In South Carolina, officials say it’s relatively easy for thieves to sell stolen cars as scrap metal. Under current law, scrap yards and metal recyclers have to ask for a car’s title or auction receipt if it is less than eight years old. However, they otherwise have no means to check that the seller actually owns the car.
As a result, thieves are becoming increasingly aggressive. Legislators say they’ve heard from South Carolinians who’ve had cars stolen from their yard or business and crushed before they even realize it’s missing.
“It just blew my mind that type of theft was taking place,” State Sen. Larry Martin (R-Pickens) said.
Lt. Tom Amaro of the Richland County Sheriff’s Department said it is a real problem. “We run into that all the time where a person might be out for a couple hours. By (the time they get back), the car’s in a salvage yard being crushed.”
Legislators say they hope to crack down on the practice with a bill requiring salvage yards to check the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) of any cars that are brought in. They would then have 48 hours to report the VIN to a database run by the state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). The system would let DMV officials know if the VIN was for a car that was reported stolen. The yard could not demolish the car for at least three days after reporting the VIN.
A state Senate panel discussed the bill Thursday. Sen. Joel Lourie said lawmakers also want to require the seller to show title if the car is less than 12 years old– an increase of 4 years over current law.
Steve Levetan is senior vice president of the used parts retailer Pull-a-Part, a Georgia salvage company with a location in Columbia. He said he’d like to see the three-day requirement dropped to two days and only a 10-year title requirement, but otherwise supports the bill.
Barry Wolfe, president of the South Carolina Recyclers Association, also supported the bill. He said it would offer a way to shut down those yards that operate as “chop shops,” and knowingly destroy a stolen car. “That’s the guy we want out of the field of play,” Wolfe said.
DMV officials said they were willing to meet with representatives from the insurance and salvage industries to hammer out the details in a working group.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Joel Lourie (D-Columbia), said he hopes the group will meet while the Legislature works on passing the bill, so the database can be finished as soon as possible. “I think there are many of us who want to see this thing be on a fast track, but yet be done correctly.”