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Finnish municipalities spend thousands on junking abandoned vehicles

Every year hundreds of cars are abandoned along roads and in parking lots in Finland, forcing municipalities to do the costly work of disposing of them.

Kellon hajottamolle tuotuja hylättyjä ajoneuvoja.
Cars that have seen better days, in a lot in Oulu Image: Marko Väänänen / Yle

Some vehicle owners in Finland simply abandon their cars when they reach the end of their usefulness, causing thousands of euros of expense for Finland's cities. Normally, unclaimed vehicles are impouded, but few are ever retrieved.

"Around 100 abandoned vehicles are picked up from [Helsinki] streets each year and brought straight to the junkyard for recycling," says Pekka Holopainen, director of the city's vehicle towing services.

He says that most of the approximately 2,000 vehicles that are picked up and brought to the Tattarisuo storage lot in eastern Helsinki every year are brought there because they were improperly parked.

Holopainen says that most of the abandoned vehicles have been destroyed in accidents or fallen into such despair that the owners can't use any of the parts.

The towing chief says that the number of cars that are brought to the Tattarisuo yard reflects Finland's economic situation. In 1989, when the economy was doing well, 2,850 cars were brought to the area, but in 1993, after a crippling recession hit the country, the number dropped to 264.

He says a abandoned vehicle's location is a deciding factor when it comes to how quickly it is dealt with.

"If a damaged car presents a safety risk to children, for example, it can be moved very quickly," he says.

Elusive owners should be responsible for the costs

In the southern city of Tampere, road engineer Kari Kannisto says the city pays 70,000 euros a year to dispose of abandoned cars. He says only ten percent of the vehicles that are towed to lots are ever claimed by their owners.

In the northwestern coastal city Oulu, some 450 vehicle removal requests are issued each year. This number includes reports of cars parked in prohibited areas as well. Most of the abandoned vehicles are no longer fit for the road.

Oulu's maintenance head Kai Mäenpää says car owners are legally responsible for disposing their vehicles, and depending on the amount of metal in the vehicle, the owners can expect to receive between 70 and 100 euros for bringing them to the junkyard. Owners who inappropriately abandon their vehicles usually end up paying 200 euros in towing charges.

"We move about 80 junker cars each year, resulting in a cost to the city of about 80,000 euros annually. This total includes cars that have been parked illegally that we have to move," he says.

The problem is that sometimes it can be hard to track down the owner. License plates can be changed, or even stolen from a different car. Vehicle identification numbers on the car's frame can also sometimes be used to track down the owner.

As a rule, few owners ever reclaim cars they have abandoned.

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