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Tuesday, 10 May 2011 17:17

Alabama Auto-Scrapping Bill Curtails Auto Scrap Industry

Alabama state laws have scrap yard owner David Hickman dealing with frustrated customers when he tells them that he can’t take their junk cars without a valid title. “Lots of times customers want to argue with us when we tell them they have to have it,” he said to “But that’s the law, we can’t take a car without title.”

As of 2010, people selling cars to scrap have had to have the title in order to sell. This has caused some friction as owners of junk cars often don’t have an official title in their name, either because it’s been lost or because the car was signed over to them by a previous owner, Hickman said.

The requirement has all but killed the auto recycling part of the scrap business, according to Hickman. Hickman isn't the only one feeling the pain; the law has affected every link in the recycling food chain.

Materials from junk cars feed low-level parts dealers and car crushers, which feed auto-shredding operations like Hickman’s. Scrap metal generated by the shredders also feeds mills and manufacturers like SSAB in north Mobile County and Huron Valley Steel Corp. in Anniston.

The title requirement law took a bite out of all of those industries, said Graham Champion, a lobbyist for the Alabama Recycling Association, a lobbying association.


The recyclers are pushing a bill in the Legislature that would ease the title requirement to make it easier for scrap dealers to buy junk cars. The would hopefully increase business for recyclers and bring more scrap metal into the state.

Efforts of the recyclers, however, have pitted them against local law enforcement officials, who say the new rules would lead to increased car theft.

“They basically want to legalize a fencing operation,” said Deputy Chief James Barber of the Mobile Police Department to “This legislation is outrageous and only serves to increase crime in our communities for the benefit of the scrap and salvage industries at the expense of Alabama citizens.”

Prior to the enforcement of the title law, thieves with tow trucks were scooping up broken down cars off of the street and bringing them directly to the scrap dealers, said Sgt. Michael Womack, who polices the scrap yards in Mobile.

When the police department began enforcing the title requirement, car thefts fell by 20 percent, basically overnight, Barber said. The percentage of stolen cars that police were able to recover also improved, he said. Requiring a title for a car before it is scrapped allows for better tracking of vehicles coming into recycler's yards.

Officials from the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office, the Mobile County District Attorney’s Office and the Police Department have been lobbying against the proposed law for the past several weeks.

Supporters of the bill say the law enforcement officials aren’t taking into account all the safety measures built into the legislation.

The bill would only remove the title requirement for cars more than 12 model years old and worth less than $1,000, said Philip Bryan, chief of staff for Sen. Del Marsh, who is sponsoring the bill in the Senate.

The bill would also create an e-verify system to track what cars are being scrapped at the point of sale.

Before shredding or crushing the vehicle, scrap dealers would have to give the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) to the state Department of Revenue, which would check to see if it had been reported stolen. The seller would also have to sign an affidavit swearing that he was the vehicle’s legal owner.

Womack said the safeguards in the bill are inadequate. By the time a car is reported stolen and entered into the national database, it could already be reduced to an untraceable scrap.

Customers heading to Mississippi

Prior to the title rule, Alabama recycled about 200,000 to 300,000 cars every year, now many of those cars are simply going to neighboring states that have less laws relating to scrapping vehicles.

Hickman lives in Biloxi, which doesn’t have a title requirement. He said he used shred about 30 cars a day; now he does three.



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