Towing companies, facing increased costs for moving, storing and disposing of abandoned vehicles, are floating the idea of a small provincial levy on all vehicles to cover the costs of dealing with vehicles left to rot.
Island towing firms say they face an average annual loss of $100,000 from retrieving and storing abandoned cars and recreational vehicles, and they say the problem is getting worse.
“It’s a huge problem,” said Don Affleck, owner of Peninsula Towing and representative of the Vancouver Island Professional Towing Association. “We have become glorified garbage men, without getting a fee. This is destroying our bottom line.”
Affleck said it’s getting to the point where towing companies could start to refuse police and civilian requests to tow cars that are likely to cost the towing companies in the end.
Dave LeQuesne, owner of Westshore Towing, said in 2019, he towed 83 abandoned vehicles, which cost him more than $164,000 in disposal, wages, fuel, storage and loss of revenue as a result of his real estate being used for storage. And there is no way of getting that money back.
Recently, LeQuesne, who has a small fleet of abandoned vehicles taking up space in his tow yard, was asked by police to retrieve a car in the forest that would have cost him more than $1,400 in employee time, fuel and maintenance, with no hope of making that money back.
“And the problem is getting worse,” said LeQuesne, who warns that RVs used by the homeless could end up being abandoned around the province.
According to the Vancouver Island Professional Towing Association, there is little, if any, value in most abandoned cars, as they are often stripped of anything of worth — catalytic converters, batteries or aluminum wheels — and there is even less in abandoned recreational vehicles.
The association says the scrap value of RVs is likely between $100 and $200, while disposing of them costs $500 to $1,000. The scrap value of a car is pegged at about $50 due to the low price being offered for steel.
Affleck, who pointed out running a tow truck can cost $100 to $200 an hour, said there’s simply no way to break even on that kind of work.
The Vancouver Island Professional Towing Association has met with Premier John Horgan to discuss the issue and left with the impression that he understands the problem.
“[Horgan] asked why we [pick these cars up] when we’re losing money on it, and we said it’s because we are good citizens and we care about the communities where we live,” said Affleck. He said over the course of his 30-year career, he has seen the cost of dealing with abandoned vehicles rise from about $25,000 annually to well over $100,000.
He said with 3.7 million cars in the province and 20,000 new vehicles bought monthly, a small environmental fee, like the ones paid on batteries and appliances, would cover the cost of dealing with abandoned vehicles.
“Charging $2.50 [per vehicle] a year on the Island would generate $1.58 million annually just here and that would cover it,” he said, adding it would offer some incentive for towing companies to trek out to the forest to retrieve rusting cars, boats, RVs and trailers.
“Then companies will go out and get that pile of junk in the bush,” said Affleck. “We have no problem going out to clean the environment, but to do it as a loss is just poor business and a recipe for failure.”