Highway pirates are looking to profit from abandoned vehicles - AmericaNowNews.com


Highway pirates are looking to profit from abandoned vehicles

There may be a law in your state that's helping car thieves snatch vehicles right off the highway or right out of your driveway.

The idea of not requiring ownership papers at the scrap yard for cars older than eight or 10 years old is supposed to encourage car owners by making it easier to discard of their old, junk cars.

Unfortunately, it's also encouraging criminals to easily make money off your stolen ride.

Imagine you're driving down the highway, your car malfunctions and quits running. You abandon it to seek help, or have someone pick you up.

Within just a short period of time, a thief could easily steal your car.  Highway pirates are just plain criminals with tow trucks or tools to break in. They are looking to make quick cash on an abandoned car.

"They'll snatch this car up, take it to a salvage yard, and within 30 minutes, it's crushed," warned Rich Tonsberg, a sergeant with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department's Auto Theft Unit.

The robber usually pockets a few hundred dollars per vehicle.

This type of crime is easy to commit if the victim's vehicle is eight years or older because, in many states, scrap yards aren't required to see a title prior to the vehicle being sold or crushed. 

It also helps if the car or truck is dirty or damaged making it less suspicious while being hauled away.

Since the yards pay based on weight, large, older-model American autos are a favorite.

"The price of metal, when it goes up, this problem goes up," said Tonsberg. "It rises and falls just like the stock market."

That's why if you're stranded on the side of the road, never leave your car overnight or left alone for several days. If you do, that's an open invitation for a thief to strike.

You should immediately notify your local police or highway patrol as to where you are and what happened.

"Have somebody stay with it until you get some help and someone to get you off the road because this is ridiculous," warned Willie March, sheriff of Holmes County, MS.

What may surprise you is that the same thing can happen to your car even if it is parked in front of your home. 

"They'll call a wrecker and say 'Hey, this is my car right here. What will you give me for it?' The wrecker gives them a $100, $150," Tonsberg said.

If the car is unlocked, thieves will simply remove the ownership papers from the glove compartment.

In some cases, the thief might share a sob story with the tow truck operator about a deceased relative who owned the car, or that they are about to be evicted from their home and need immediate cash from the sale of the old car. 

So, lock your car at all times and park it in the garage whenever possible. Keep an eye out in the neighborhood.

If you see an unmarked or suspicious tow vehicle, contact the owner of the towing company to see if the service is legitimate.

If it isn't, call the police and make notes about the color of the tow truck and its license tag number.

Most states require scrap yards to submit paperwork, report the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) of the cars they buy and hold them for a waiting period. Too often, the system isn't perfect and time is not on the owner's side.

"If the vehicles are crushed and they're gone, it's pretty hard to put back together once your main evidence is gone," Tonsberg said.

Not giving highway or driveway pirates the opportunity in the first place is the best defense for drivers.

Police officers we spoke with say most salvage yards work with them to keep records on the vehicles coming in. So, don't be shy. If your car is missing, call the scrap yards in your area and alert them to be on the lookout. 

If a thief intends to sell your car for parts, they will likely arrive at a scrap yard very soon after committing the crime.

Copyright 2014 America Now. All rights reserved.

Additional Information

The following information is from KansasCity.com (Source: http://www.kansascity.com/2013/03/05/4102617/auto-thefts-are-up-but-is-a-missouri.html).

  • A changed law in Missouri designed to make it easier to dispose of junk cars without a title had the unintended consequence of increasing the number of stolen vehicles.
  • The law pertains to cars 10 years or older and allows for the sale of "inoperable" vehicles to salvage yards.
  • A photo ID is required but not the title. The dealer must first check an online database to make sure there are no liens.
  • The buyer has 10 days to submit paperwork to the Dept. of Revenue, which is then entered into a database.
  • Unfortunately, salvage yards usually crush the cars soon after purchasing them.
  • Auto theft reports increased from 2011 to 2011 in Kansas city and St. Louis but while numbers increased, the overall value of the vehicles decreased because it was the older, junk cars being stolen.

The following is from The Topeka Capital-Journal (Source: http://cjonline.com/news/2012-04-04/tow-trucks-used-latest-auto-theft-trend).

  • Officers in Topeka told the public that if they see an unmarked or suspicious tow vehicle in their neighborhood to contact the car's owner and see if the service is legitimate. If its not, call the police and take note of any markings, tag, color or details of the vehicle.
  • According to Topeka's police statistics about 58% of their stolen vehicles in a period were recovered. The average value of the vehicle was $4,889.
  • Lock your car doors, park in a garage whenever possible, do not leave keys in the car and not suspicious behavior.
  • Do not leave important paperwork like vehicle titles inside the car.

The following information is from the LA Times (Source: http://articles.latimes.com/1989-08-13/local/me-904_1_auto-theft).

  • Auto thefts in San Fernando Valley have increased, where older cars have been towed and sold for scrap. Police are now calling for salvage-yard regulations to prevent destruction of stolen vehicles.
  • Salvage yards pay according to weight so thieves target large, older-model American autos which can bring in up to $200 each.
  • Yards also look for dirty cars or cars that appear to have been in accidents so there is less attention when they are hauled away.
  • With older autos in disrepair as the main target, its usually low-income families who cannot afford to lose what is often their sole means of transportation.
  • The older cars rarely turn up except as compact blocks of crushed metal.
  • Ownership papers can easily be obtained since car owners often keep them in the car's glove compartment.
  • Regulating the process may be troublesome as added paper work by the DMV or Police would impact salvage yard's staff and the yard would likely have insufficient space to store cars intact during a mandatory holding period.

The following is from the Washington Post (Source:


  • Thieves have been arrested in Prince George County for illegally towing old cars parked in neighborhoods, shopping centers and apartment complexes and selling them for scrap.
  • They go for cars eight years and older so they can sell them to be demolished at scrap yards without salvage titles.
  • Scrap yards are required to report the VINS of the cars they buy to the state and investigators routinely compare those records to their stolen vehicle list.
  • Some thieves are legitimate tow truck drivers who would steal legally owned cars and sell them for about $400 a piece, passing them off as abandoned.

The following is from WTVR.com (Source: http://wtvr.com/2012/11/07/at-11-car-thieves-using-tow-trucks-to-snatch-your-car/).

  • Crooks often don't have the title, they say the registration doesn't match them because their dead relative left it to them, or they were evicted, etc, etc.
  • Ads to buy cars from someone who doesn't have the title or keys is an open invitation for a rip off.
  • Too many tow companies do not report the cars they buy to the required national vehicle registry. Nor do they adhere to the mandatory 30 day waiting period before scraping that is required in Virginia.
  • Richmond Police say brand new cars are never towed in this manner.

The following is from MSNewsNow.com (Source: http://www.msnewsnow.com/story/22925437/one-man-says-highway-pirating-is-a-problem-on-i-55).

  • A man in Mississippi was the victim of highway piracy along Interstate 55.
  • Thomas McAfee said it took him less than an hour to get a tow truck after his car broke down but the white 1998 Firebird worth $17,000 was gone when he returned.
  • Mississippi authorities recommend contacting your local sheriff's office to alert them of a break down.
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