SAN JOSE (CBS SF) -- The vast majority of cars towed away off the streets of San Jose are never claimed by their owners because it's too expensive to retrieve them, and workable solutions don't appear close at hand.
Among the most recent vehicles towed into one yard was one that looked abandoned.
There was a weathered "tow warning" sticker on the windshield, but apparently whoever owned the vehicle just didn't care. The van will probably spend its last days sitting unclaimed and taking up space in the Morris and Sons tow yard in San Jose, just like most of the cars here.
"It looks like the registration is expired for five years, that's unlikely to be claimed" said company owner Art Amirkhas as he walked through the crowded yard. Many of the vehicles were pulled off the streets because they were parked illegally. But he says most of the owners have just walked away from them.
According to tow companies that contract with the city of San Jose, "the number of unclaimed vehicles sits at about 75 percent," said Amirkhas. That's three out of every four cars, abandoned.
"That creates a concern for space because you have to hold on to them," said Amirkhas. "The majority of these vehicles you have to hold on to them for at least 35 days."
Amirkhas had to buy car lifts to create two tiers of storage in his yard, but it's still not enough. He had to buy a second lot down the street, just to store the overflow of cars. And with high land costs, Amirkhas has had to raise his towing and storage rates. But that creates its own set of problems.
"I can't afford to get my car out" said one woman whose Buick was towed the night before. The bill was just over $300. The woman, who did not give her name, had a friend drive her to the yard, but only to pick up some clothes she had in the trunk.
In addition, every day the car sits, the bill goes up. "After 5 o'clock, it goes up another 90 dollars."
She still plans to pick it up, but for many other drivers that's not the case. When they add up tow fees, storage fees, city fines and DMV registration costs which must be paid if the car is delinquent, reclaiming a car can be a losing proposition.
"If they are driving a low-value vehicle, say $800 or $1,500, often times the fees can exceed the value of the vehicle," Amirkhas said.
That leads to more cars being abandoned on city streets. People would rather walk away than deal with the expense and hassle according to Amirkhas. Tow companies say the situation has gotten so bad, they're losing money every time they tow one of these vehicles. Amirkhas says the prices they get at public auctions do not cover what it costs to tow them. And he says scrap prices are down.
"We've had some scrap vehicle processors say, 'please don't bring us vehicles, we can't take them,'" said Amirkhas.
Amirkhas says it will take major societal changes to fix the problem, such as more use of alternative transportation or mass adoption of vehicle sharing to solve the problem of abandoned cars.
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