New scrap vehicle law expected to prevent crimes

Tom Joyce Staff Reporter

December 8, 2013

With thefts of metallic items — including auto parts — a continuing problem in Surry County, a state law that went into effect this month is expected to put a dent in those crimes.

Often when parts or other materials have been stolen and taken to a salvage yard or recycling center, they are soon crushed or otherwise processed — leaving no evidence of the crimes by the time law enforcement officers can intervene.

However, on Dec. 1 the state Division of Motor Vehicles rolled out the North Carolina Scrap Vehicle Reporting System, which is aimed at reducing the number of vehicles that are stolen and then sold for parts or crushed.

The new law is requiring salvage yards and recyclers to verify vehicle information with the DMV before scrapping vehicles or selling parts.

Officials in Surry County who constantly deal with thefts believe the tougher law will make a difference.

“It’s a great idea,” said Sheriff Graham Atkinson, who has fully reviewed the provisions of the measure that he believes provides officers “another tool” to battle the ongoing theft problem and track stolen property.

“Number one, it will deter people,” the sheriff said of those who steal items they then take to recycling centers or salvage yards to sell for quick cash. “Which is about the only way they have to dispose of them.”

“I think it’s a good step,” Mount Airy Police Chief Dale Watson agreed regarding the new North Carolina Scrap Vehicle Reporting System and the potential for deterring property crimes. It allows metals recyclers and salvage yards to verify whether a vehicle brought to them without a title and more than 10 model years old has been reported stolen before a purchase.

The DMV will provide system access to salvage yards and metals recyclers so they can cross-reference information with DMV files. “It holds those businesses more accountable,” the city police chief said.

The sheriff is aware of occasions in which someone has loaded up a truck with junked vehicles they might find at a home or some other location, which are then taken to a salvage yard for sale. When a seller pulls up with a truck load, it hasn’t been easy to trace, Atkinson said.

Local businesses that deal with such materials are predominantly run by good honest people, according to the sheriff. “We’ve got several in the county and most of them work with us — they don’t want to buy stolen items,” he said.

“There’s a few who don’t and they’re the ones who create most of our problems.”

Both Atkinson and Watson agree that any safeguard added to better regulate the scrap metals industry is a good thing, and that while most business operators obey the law every available avenue is needed to address those operating illegally.

How System Works

All North Carolina salvage yards and recyclers have been notified that they must register with the North Carolina Identity Management service (NCID), and the Department of Transportation’s DMV unit to access the new system and begin verifying the status of vehicles brought to them on or after Dec. 1.

If a vehicle is reported stolen, the system will notify the salvage yard or recycling business to verify the vehicle identification number and stop its purchase. The system will immediately notify the DMV’s License and Theft Bureau about the stolen auto and the business also is required to contact its local law enforcement agency. Information obtained by these businesses is available only to law enforcement agencies.

For vehicles not reported stolen, the system will allow the sale to continue, requiring a copy or scanned image of the seller’s driver license and identifying information about the vehicles to be maintained by the business.

A printable verification will be provided at the end of the transaction and the seller must print and maintain the record for two years from the date of the purchase.

The system will continue to check the vehicle’s status for five days after the initial request. The metals recycler or salvage yard will not be held liable if the motor vehicle later turns out to be stolen.

Being able to identify stolen property in such a manner will aid law enforcement efforts by providing another way to attack the thefts from a legal standpoint, Watson said.

“So many times you have a lot of these materials that can’t be traced back,” the police chief explained, “but when you deal with items that can be traced back, those who are in that business should be held accountable.”

The extra steps the new law requires won’t hamper honest business operators, Watson believes. “It should not be a deterrent at all,” he said. “It should not be viewed as a negative for those in that business.”

Local officials say vehicle theft is not a huge issue in Surry County compared to the overall problem of metal-related crimes.

“It does happen with vehicles, but not as prevalent as other types of material and metals that are sold to these businesses,” Watson said.

Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or