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Homeless hulks

John HartCalifornia Highway Patrol tags vehicles, then has them towed after 72 hours.
ALL | GrassValleyArchive

Dented, windowless or stripped of engines, they are roadside orphans. Some still have their titles in the glove compartment. Others are stuffed with garbage – Dumpsters on radials.

Officials say they’ve been showing up in higher numbers lately, none of them flashy BMWs or Lexuses.



“The ones we get off the road are hulks, basically,” said Steve Brown, Nevada County director of code compliance.




The California Highway Patrol has been handling about three abandoned vehicles a month, up from one per month in past years, spokesman Troy Marks said.

The county has had 210 vehicles towed this fiscal year, with more than four months to go, Brown said. That’s up from roughly 180 vehicles for all of last fiscal year, he claimed.

Explanations vary for the increase. One tow operator claims there is no increase – just the illusion of one attributable to county policy.

Marks said stricter vehicle-emission requirements could be causing the reported increase. Vehicles that can’t pass smog tests simply get ditched.

Brown attributed the trend to low prices for scrap steel, leaving no financial incentive for tow operators to retrieve them. Further, he claimed, the county needs more space to store wrecks.

But Debbie Fischer of Fischer Towing in Grass Valley disagreed. Scrap steel prices have already been down for five or six years.

Further, she said, “More places to store the vehicles is not the problem. The problem is people will not take the responsibility to dispose of the vehicles legally.”

She also disagreed that the county is seeing more abandoned vehicles; they’re just sitting around longer while county policy on towing them remains unclear.

“If there were more vehicles, we’d be towing more vehicles, and we’re not,” Fischer said. “And we’re not towing the vehicles on the highway like we used to.”

Abandoned vehicles get towed one of two ways:

— The CHP tags the vehicle and, after 72 hours, calls a tow company that’s next on a rotating list, Marks said.

The company tows the vehicle and stores it for free, Fischer said. The CHP, in turn, looks for the last registered owner to issue a citation, which poses a minimum $100 fine plus towing and storage fees.

— The county tags the vehicle and calls a contracted tow company, such as Fischer’s, which hauls it away for $85, Brown said. The cost also includes the storing, crushing and disposal of each vehicle. If the vehicles are crushed, it’s at county expense, he added, but the county tries legal ways to get them money back from the registered owners.

Compared to a CHP tow, Brown said, “That’s not prudent spending of county dollars for us to do something like that.”

Also, with California Highway Patrol calls, towers charge $90 for hauling, a $70 lien-sale fee and $25 a day for storage until the vehicle is disposed of.

Fischer said her company often gets stuck with costs of CHP-spurred tows, despite collection efforts. “We bill the registered owner, but 99 percent of the time you get nothing,” she said.

For the scofflaw, legal disposal is far cheaper than abandonment, all agree. Towing and disposal costs Fischer’s customers about $140, Debbie Fischer said, but the illegal route could run more than $1,000.

“You’re getting yourself into another problem,” she said. “People don’t think of the whole picture when dropping a car on the side of the road.”

To avoid being falsely accused of abandonment, Fischer recommended that sellers have the vehicle title’s release-of-liability section stamped by the Department of Motor Vehicles.

GOT A HULK?

To report an abandoned vehicle or legally dispose of one, call:

u Nevada County Community Development Agency, 265-1362

u California Highway Patrol, Grass Valley office, 273-4415


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