How often do cars get left behind at shops?

I work on computers and often have people just abandon their property, both repaired and unrepaired, with me. I now make people sign a form requiring pickup or partial payment within 14 days but in the past I would just sit on them a while and then send them to the recycler or resell the repaired units. I was paying to store these equipment at a considerable cost once and now no longer do that. I basically made the people who called me back like 6 month later pay the entire storage fee. This made them mad but weren’t really customers I wanted back anyway. Now I have them sign the form which has solved lots of problems before they can start.

I was at the local shop I use once and he had a truck sitting outside. He mentioned that the guy had left it there 6 months and wouldn’t call back. I think he was in the process of getting legal ownership of the vehicle so that he could remove the good parts and scrap the rest. It had a bad transmission and good engine. Someone was chomping at the bit to buy the engine from him. I am sure dealing with cars is a lot more of a pain than computers since they are hard to move if they don’t run, have legal titles, and there is a legal time limit before considering them abandoned in most places.

I am sure it is usually old clunkers that get left behind. This is the way it is with computers. The cheap door busters from Wal-Mart are the ones I get left with most often. The general idea with these is to pull the decent parts and send the rest off for proper recycling. I have actually ended up with a few nicer Core i3, i5, and i7 units being left behind but those are rare. There seems to be a definite correlation between crappy computers and a crappy owner and I am sure it is exactly the same way with cars.

We have signs throughout the parking lot stating “authorized parking only. violators subject to impound by XYZ Towing” or some such language.

It happens from time to time here, but the process to deal with them differs in every situation. I have a car here now that has been here for 2 months. It belongs to a somewhat regular customer who has fallen on hard times. Her car wouldn’t start, it sat on the street in front of her apartment until the city was going to have it towed. Then we towed it in. It needed a starter. The bill for towing, diag, and repair is about $400. After the car was here for 3 weeks she came in and paid $100. Said it might be a few months before she could come up with the rest. And as long as she keeps in touch, we’ll help her out. No storage fees or anything.

Other times a car will show up overnight or on a weekend with no keys or info dropped off. If I don’t hear from someone in a week I have the car towed out of here. Not my problem anymore. Other times a car may come in for a diagnosis and the customer never calls back to approve or decline repairs. If they don’t return calls for a month I’ll have it towed. Not my problem anymore.

If a car has been repaired and the customer disappears, I may take parts back off the car and have it towed. Not my problem anymore. But cars left after repairs and never hearing from the customer again is such a rarity I don’t have a set policy for it.

The airport here has a yearly auction of cars left behind. A person goes North on a job interview, gets accepted and has his car parked at the airport, and the accumulated parking charges (as much as $24 per day) will quickly equal the value of his car. The parking contract spells out that abandoned vehicles become the airport’s property.

Occasionally someone abandoned there car to me for some reason and eventually I would jump through all the hoops to get legal title and sell it but often the owner would bring me the title for $20 to $100 cash which was cheaper than jumping through the hoops. There was rarely any significant profit in either situation but I could legally get them out of my way and cover whatever tow bills, parts, etc. were invested. I have had a couple of jerks who wanted to make life miserable for me and the justice court took possession of the cars and usually sold them for scrap.

I guess it depends on the customer and the circumstance but I’d rather give her the car back and be owed the $300 yet than store the car waiting for the $300 to be paid. Same difference but no car sitting around.

I hear that about towing companies a lot. Cars get left and the towing plus storage fees exceed the value of the car in not that long of a time. This, along with the fact that many cars getting towed were broken down, means people never come get them.

I went and looked at some cheap used cars at a towing yard once. Most had some minor issue and were left because of that and then towed by the towing company for the city or county.

He stripped some for parts, fixed some to resell, or just resold some as is after going through the legal process and required waiting. He always said the ones he sold as a running car would get synthetic oil so they would hopefully last at least a year without the oil being changed. He said it was usually the last oil change these cars ever got. He used to use whatever oil was on sale but someone would put a ton of miles on the car and blow the engine because they never changed the oil, then come back yelling at him. I resold some cars like this once and had to about hold one of the buyers at gunpoint. Since these attracted less than desirable people, I decided to call it quits.

With giving something back before the repair bill is paid… I have been burned doing this with computers and it is not something I would do. The incentive to pay off the car repair is no longer there if they have the car back in hand and are able to drive it. I had a computer customer do this to me once. I collected the money the next time around when he needed more work done and wouldn’t give it back until both repairs were paid in full.

This person has done this to quite a few others I know. I know that he has quite a few small claims against him.

There are state laws on these issues, and those dealing with the issue should know them or check them out.

But hey, lots of people walked away from their houses, and builders from their developments, in the '80s. I’m sure people must also walk away from their cars.

Mississippi gives its residents the best law that their money can buy. Any one willing and financially able to hire the right attorney can wear down their opponent in littigation and win but the gain may not equal the cost. The greatest unknown expense in taking possession of a customer’s car is the time taken away from the shop since the cost of an attorney is a great deal more than the value of the average car. Often the required public notice in the local paper shames owners into paying out their cars.

A seemingly successful way to avoid getting stuck with cars from drop in customers is to insist on a cash deposit of 50%+/- of the estimate. That sends many to other shops while motivating the others to pay the balance and get their cars when ready. When the cash value of the car is less than the estimate such a deposit is a must.

It happens fairly often and a shop simply cannot allow cars to sit there forever. It’s not only the matter of taking up space but also liabilities, real or perceived, if a car is allowed to linger.

A woman brought her Volvo P1800 in once to me and while it was a nice car it had a tired engine and was starting to smoke considerably. Her fiancee was an instructor pilot captain at the local airbase so any tech discussions were with him after she designated him as a spokesperson.

Afters some discussion he asked if they could leave the car for 2 weeks maximum. I agreed to this with the stipulation that it was 2 weeks only as parking was at a premium and I did not want to be responsible for the car. No problem he said.

So a bit more than 2 weeks later and no word I moved it to a back storage lot. (fenced with barbed wire and locked gate).

Three MONTHS later he drops in and asks about the Volvo. We walk out back and find that someone had gotten in and stolen the factory radio. He then demands that I cover the expense and this led to an argument.
He had “forgotten” his promise about 2 weeks max and had flown off to Randolph AFB in TX for another gig with no thought of that car from him or the prospective bride who had gone with him.

He towed the car off and was still irate at me even when I told him no storage charges; just get that thing gone. My final words to him was that I hope I didn’t have to depend upon him in times of a shooting war due to the fear that he would take off for some air combat and forget the ammo…

That REALLY pxxxxxx him off.

There’s a process which can be gone through to obtain title due to a mechanics lien and/or storage fees but involves spending more money and time on a bureaucratic paper shuffle.

One time a Subaru was towed in with a problem manual transmission. The owner (?) of the car had no desire to spend money on it and offered to sell it for a scrap price of 100 bucks so I bought it with the promise of a title to be dropped off later. That never happened. My intent was to fix it and turn it into a going fishing or hunting wagon.

I eventually discovered the car was stolen and the owner (?) was a state fair carny who was passing through and now gone. The real owner of the car from several states away wrote it off.
I have no idea whether or not the police ever caught up with the car thief and odds are the guy provided a fake name anyway.

Actually I think from a legal standpoint, as long as you have possession of the car, its your responsibility to keep it safe. That’s why I’d rather just drop it off and get rid of it and wait for the money.

I remember once I needed the head gaskets replaced on the diesel. We were going on vacation so they worked on it while we were gone. I kept in touch by phone and when they were done, they put it in my garage ready for when we got back. I had given them a CC number to charge though so it was all settled and out of their hair.

There is a nice market for lien sales of cars. Some of the buyers of these cars are almost, but not quite capable of following instructions. When the long process is done and you tell them that only the DMV is allowed to open the envelope with the (3 times) refused letter to the registered owner, the buyer still opens the envelope and comes back complaining that the DMV won’t let them register the car.

Most times, the car was just abandoned without any repair shop involved. Older cars get left at repair shops because they were too worthless to fix in the first place. Some cars get abandoned because the owner is caught skipping out on bail the same day the car goes to the shop. Eight months later…

From a legal standpoint it’s all governed by state statutes… and they vary from state to state.

I used to run a large self-storage site and we had cars abandoned all the time. We actually ran a monthly check through the local sheriff’s office on the vehicles that were parked on the lot. Some come back as stolen…so it was an easy task to identify the person who parked it there. Some criminals are dumber than dirt. The others were sold if the storage debt was not paid. The buyer simply took the paperwork to the DMV and a new title was issued in their name. The reasons for abandoning a vehicle were varied so it’s hard to pin down the most common one.

A friend who has since moved out of state had a shop nearby. There were a few instances where he would have cars left behind, that the owners just abandoned with no money down for parts and no authorization to do the needed repairs.
He did acquire a few vehicles that people just couldn’t afford to fix, and they would sign the title over to him to dispose of the car.

A few times he had me meet him at his place in the middle of the night and we would tow the car to the owners house and leave it. We did it in the middle of the night because towing with a chain or strap has been outlawed long ago, and we would tow it away at the sheriff’s shift change to avoid being caught. Lucky for us all of these people were within a few miles, or we wouldn’t have tried that .
But these were cars where the owners would not have the vehicle fixed and never got them towed away after numerous pleas to do something with them.

But the law can be tricky when you taker control of someones property.
Another friend stores things for people in the upper floor of his unused barn. One guy had not paid storage for over a year and seemed to have abandoned everything. When he did call about his property, my friend explained that if he paid 1/2 of the money he owed for back storage…he could have his property and he would call it even.
The guy took my friend to court and the judge ordered him to allow the guy to have his property back without any payment at all.

But in his case I don’t think he ever has anyone sign any agreement. So this may be 50% his own fault for not requiring some kind of agreement.


@Yosemite It works the other way too. I used to have a tent trailer which I stored at the outskirts of town in a lot operated by a farmer. The farmer had an agent do all the work. I would usually prepay for the season which would end April 30 of the next year. Just before Christmas I got a call from the guy that I had not paid and for me to please come and give him a cheque. I went to see him with a copy of the agreement and “Paid in Full” stamp. He quickly toned down and apologized.

I then called the owner and it appeared that this guy had tried his B.S. on many other tenants, many of who likely mislaid their receipts. He was quickly fired.

Getting money upfront is a must these days if you ask me. I always require $35 upfront with my computer jobs now which is really nothing when you get right down to it. You would be amazed at how many people say “I don’t have $35” or “I won’t have $35 for another month.” This has run off a LOT of the people who end up being trouble. Sometimes if they don’t happen to have any form of payment with them and the computer is something I might use as part or repair, I will offer to allow them to forfeit the computer instead of the $35 payment but require they sign a form where they agree to give up rights to their computer at the time of dropoff. It is interesting how many people forget they signed this form when you remind them or how many feel that something they signed doesn’t apply to them. I really prefer to get money upfront over this method but often people will have driven a considerable distance and “forgotten” I require money upfront so don’t really feel like sending them on their way without anything. I only did that once. The people drove about 45 miles to bring me a unit and didn’t bring the required $35 and also wouldn’t sign a form giving up rights to their computer if they didn’t pay. They had scum written all over them and said they had been to several different computer shops who they claimed were telling them something was wrong that wasn’t. According to them all the various places they took it to told them the same thing was broken and the estimates for repair were all about the same. They told me they knew what was wrong and that the $35 upfront wasn’t required so I didn’t waste much time in telling them I was unwilling to take on this job.

I pretty much have no faith in the court system after a couple of my own experiences and reading stories like the ones posted here. One guy took me to small claims court since his new computer didn’t include a copy of the very old MS Works his old one had. He had thrown away the discs long ago and expected I could just transfer it over. I thought this was a bunch of BS and went into court fully expecting a win. The judge ruled against me and made me pay him back some of the money. Talk about crap. This is like buying a car and suing the seller because it doesn’t have a full tank of gas. Now I have a line on the form I make everyone sign stating that programs will not be reloaded unless discs are provided and that anything beyond a few will be subject to a $35 per program fee to reload. People will show up with a huge box of discs and expect me to load each one so I limit it to 2-3 main programs like antivirus, office suite, DVD/CD burning/playing software, and the like.

I have heard about plenty of people where renting space becomes a major liability. I live in a rural area so lots of mobile homes. A guy had picked up some property to graze his cattle and it had a couple trailers on the road frontage part. Once was pretty decent and one was a dump but he decided to rent them both. The better one had good renters but the bad one had the scum of the earth. There was no way for him to evict the people as the law was on their side. This went on for almost a year and the courts would never take his side. The electric company couldn’t turn off the power because they had kids. Basically they had a free place with free electric and this showed no signs of stopping. Finally the owner shot out the electric service from a long way off while the people were gone (notice I don’t say “at work” because people like this don’t work). This cost several hundred dollars to repair and the people who lived there demanded he pay for the repair of the electric service. He told them he didn’t have the money since they never paid him but he would be more than happy to get right on it when they came up with the 10 months of rent they owed.

They were moving out the very next day and the first thing to be moved was the big screen TV. I guess you can’t live somewhere if you can’t get free electric to watch TV. Anyway, he disposed of the trailer after they were gone.

@cwatkin, you’re correct about having no faith in the courts.

Many years ago a guy brought an older Triumph TR-7 into a Subaru dealer where I worked and the car had a cracked cylinder head. He authorized a reman head and by the end of the week the car was done and running great. The rest of the story went like this…

He came in on Friday with a bud, heard it run, and then remembered that he did not bring his wallet or checkbook so he would be in on the following Monday to pick the car up. No problem.

On Monday morning the car was gone.
The dealer sent the lot porter to his house and the car was in the drive with no one at home.
The dealer then took his flatbed over there and loaded it up.
The car was then stashed in an extra building and locked in with several other cars between it and the overhead doors.

Not a word all week long.
On the following Monday the car was gone again with the walk-in door kicked in and several cars backed out so as to get the TR out.
The dealer went back to the guy’s house and it was deserted. Cleaned out and gone.
The police would not push the issue because “one can’t steal their own car” and “no one actually saw the guy break in”. Apparently checking fingerprints never crossed their minds…

The dealer put out a reward for info and 2 months later some girl called him about it. Come to find out this girl was the guy’s now ex-GF when she caught him with her sister. She was ratting him out for 500 bucks and the car was now in Tulsa, OK.

The dealer went over there one night with the flatbed and loaded it up again.
Back into locked storage it went with no word from anyone.
A few weeks later the detectives showed up and my boss had to surrender the car; this time to the punk’s father who had flown down from Ohio to help his son “who is a great kid”.

It was then learned the punk was in the local county jail after being extradited back from Tulsa after going to one of those furniture and appliance rental companies and stocking up. He then turned around and sold a truckload of brand new furniture items and appliances before bugging out and leaving Rent-A-Center on the hook.

It was also at the same time my boss learned this punk had actually sued him over the car while sitting in the county jail before bonding out on embezzlement and theft charges.

My boss was hitting the Crown Royal pretty hard that week. He was enraged, and rightfully so, that a repair could be done properly and have a car taken off the lot with nothing legally to be done about it including repairs to the door and door jam which the punk had kicked in.
All week long he was on a tear about “I can’t believe some two-bit, blankety-blank, blanking acne faced punk can screw me to death and get away with it while I’m the bad guy”.

We also found out later the punk was pled down by the local worthless DA and allowed to walk for time served and a short probation period.
His dad even had his TR-7 ready and waiting for him.

I had a similar experience with a local storage outfit. I rented a stall to store my dad’s things in when he was in the nursing home. It had to be month to month since I didn’t know how long he would last. I paid every month on the dot but twice the guy put his lock on the stall for non-payment and I had to show him the canceled checks. I think it was just incompetence on his part and not dishonesty since I had better records than he had.

As far as sending a flat bed to recover a car for non-payment though, I think sometimes emotions causes one to shoot themselves in the foot. The guy was a dead beat and never going to pay but if it was just for the fun of it, I can understand. Maybe use the boot or pull the wheels or something, otherwise just move it to the bad debt portion of the ledger and raise rates. Cost of doing business. Chiselers are usually pretty quickly identified and schedules fill up pretty quick to avoid doing business with them.

That is unbelievable about him getting that car back but nothing surprises me these days. It doesn’t seem like the system is setup for people who work for a living anymore.

I have had several situations along the same lines. Before I required the $35 upfront I repaired a computer for a guy and called him to tell him it was done. It was a rather ordinary repair as I remember with a total in the ballpark of $100-150. So I let him know it was all done and what he owed me. He said that he wasn’t going to pay for the repair so I let him know he couldn’t get the computer back. Anyway he said he was going to come over and get it and that I was going to jsut give it to him. I told him no he wasn’t. He then told me he would be coming over that night and bust down my backdoor to reclaim his computer. I told him that if he broke into my house that would be the last mistake he would make in his entire life. He then asked “Are you threatening me?” and I said “I am not the one threatening to break into someone elses’ house but anyone caught doing so won’t be leaving alive!” I then immediately left and went to Radioshack and anywhere else to purchase some cheap motion sensors and basic security cameras. I placed some scrap lumber behind the back door so it would be much harder to open if compromised. I then ordered some better cameras off the web which are full 1080p, weatherproof, and pretty good night vision out to 90-100 ft. I now offer installation of such systems as one of my services.

Of course I hit places where I think such cameras would be nice such as auto repair shops and dealerships. While I can install a pretty nice setup for a $1000 or a little more, this is too much money. For some reason a lot of people are willing to let $1000 or more in parts or entire vehicles walk off each month or allow vandals to do damage or strip stuff for scrap rather than pay $1000 one time and hopefully cut down on this in the future.