All the abandoned cars during last week's snowstorm got me thinking: How long after a snowstorm ends do people have to retrieve their cars? Is there an unwritten rule among local police?

—Beth S.

Here's the unwritten rule: If you leave your car blocking a lane of traffic, don't count on its being there when you come back. After our most recent storm, ODOT was having cars hauled off by 9 the next morning.

And please, put from your mind any gauzy visions of smiling ODOT drivers gently towing your car a few yards to the side of the road. Oregon's roads are cleared by private tow companies, whose business model can be summarized thus: 1) Impound vehicle with the brutal efficiency of a Colombian kidnap ring. 2) Ransom it back to you for a sum that would flatter Patty Hearst. 3) Laugh.

However, as is so often true in life, it's easier to get away with something if the guy next to you is doing something even worse. After a storm, ODOT's top priority is removing hazards, so on state highways the cars that are actually blocking lanes of traffic get towed before those who managed to pull off to the side. If your car is out of the way and not screamingly unsafe (teetering on the railing of an overpass, for example, does not count as "out of the way"), you may escape with just a 24-hour tow notice.

City cops tow less aggressively: If your car is blocking an intersection, driveway or fire hydrant (and you're not around), the cops will still call in a tow.

But if you manage to maneuver yourself into a loading zone or other safe-but-illegal parking spot, you'll likely get off with a ticket or, if you're quick and a little lucky, nothing.