Something new to worry about: your old clunker

By Joe Lambe

Old cars vanish from the roadside, from parking lots, from driveways, and some are shredded before owners know they are gone.

Blame the Missouri General Assembly, police said Wednesday. It enacted a law last year that people don’t have to have titles to sell vehicles that are 10 years old or more and are not running.

That can mean they have parts stolen out of them or they are out of gas or whatever, police told the city council public safety committee.

The committee on Wednesday passed an ordinance that would require metal recyclers to keep such vehicles for 72 hours before destroying them.

That and an ordinance that would require recyclers to report daily transactions to a police database go to the full council for approval today.

“I used to think I didn’t have to worry about my old wreck,” said Councilman John Sharp. “I had no idea and I think most in Kansas City had no idea this was going on.”

Police Sgt. Rodney Gentry reported that the numbers show that it is.

From January 1 to Wednesday in Kansas City, 2,586 vehicles were stolen and 1,819 of them – 70 percent – were 10 years old or more.

That is 270 more vehicles than stolen in the same time period last year, when 68 percent of them were 10 years old or more. The state law went into effect in Aug. 28, 2012. Before that state law said such cars had to be 20 years old to be sold without title.

St. Louis has reported an increase in car thefts of more than 35 percent since the new law took effect, Gentry said.

Often they involve a thief calling a rogue tow company and selling them someone’s car for scrap. The tow company takes it to a scrap dealer where it can be shredded in minutes, Gentry said.

In one case, he said, a vehicle police were watching was towed from 59th street and Highway 71 to a northeast scrap yard and shredded, all within 45 minutes.

The 72-hour hold was already in effect for salvage yards but the ordinance would extend it to scrap operations, where vehicles are often soon shredded.

Chasitie Walden, with Midwest Scrap, told the council that  scrap yards do not have room to store cars like salvage yards have.

“Those cars are going to go somewhere else,” she said, “generate money somewhere else.”

Sharp said that Kansas City, Kan., and other cities have often followed Kansas City’s lead in passing tougher regulations.

Police Officer Jason Cooley said of the scrap dealers: “In essence what they are saying is we want to continue to make money off stolen property.”

Scrap metal thievery is not just a police problem but a community problem, he said.

Just ask the church members who have to swelter without air conditioning because it was stolen, he said, or the woman who starts her car and it roars because the catalytic converter is gone.

The ordinance that would require scrap dealers to report transactions to police daily would also allow dealers to buy air conditioning from all businesses, not just air conditioning businesses or their employees.

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