The number of abandoned cars has risen by as much as 700 per cent in some areas, and the authorities are struggling to remove them fast enough.
A dramatic fall in scrap metal prices has seen the value of a worn-out car drop to as little as pounds 3, compared with about pounds 60 four years ago. Once, scrap yards paid owners to collect their unwanted cars; now they demand removal fees.
More older cars are becoming unroadworthy or uneconomic because of stricter MOT tests on car exhaust emissions and the ending of leaded petrol.
The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency received reports of 19,529 abandoned vehicles in the year to April, compared with 11,533 two years earlier. But the last few months have seen the numbers soar, according to local authorities around the country.
"The present situation has been straining the ability of boroughs and the authority to cope," said Mike Nicholls, joint general manager of the West London Waste Authority, responsible for disposing of vehicles removed from six of the capital's boroughs. "The boroughs and their transport contractors are struggling to keep pace with the need to remove abandoned vehicles from the streets. The authority's contractor is struggling to manage the flood of vehicles arriving at his site."
Mr Nicholls estimates that the numbers of vehicles it will dispose of will increase to 7,000 this year from the usual 1,000. "From reports in national journals and from contact with other authorities it is clear that this is a national problem," he said.
Other major authorities report a similar increase in the numbers of abandoned cars. Manchester is expecting a 74 per cent increase this year and Birmingham has seen a 400 per cent increase over the last few years.
Brian Brewer, secretary of the 300-member Motor Vehicle Dismantlers Association, said: "In the past the dismantler would have collected cars for free but now they are charging about pounds 30 to remove vehicles in towns and pounds 50 in rural areas.
"We are trying to run a business on 1999 costs but with 1975 prices. The scrap metal value has collapsed, there is a falling demand for second- hand parts and our costs are rising because of more stringent environmental regulations."
Proposed EU legislation due early next year will force manufacturers to fund the disposal of their cars, but the plans have prompted warnings that some British firms will go bankrupt as a result. The law will mean manufacturers having to pay for the disposal of new vehicles from 2001 and for all vehicles from 2006.
A spokeswoman for The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, which wants the Government to push for retrospective liability to be removed from the legislation, said: "In its present form, the directive is certain to affect the competitive position of the UK motor industry and at an estimated cost to the UK of pounds 2.5bn it could technically bankrupt some major manufacturers.
"Motor manufacturers accept their responsibility as the producers of vehicles but should not be forced to bear the recycling costs alone. The recycling process is highly vulnerable to fluctuations in market price for raw materials, and this has significantly undermined the viability of recycling projects."Reuse content