They’re rusted, paint faded and leather puckered by the sun. They sit in driveways, in scrap yards, tires flat and vines growing around them — and every so often, they get slapped with a bright red dot.
Myrtle Beach staff often see cars and trucks without license plates when they’re moving around the city, spokesman Mark Kruea said, and mark the vehicles as possibly abandoned with a red sticker informing the owners that the cars could be removed.
Myrtle Beach City Council deemed that 250 cars were abandoned or derelict last year, clearing the way for one of the city’s five towing contractors to remove them. The votes come at the end of the panel’s bi-monthly meetings, with an aide scrolling rapidly through pictures of cars and trucks as officials ask if anyone is there to vouch for them.
Owners rarely show up.
In many cases, owners simply let their registrations lapse, and get caught when they’re pulled over for a smaller infraction, said David deCosier of All Star Towing. The cost to reinstate that registration is too costly for some.
“It’s because they either ran a stop sign, didn’t come to a complete stop, or something really stupid. A tag light’s out, it gets them caught, and then it just snowballs after that, and they end up losing their car,” deCosier said.
But the vehicles — like the 42 on city council’s agenda for Tuesday — leave few clues behind about their owners.
A driving destination
Myrtle Beach has long been a driving destination, and Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce President Brad Dean said a study of 2016 travel habits showed 87 percent of visitors arrive by car. Though air travel is growing, motor vehicle traffic could grow even more dominant when the area is directly connected to the interstate highway system by I-73.
The city also has a sophisticated system for tracking cars with license plate readers on major roads that have registered as many as 8 million plates in a six-month period. These readers can alert police to stolen cars or cars with lapsed registration.
But the abandoned vehicles show up both in neighborhoods with lifelong residents and transient commercial areas.
deCosier said that among the many cars All Star takes after they are deemed abandoned, a large portion are filled with heroin needles or other drug paraphernalia. Staff are careful to use gloves when they handle those cars, he said.
For the most part, deCosier said, the cars have reached the end of their usable life.
“This year I think we’ve been able to sell and make a couple hundred bucks on maybe, like, five cars,” he said.
Avoiding a tow
Many avoid having their cars towed at all after they’re tagged by the city. Kruea said owners can avoid towing if they update their registration, make sure the car is running, or simply move it out of public view.
One red Ford Taurus that had been tagged abandoned on July 17 had the red dot removed and an updated registration sticker when The Sun News observed it Monday.
Gino Jones, owner of car towing and used car service Ocean Auto, said he’s planning to sell the 14 cars that the city recently tagged on one of his lots. It’s the most at any single address in the batch of cars being considered Tuesday.
“Those cars are being moved. They’re being taken to the Pick-n-Pull to be sold,” Jones said.
deCosier didn’t mention any cars being recovered from the tow yard by owners. Drivers can try to recover their derelict cars before a towing company is able to take legal control over the vehicle, which could take around three months.
But one man was able to at least recover his wallet several months after it was left in his abandoned car, deCosier said.
All Star had acquired a 2014 Honda Civic, which was in good working order except for several needles and a crack pipe inside, deCosier said. Its owner appeared to be a heavy user, and left his wallet, including a Veteran’s Affairs identification card, inside.
deCosier said he kept the wallet and mostly forgot about it until the man came back — he was in recovery, living in a homeless shelter, several months later.
It was just one example of the opioid epidemic that leads to some of the abandoned cars around the city, deCosier said
“You see them every day in this business. The heroin. Golly. I never knew it was so bad, but we see it up close and personal, every day,” he said.