The Ripple Effect

The Corona Virus demanded many abrupt changes to our lives.  Many of us were told to shelter in place keeping outings to a bare minimum strictly for necessities.  Depending upon the area you live in, more or less of that was a reality.  For us living in Decatur, Alabama, we were quite fortunate.  Cases were minimal compared to larger cities in the United States.

That brings us to the number of vehicles on the road.  My sons operate a roadside towing and recovery service.  They run 24 hours a day, seven days per week.  While business lessened, it was not eliminated.  They are fortunate in that regard.  Some of the behind the scenes things, however, have not been so fortunate.

Each state has a portal operated by the Department of Motor Vehicles.  It is a data base where all vehicle information is listed; owners, registrants (who are not always the same person), and lien holders if there are any.  When we take possession of a vehicle, we have a certain number of days to report that to the portal.  We send registered letters to each person listed on that vehicle to notify them that within 35 days, we will be auctioning that vehicle off should the chose not to come to claim it (and pay the bill). We also post notice in the local newspaper advising the Year, Make, Model, Vin #, color and date of impending sale.

You might be surprised to learn just how many people do not come to claim their cars.  It is astounding.  There are those who are involved in an accident and possibly injured and in a hospital.  It could have been impounded for abandonment.  The driver may have been arrested for an infraction.  There are a multitude of reasons.  But sooner or later, you would think someone would claim the car.

Add to this, we have the Corona lockdown where businesses have been closed, and people working from home.  Normally, if you purchased a car, sold a car, etc., you would have to go through the DMV to title the car.  But the DMV was not open during COVID-19.  Therefore, any vehicles that have changed hands during that time have done so without an update taking place in the portal.  Are you beginning to see the problem?

Additionally, there is a federal data base referred to as the NCIC which tracks all vehicles involved in theft.  So, if your car were stolen and you report it, that is where that information would go.  Now, the NCIC database is separate from the state portals so I cannot speak to how they communicate (or if they do).

For our part, we first go to a website which charges us $12 per vehicle to search the VIN# to get information regarding ownership.  We then take that information and enter it with our information in the state portal to let everyone know we have the car.  We send registered letters out which to mail costs $6.95 each (some have three).  Then we wait 35 days until we can dispose of the vehicle which can create quite a logistics issue in our lot (running out of space). 

Under normal circumstances, this process works 99 percent of the time.  But, because of Covid-19 and the shutdown; information in these data bases are not necessarily accurate.  We have found ourselves reporting possession of a car to former owners who often neither care nor know where that information should be forwarded to.  We have also had occasion where a vehicle was stolen – but because we are reporting it to the State and not NCIC, we do not know this until the 35 days are up and we are trying to print a bill of sale to scrap it or sell it. 

I mention all of this only to inform people of the ripple effect of just what this shut down has meant – and we are only one business.  Each business, operating or not, has run into its own set of extenuating circumstances that up until now were unforeseen. 

To help you out in this situation, please be advised:

  • If you were in a motor vehicle accident OR if your vehicle was impounded by law enforcement, they would have a record of which business has your vehicle
  • If your vehicle was abandoned somewhere, the manager of that property would be able to tell you where that vehicle was taken
  • The total time on the clock is 30 days, during which time storage is accruing each day the vehicle is held.  So prompt response will save you money.

As business are opening back up – please keep in mind that this has not been the norm and there are problems that have arisen (some for the first time).  Business owners are doing everything they can to address the needs of their customers.  Patience is always appreciated.


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