Rich Swartwout got on his back in the snow and hooked the chain to the Mazda SUV on Green Valley Drive on Friday. He turned on his tow truck’s winch.
The locked wheels on the abandoned car skidded on the snow as it inched toward the Richie’s Towing Service truck.
Swartwout, of Richie’s Towing, said he has towed six abandoned vehicles in Janesville since winter weather set in about two weeks ago.
The cars make trouble for snow plowing and hazards for motorists, he said.
About nine other towing services take turns providing the service to Janesville police, so if they all towed about six cars, that’s more than 50 taken off the city’s streets since plowing began, Swartwout said.
Some of the cars are buried after recent snows, which means more time and costs to remove them, Swartwout said.
Police reported last week they have begun the process of designating cars as abandoned on 145 vehicles so far this winter.
Snowfalls make identifying abandoned cars easier: A plowed-in car would make tracks if it was moved, said Janesville police officer Nathan Blank.
A car that is not moved for 24 hours is, by city ordinance, abandoned, and police affix a big sticker to it, Blank said.
At that point, police either inform the owners in person and give them 48 hours to move it or they send a letter.
Police allow four days for the letter to arrive and then they can call a tow truck, but the vast majority move their cars, Blank said.
Sometimes owners call police and say they are working to move their cars, and police will give them a few extra days, Blank said, even though some make promises they don’t keep.
Police gave owners extra time last week so they wouldn’t have to endanger themselves by working in the severe cold, Blank said.
Each weekday morning, Blank checks the abandoned cars that have exceeded their time limits. If they are still there, he calls for a tow truck.
Police will have cars towed during the non-snowy months, but only when someone complains, Blank said.
Blank said the tow fee plus storage fee is at least $100 in most cases. Storage fees can be $35 a day.
“Unfortunately, we don’t get paid for the abandoned vehicles unless the owners come get them, and I’m going to say 99 percent of time the owners don’t show up,” Swartwout said.
Swartwout goes through the process of finding the owner and sending letters to make sure a car is unwanted. That lessens the chance he would be sued, he said.
Depending on the situation, the law requires he wait 30 to 90 days before he can sell the car for scrap, Swartwout said.
“Salvage yards hardly give you 50 bucks for them, and that doesn’t cover the costs,” said Jim Oshel of Jim’s Tire & Automotive in Milton. “We do it as a service, pretty much.”
Swartwout said he gets extra money by selling the catalytic converters separately, but he said scrap prices have plummeted from about 10 years ago, when he could get $500 to $600 per car.
Now, it’s one to three cents per pound, or $20 to $60 for a 2,000-pound car, Swartwout said.