispute a small ticket that may bloat and overwhelm their lives.

The only real solution is to not have a ticket. Which is impossible in a city that is getting more and more populated. The least I can do is offer you ottomon and hope that the community helps each member avoid getting tickets.


CA DMV info

Los Angeles DOT

Average driving time

Household finances

Federal Reserve Board (PDF)

Official Police Garage

About the author

Ibrahim Diallo

Ibrahim Diallo

I am the founder of ottomon and main developer. You can often find me musing on my personal blog