NOVEMBER 2008

Iowa encourages proper recycling of vehicles

The State of Iowa is considered to be a leader based upon its program that informs residents and businesses about disposal of their vehicles when they reach the end-of-life stage.

The Department of Transportation (DOT), through its website, gives residents several options for vehicle disposal with an individual, dealer or recycler, or to donate it to a nonprofit organization.

—Paul Steier

“It’s an attempt to encourage people to comply with the recycling, salvage and certificate titling laws,” said Major Paul Steier, with the Iowa DOT’s Office of Motor Vehicle Enforcement (OMVE). “In general people want to do what is right and they don’t want to spend a lot of time and money to dispose of a junk car.”

The nation’s faltering economy has led to more people operating older vehicles, while at the same time, demand and prices for scrap metal continue to rise.

“With prices increasing, we’re finding more people involved in the scrap business and trying to be in the business of helping people dispose of their cars,” said Steier. “We want to see people complying with the law and follow the steps, as well as the people in the business of picking up or disposing of vehicles.”

The transfer of proper ownership documents from the seller to the purchaser and registering that information with the DOT is essential to protect the former owner from any possible legal implications and ensure that the state is aware of the vehicle’s status.

The website is receiving a fair amount of inquiries and the OMVE is receiving a lot of calls from people and companies.

“The businesses that are licensed appreciate the interest that the department has taken in regards to compliance because these firms have to maintain their licensing, insurance and have to be zoned properly,” said Steier. “It’s a considerable financial cost compared to somebody who is not licensed.

“A lot of vehicle owners don’t typically deal with the disposing of a car,” he added, stressing that many return their cars to dealers when purchasing a new one and have no idea of the paperwork involved in the process. “There is a liability concern if they sell their end-of-life vehicle to someone who maybe takes the car and uses it for ill gain. If the proper documents have not been transferred, the previous owner may be held accountable for problems that may occur from the use of the vehicle.”

A growing concern for the environment is one of the reasons why Iowans are taking steps to ensure that cars are properly recycled. The Iowa Recycling Association has been active in supporting environmental awareness. Having vehicles properly recycled is also in the interest of the state’s Department of Natural Resources, which will have a better understanding of where cars are being recycled and if those operations are following state regulations.

“It’s a higher level of accountability,” said Steier. “A big concern now is the disposal of fluids, tires and other parts of a vehicle. People do not want to see these materials contaminate the groundwater.”

The DOT recently put out a press release entitled Iowa DOT puts illegal motor vehicle scrappers on notice.

The OMVE is currently cracking down on and stepping up investigations into the activities of illegal motor vehicle scrappers, including persons placing classified advertisements on websites and local newspapers, as well those putting up signs that say “WE BUY JUNK CARS FOR CASH $$$.”

According to the press release, “High scrap metal prices have made illegal scrapping a lucrative moneymaker for those who prey on Iowans anxious to get rid of their junk vehicles. It’s not uncommon for these individuals to make false claims such as ‘We are able to remove vehicles without titles.’”

“Legitimate entities that are properly licensed as authorized vehicle recyclers know the requirements for accepting vehicles to process as scrap metal,” said OMVE Major Kerry A. Kirkpatrick, “and refuse to take vehicles from individuals that don’t have the necessary paperwork to transfer ownership.”

Steier agrees that the established auto recyclers are trying hard to comply with regulations, and notes that some people enter the disposal and salvage business on a part-time basis with the best of intentions.

“That’s where we want to get to those people and help educate them on what the laws and regulations are,” he said. “We will have investigators go out to a site to help them conform to regulations.”

The majority of vehicles go through auto dealers and recyclers, but concerns are growing about small, unlicensed operations that are the subject of investigations. Salvage laws have been enforced for the past 30 years, as have education campaigns, but high scrap prices have called for heightened efforts.

Businesses that do not have proper salvaging licenses have been fined. Auto dealerships are also required to have licenses. Fines for not having one start out at a $250 minimum, with judges having discretion to raise the fine.

Current recycling laws charge violators with a serious misdemeanor for breaking the law, with fines ranging between $250 and $1,000 and/or 1 year in jail.

“We are trying to update our salvaging and recycling laws,” said Steier. “We try very hard to communicate with the Justice Department, various legislative subcommittees and with dealer and recycling associations to educate them on what we see the real issues and problems.”

When asked if a small state incentive, such a tax deduction or credit, be given to residents in return for ensuring that vehicles are properly transferred when they reach their end-of-life stage, Steier replied, “That is certainly a viable option to help encourage people to comply and properly dispose of their vehicle.”