Friday, January 6, 2012

Cashing In On Stolen Cars Could Get Harder In SC | WSPA

Scrap Metal Cars

Credit: Ellen Meder

North Columbia Auto Salvage already requires all customers to show a title to sell a car, but lawmakers might extend the current requirement from cars newer than 8 years to 15 years after a rash of stolen vehicles ended up in salvage yards before police could start looking.

In South Carolina it’s not very hard for a thief to turn a stolen car into crash before the owners even notice it’s gone, so long as it is older than eight years.

A Senate subcommittee discussed how those thwart thieves Thursday. A bill proposed by Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland, and Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens, would require anyone trying to sell a car to a salvage yard or car wrecker to show proof of ownership, either a car title or auction receipt, if it was made in the last 15 years, up from the current eight on the books.

A new provision would require older cars without titles to go through a certification process with local law enforcement to prove it belongs to the seller and isn’t stolen and enter the information into a statewide database with Department of Motor Vehicle that the State Law Enforcement Division could access.

Martin said he and his colleagues have been flooded from constituents whose cars have been crushed before they even had a chance to report it stolen. He’s heard of people test driving older used cars and taking them straight to the wrecker and farmers finding their work trucks missing when they return to the fields. He said people are taking advantage of a law that was originally implemented in the 1980s to encourage people to clean up the state and get rid of junky old cars by allowing vehicles with long-lost titles to be turned in with only a picture I.D.

“Lady there in Pickens who had a couple old vehicles in her yard, of course she works during the day, comes home during the evening, those vehicles are gone. Someone had just pulled in the yard with a roll back truck and hauled those vehicles to the crusher,” Martin said. “They’re very difficult to track down and obviously the vehicle is just gone when that occurs. Your property is just gone.”

He said he thinks the jump in car theft is likely because of the dragging economy, but that’s also the same reason older cars need more protection: with high unemployment South Carolinians are keeping their cars as long as they can.

One sticking point in the bill is requiring demolishers and parts sales companies to hold title-less cars for 15 days to ensure a car isn’t wrecked before it’s even reported stolen.

“You may have you go out of town for the weekend, gone on vacation whatever it is and you don’t know its stolen until you get back and then the vehicle is just gone,” Martin said.

Steve Levetan is a vice president at Pull-A-Part, a Georgia-based “do-it-yourself” auto parts dealer with locations in 10 states including South Carolina and much of the Southeast. He spoke up at the meeting, commending the effort to change the system and agreeing that a statewide database would help get salvage shops and law enforcement on the same page. But he said half of the cars his company buys come in without titles, and that storing them for two weeks would upend their business.

“The space requirements, the logistics of doing that is what makes this impossible for us to comply with,” Levetan said in the meeting. “If we’re talking 30 or 40 vehicles a day times 15 days, now you’re talking about acres, which we just don’t physically have.”

David Morris handles customers and retail sales at North Columbia Auto Salvage, and with plenty of room on the lot outside of town, he’s more worried that a wait would make South Carolina companies less competitive.

"If we have a retail sale for an individual looking for say an engine that we have available but its on hold during that 15 day period they're going to go else where and shop to purchase it whereas now we could sell it to them after our third day,” Morris said.

North Columbia Auto Salvage already requires a title for all vehicles it purchases, typically for about $400 to 500, so they don’t end up enabling a criminal. Morris said that in the car parts business its inevitable that someone will try to pass off a stolen car as their own using a fake I.D. or trying to get by with registration papers, but that many companies do look the other way.

He thinks entering cars into a statewide database would barely change his work flow since he already requires the information and said it should be just as easy for every other wrecking business, despite concerns raised at the meeting that rural “Mom and Pop” shops would have a major problem connecting to the online database to enter forms.

“More and more you see salvage yards are more interconnected through and most are online now if they want to remain in business, because most of our sales really are Internet based,” Morris said.

Martin said that he expects putting a system in place through the DMV will be relatively inexpensive, and a major benefit of technology if it can help send a message to crooks that it won’t be easy to pull to wool over a parts dealer’s eyes to make a quick buck at property owners’ expense.

Georgia just began implementing a database at the start of the year and has an affidavit process for cars older than 12 years, as does Alabama, with Tennessee and North Carolina using a 10 year limit for titles. Florida and Alabama are the only Southern states with a waiting period to crush cars with 3 and 2 days respectively.

Martin said that he’s willing to compromise to come more in line with industry standards.

“I don’t want people to be overly burdened by requirements regarding much older vehicles, but as long as we tend to drive them now we just need to be concerned that we don’t allow thieves to circumvent the law or even use it,” Martin said.

Lourie said he expects the subcommittee to study up on neighboring states and get the bill to the Senate floor by the end of January.

Cashing In On Stolen Cars Could Get Harder In SC | WSPA

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