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City’s Abandoned Tow Lots Nearing 400 Vehicles as Bureaus Squabble Over Responsibility

VIN inspections by law enforcement, necessary for towers to scrap Portland’s abandoned cars, aren’t happening—meaning the city’s two abandoned car lots are nearing capacity.

That’s the number of cars that can fit in the city’s two impound lots, owned and operated by Speed’s Towing and Sergeants Towing, which contract with the Portland Bureau of Transportation to tow abandoned cars from the sides of roads.

As first reported last week on wweek.com, those two lots were near or at capacity for much of 2021, and are now running out of space to store abandoned vehicles. That’s because law enforcement isn’t conducting vehicle identification number inspections, which are legally required to scrap a car, RV or boat.

“They’re not happening,” says Sergeants Towing general manager Jesse Copeland, whose impound lot fits up to 200 vehicles. “We’ve got vehicles stacked on top of each other.”

Portland police officers used to conduct such inspections regularly, but gradually stopped doing them in the past few years.

Transportation and police officials have pointed fingers at each other over who’s to blame for the backlog. Last month, PBOT asked the Police Bureau for a contract allowing police officers to work overtime at the lots conducting VIN inspections. But the Police Bureau says that’s unlikely to happen: “We have issues filling our available overtime positions as it is, so I don’t believe we’ll be able to accommodate that request.”

Sheppard later added that “based on my understanding, the Police Bureau did not conduct a lot of these inspections for PBOT tows in the first place. The demand just wasn’t there.”

Devin Edwards, president of Speed’s Towing, says if VIN inspections continue to lag, “our lot will become so full of vehicles needing VIN checks we won’t be able to do any tows for PBOT.”