Call it car blight. From Boston's Back Bay to Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, city streets are littered with more and more abandoned cars since the bottom fell out of the scrap metal market.
Boston, for example, hauled away 1,400 discarded cars in 1985, and was paid $37.50 per vehicle by junk dealers, according to city Transportation Commissioner Richard Dimino. By the end of fiscal 1988, the city expects to remove up to 10,000 autos, for which it will likely be paid nothing.
But state and local governments are fighting back.
In Massachusetts, proposed legislation would lift the driver's licenses of owners of abandoned cars. Dallas hauls away cars left on the street more than 24 hours. California has trimmed the time police must wait before towing a vehicle and is considering legislation to open an abandoned car trust fund.
"What the country needs is a good war," Boston scrap metal dealer Ed Jamieson said, referring to times when scrap metal was valued. Jamieson once paid up to $25 to cart off a castaway car but now charges up to $50 a heap.
"The key is the price of the scrap," Los Angeles parking administrator Bob Yates said.
Some abandoned cars were stolen then dumped. Some owners arrange to have their cars "stolen" and destroyed so they can collect on insurance. But most of the vehicles on the street are just used up.
People abandon their cars along roads because "it's more convenient and it costs less" to get rid of them that way, Yates said.
Ironically, environmental concerns have added to the problem. Dealers in junked cars do not want the headache of finding a place to properly dispose of batteries and tires, Dimino said. "The environmental regulations changed drastically in the past three years," he said.
Major Sanitation Issue
Car blight is a major sanitation issue itself, Dimino said. "It's an eyesore. People are offended by it."
The cars are also a hazard. Children playing in them get locked in or cut themselves on broken windows. Junked vehicles become huge garbage cans, shelters for the homeless and breeding grounds for rats and other vermin.
Boston's heap of abandoned cars is dwarfed by New York's. Last year, more than 140,000 orphaned cars were dragged off New York streets and out of parks, according to Charlie Lyons, coordinator of a city telephone information line on abandoned autos.
This month, New York's Department of Sanitation began handing out a free booklet, "How to Dump Your Pain in the Wreck," listing junkyards that will take an unwanted auto for little or nothing.
The city also instituted a fine of up to $500 for the last registered owner of vehicles left abandoned.
In Los Angeles, 25,000 cars a year are left along roads, and the city spends $650,000 to $1 million a year to get rid of them, Yates said.
Authorities in California are aggressive about the problem. Vehicles are towed if left unattended more than 72 hours, and the state Legislature recently passed a law permitting cities to tow a car and dispose of it within 72 hours if it is worth less than $100.
California lawmakers are also contemplating a bill that would levy a fee on new cars for an abandoned car fund, Yates said.
Dallas auctions off an average of 170 cars a week, said police Capt. Bird Senter, who is in charge of the sales.
The city is doubling the capacity of its auto pound from 1,675 cars to 3,175.
Senter noted that an increasing proportion of the cars abandoned in Dallas were stolen.
In Detroit, the number of abandoned cars has escalated, from 36,000 last year to an expected 40,000 by the end of this year, but Motor City officials are not too concerned.
"It's the least of our problems," police officer Bob Angeluski said.